An Unnecessary Proving Ground

A review of Alyxandra Harvey’s “The Faith Circus” in Tesseracts Eighteen: Wrestling with Gods (Edge, 2015).

By Derek Newman-Stille

In “The Faith Circus” by Alyxandra Harvey explores ideas of religious conflict and the development of a multi-faith, multicultural system. When the Raja was young, he had demanded that various priests and magicians heal his family from illness. When none of their practices worked, he created the faith circus, a battleground within which various practitioners try to show that their god is the most powerful by killing other religious practitioners. The Raja, stuck in a mode of perpetual anger at what he believes is a betrayal by all of the various gods, brings this assortment together for his own amusement and uses the power shed by the murder of practitioners to give him further magical power and to power the shields that prevent the combatants from leaving the combat grounds.

When a dancer arrives in the arena with a skirt of coins, she questions the need to fight to prove the effectiveness of one’s deity. She shifts the nature of the combat by pointing out the collective power of bringing so many gods and so many faiths together and invites people to look at their commonalities rather than their differences. She looks at the connection that can exist through the blood that has been shed in the arena, the power of sacrifice to bind people together rather than the power of bloodlust to pull them apart.
Harvey subverts the expectation of conquest that underlays most tales of arena combat. She invites readers to look at the potential for collective action rather than individual predominance and conquest over others. She explores the potential of a diversity of faiths as a place of connection between people, a shared experience rather than seeing religious diversity and pluralism as a threat.
To discover more about Tesseracts Eighteen: Wrestling with Gods, visit Edge’s website at http://www.edgewebsite.com/books/tess18/t18-catalog.html

To discover more about Alyxandra Harvey, visit her website at http://alyxandraharvey.com

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Post-Apocalyptic Green

A review of Alyxandra Harvey’s “Green Jack” in Urban Green Man (Edge, 2013)

Cover Art Courtesy of Edge Publications

Cover Art Courtesy of Edge Publications

By Derek Newman-Stille

Alyxandra Harvey reveals our uncertainty about the future of vegetation and food in her post-apocalyptic story “Green Jack”. After crops begin to fail on a regular basis and the weather becomes unstable, a city tries to survive by perpetuating the same behaviours that endangered its vegetative life in the first place. Government and industrial regulations control the vegetative world, constraining and controlling plant life to human will, harnessing it exclusively for human purposes.

Instead of allowing biodiversity to flourish, the city begins to kidnap Green Jacks, figures who are linked to the vegetative health of the world and who bring growth and fertility in their wake. Instead of allowing for the freedom of plant growth, these Green Jacks are abducted by the city, controlled and regulated, their power drained to fuel an industrial complex focused on human interests. Walls are erected around the city to tightly control the population and provide the image of security while all securities and choices are removed from the populace.

Harvey explores the atrocities that can be committed on a population’s behalf when they are starving and examines the coercive power of hunger. People willingly give up their freedoms for the perceived protection from hunger provided by a society that tightly regulates food.

When the protagonist steals a Green Jack’s mask in an attempt to gather enough food for herself (since the mask fuels growth of food) she becomes a target for the military and this mask brings with it either the potential to free her from the tight regulations of the city and allow for free growth or to become the subject of incarceration and control.

Alyxandra Harvey explores urban uses of population control and the danger that hunger poses for policing people’s actions. Much as the tight regulations of the city control vegetation and bring it under government will, so too the people are regulated, denied freedom of growth and become stagnated under imposed control.

To find out more about Alyxandra Harvey, you can visit her website at http://alyxandraharvey.com/ .

To read more stories from Urban Green Man, visit their website at http://www.urbangreenman.com/ .

Superhero Complex(ity)

A review of Masked Mosaic: Canadian Super Stories (edited by Claude Lalumiere and Camille Alexa, Tyche Books LTD, 2013)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Cover photo of Masked Mosaic courtesy of Tyche Books

Cover photo of Masked Mosaic courtesy of Tyche Books

There has been a recent increase in the public interest in the superhero genre with increasing numbers of superhero movies, increasing numbers of people wearing superhero related merchandise and increasingly larger population groups getting excited about the figure of the superhero. Yet superheroes that are being represented often embody American ideals of the self-made man, the perfect body, and dichotomous views of good and evil. It is therefore timely that Claude Lalumiere and Camille Alexa released Masked Mosaic: Canadian Super Stories.

Masked Mosaic seeks to push the boundaries of the superhero genre: to include complexities and issues that were often ignored in the Golden Age of comics and continue to be ignored in our culture’s nostalgia over comic figures of the past. The stories in this volume often play with Golden Age themes and complicate them. Rather than replicating hegemonies, the characters are diverse: aged, not ideals of bodily perfection, queer/ LGBTQ2, and culturally diverse. They represent a more inclusive reality of Canadian culture. It is a combination of pastiche and resistance to the past hegemonies that were embedded and encoded in Golden Age comics.

The binary image of superheroes with a universal idea of good and evil is disrupted in this volume, blurring the boundaries between hero and villain. The authors of these short stories recognise that heroes often support causes that are unjust and that heroism is often tied to political beliefs of the time and are not, in fact, universal concepts. Heroism is tied to ideologies of the ruling elite, enforcing power structures. Yesterday’s heroes may be considered today’s villains or vice versa. This volume is a reminder that heroes can fall.

Superheroes as mythic and iconic symbols are explored as well as exploring the complexities and problematic nature of symbols.

Featuring the work of E.L. Chen, Kristi Charish, Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Jonathan Olfert, Kevin Cockle, David Nickle, Derryl Murphy, D.K. Latta, Emma Faraday, Mike Rimar, Emma Vossen, Patrick T. Goddard, A.C. Wise, Rhea Rose, David Perlmutter, Lisa Poh, Marie Bilodeau, Rhonda and Jonathan Parrish, Chantal Boudreau, Michael S. Chong, Jason Sharp, Alyxandra Harvey, Michael Matheson, and Jason S. Ridler this volume contains a diversity of voices in Canadian SF – both new and established. The stories involve everything from supervillains in a relationship with heroes, superheroes made out of dreams, Mexican wrestlers, aliens, seamstresses, archaeologists playing with possession, and figures from the Canadian mythic past and from history.

In an era of obsession with origin stories, Lalumiere and Alexa collect stories that represent every part of the superhero’s life from origin to retirement.

You can find out more about the Masked Mosaic collection at Tyche Books’ website http://tychebooks.com/ . You can check out a review of Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s “Iron Justice Versus the Fiends of Evil” from this volume at https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2013/03/26/unmasked