Blood and Spit into this Artwork

Blood and Spit into this Artwork.  A review of Andrew Wilmot’s “Fostering Artistic Talent” in Those Who Make Us: Canadian Creature, Myth, and Monster Stories Edited by Kaitlin Tremblay and Kelsi Morris (Exile, 2017)
By Derek Newman-Stille

We are always told that art is sacrifice and we have embedded the idea of the suffering artist into our public imagination, but what about the suffering of the tools of our art. Andrew Wilmot’s “Fostering Artistic Talent” examines morals around artistic production and the relationship between the human and animal environment. Famous artist Samael kills cephalopods to produce art, using their writhing movements and fluid bodies to spread paint and bodily fluids around on canvases. Samael does sacrifice for his art… he just doesn’t engage in personal sacrifice.

Samael de-values animal life, seeing the cephalopods he kills as disposable art tools rather than as beings worthy of life and capable of suffering. By bringing attention to the clash between Samael and animal rights advocates, Wilmot’s tale brings attention to the complexity of artistic expression and the limits of artistic expression. This is a tale that engages in debate about animal agency, animal cruelty, animal intelligence and the ethics of art, inviting readers to engage in critical questions about aesthetics and animal life. 

Wilmot purposely choses to focus his tale around animals that are generally not treated as aesthetically pleasing on their own, cephalopods, to bring attention to the critical issues around animal rights and the focus of animal rights discourse around cute animals. By including a cephalopod named Kandinsky, named after an artist itself, Wilmot brings attention to the idea of living cephalopods as art and his artist’s need to transform this beauty into his own artistic works instead of recognizing the natural beauty of the living, unmodified animal. He brings attention to human-centrism and the human conception of art as things that are modified and manipulated by us.

To find out more about the work of Andrew Wilmot, check out his site at http://andrewwilmot.ca

To find out more about Those Who Make Us, visit http://www.exileeditions.com/shop/those-who-make-us-the-exile-book-of-anthology-series-number-thirteen/

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The Horror of the Sense of Wonder

A review of A.C. Wise’s “The Lion and the Unicorn” in Lackington’s, 2015 (https://lackingtons.com/2015/02/12/the-lion-and-the-unicorn-by-a-c-wise/)

By Derek Newman-Stille

 

Wonder is something that shapes much of speculative fiction, propelling us to imagine new possibilities and new ways of interacting with the world. But, a sense of wonder can also contribute to a constant desire for the new, the unique, the special, and the never-before-seen. A.C. Wise’s “The Lion and the Unicorn” examines the horror of that sense of wonder, that desire for the strange. Wise introduces us to a unicorn boy who is kept as a sexual slave in confinement. The unicorn boy is regularly visited by people who sexually assault him out of their desire to experience something new. They have a compelling need for him and objectify him as a sexual toy to be played with. In their ardour for the new and unique, they have sought out other wonders, disempowering them – chaining them, removing teeth, and otherwise rendering them defenseless – so that they can be used as objects of gratification, figures of desire. Their monstrous desire makes them seek out the figures that myth defies as monsters.

 

Wise tells a sexual assault tale that reverses the narrative that we have been trained to expect within a patriarchal society. Instead of presenting a woman as the object of desire, Wise presents a boy who is sexually assaulted by women. The unicorn boy was born out of a sexual assault by his mother on his father and he, similarly, has led a life of repeated sexual assaults. Wise extends the question of sex and disempowerment by including a new vulnerable figure and one who is subject to horror because of his beauty. As he says in the tale “Beauty can be terrible, too”.

 

“The Lion and the Unicorn” takes us into the realm of wonder and reminds us that wonder has historically been used as exploitation – it has been used as justification for colonialism, scientific experimentation, freak shows, and the control of those with wondrous bodies.

 

To discover more about the work of A.C. Wise, visit her website at http://www.acwise.net/

 

To read this story on Lackington’s visit https://lackingtons.com/2015/02/12/the-lion-and-the-unicorn-by-a-c-wise/

 

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

Speculating Canada on Trent Radio Episode 17: An Interview with Jerome Stueart

At Fan Expo Canada this year, I had the opportunity to interview Yukon author Jerome Stueart who visited the area as part of his cross-Canada tour. In our interview, Jerome and I discuss topics varying from LGBTQ2 characters, the power of the coming out story, religion in SF, crossing genre boundaries, critical animal studies, and anthropology.

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.

Predator and Prey Relationships

A review of Suzanne Church’s “Mod Me Down” in Elements: A Collection of Speculative Fiction (Edge, 2014).
By Derek Newman-Stille

Cover photo of Suzanne Church's "Elements" courtesy of http://edgewebsite.com/

Cover photo of Suzanne Church’s “Elements” courtesy of http://edgewebsite.com/

Suzanne Church’s “Mod me Down” takes readers to the limit of the human experience, exploring that critical moment when culture bleeds into instinct. In a future where an attempt to prevent global warming has initiated an ice age, the American government has become totalitarian and given people a choice: be shot or take a shot of animal DNA to become something semi-human-semi-animal.

The modifications to the human body have been forced on the populace… or at least the less wealthy members of society. The richest of the American population are able to stay human and travel further south to be saved from the coming Ice Age, but everyone else is required to undergo genetic shots to transform them into human-animal hybrids. This transformation is also tiered, with the wealthy able to become predators, while the poor have to become prey animals, primarily vermin like rats and bugs. Suzanne Church highlights the issues with wealth stratification in “Mod Me Down”, literally turning the rich into predators who prey on and consume the poor much as the current economic system treats the poor as vermin and food for the wealth-generating machine.

Yet, her story also has a very personal quality. Lucas and Mary have been lovers for some time, yet haven’t been married, not seeing the point of it. But, when they receive their genetic modification assignments, Mary is told she will be a cockroach while Lucas is told he will be a rat. They are to be separated into different colonies since rats prey on cockroaches. Church tests the limits of the human when lovers meet the predator-prey relationship and love is tested against hunger.

To find out more about Elements and other Edge books, visit their website at http://www.edgewebsite.com/ .

To discover more about Suzanne Church, visit her website at http://suzannechurch.com/wordpress/ .

 

Blind Vision Quest

A Review of Douglas Smith’s The Wolf at the End of the World (Forthcoming)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Cover photo for The Wolf at the End of the World courtesy of Douglas Smith

Cover photo for The Wolf at the End of the World courtesy of Douglas Smith

The Wolf at the End of the World is a tale that would resonate with the spirit of any environmentalist – the struggle of diverse species to survive, the conflict with human greed and capitalism, the invasiveness of the human presence on animal life, and also the potential for a shift in human consciousness toward a connection with the animal world, an acknowledgement of our dependency on our environment and eco diversity. As he often does, Douglas wields myth as a tool for pedagogy, much like myth-tellers have been doing throughout history. He taps into that vital essence of the story to reveal truths that we ignore in our mundane world and teaches complexity through the poetics of language and potentials of symbols.

Smith’s work, as always, is full of potent ambiguities, the moral questions that fill us with the potential to interrogate our world and challenge the assumptions that have become part of living our lives. He does this through beautiful prose and an exciting and powerful story. Smith tackles issues of huge importance for our understanding of modernity such as the relationship of the human to our environment, the power of greed, the emptiness that comes from loneliness, the danger of secrecy (particularly government initiated secrets), ideas of ability and disability, the relationship of indigenous people to the state, and the general issue of bodily and identity difference. He recognises that accepting difference is a complex process, even for the person who is fundamentally ostracised and cast socially as different.

The Wolf at the End of the World is a text of loss and hunger, the pining for that which is missing, absent, taken away, or desired, and Smith embodies this in the figure of the Windigo, a being from Indigenous cosmologies that is the embodiment of hunger with a heart of ice, an insatiable appetite. It is the perfect symbol of modernity, with all of our greed, our loneliness, our desire for something we have lost or not yet obtained… it reminds us of our absences. The Windigo, despite being the villain in this novel, becomes a form of teacher, espousing a pedagogy about the dangers of desire, the dangers of creating a heart of ice and always wanting and losing ourselves to greed as a way of trying to fill the spot in ourselves that has become empty (or icy) because of our feeling of loss. The Windigo is a great expression of the modern condition.

In contrast to the Windigo are the Heroka, figures who are shape-shifters, able to speak to and connect on a spiritual level to animals, and a boy, Zach, who is sorting through his difference – as a blind person, as someone who is half Cree and who does not know about his father. His mother, who is Cree, has been running from her heritage, trying to ignore her past, and she fears her son’s difference, and also the secrets that she has kept from him about his father’s heritage and the potential differences that are inherent in it. But, Zach’s differences are his strengths, things that have shaped him and he is put into the position of accepting his differences and becoming even further different from the socially-defined norms or of passing as “normal” and missing something of himself.

Ancient gods reenact mythic roles, renewing and changing the world around them to play out what it means to be human and what it means to be spirit and animal. Trickster spirits play with human lives, challenging them to change, learn, and grow, and to question everything they have been taught and the world that has shaped them. The reader is carried along on this mythic tale, taught the potential of stories to challenge us and make us more aware.

To find out more about Douglas Smith and The Wolf at the End of the World, visit his website at http://www.smithwriter.com/the_wolf_at_the_end_of_the_world . This novel will be coming out soon and you can link through the website above to pre-order a copy.