It Doesn’t Have to be ‘The Way it is’

img_0678

One of the phrases that frustrates me most is “it is what it is”. As a speculative fiction scholar and fan, when I hear these words, I hear the closing down of opportunities and the reifying of the status quo. “It is what it is” tells me that people are frustrated with the existing state of things, but are unwilling or feel unable to make changes. SF is the literature of change, a literature of new potentials and possibilities. That is not to say that it reguarly challenges the way things are because most SF doesn’t imagine new possibilities but only further entrenches existing ideas and the current structures of power, BUT it has the POTENTIAL to imagine changes, to think of new ways of understanding the world and new possibilities that challenge the world as it is. 

Today I listened to a talk by Alyx Dellamonica about environmentalism and SF in which she reminded listeners that one of the most dangerous things we can do is say “there’s nothing we can do”. She pointed out that people will often close down possibilities for imagining new ways of being in the world because we convince ourselves that substantive change is impossible and then we close down our own faculties for thinking of new ideas and new solutions to existing structures. 

I think this illustrates some of the issues I have long had about phrases like “it is what it is”. These phrases serve to support the way things currently are, serve to further entrench them. We tell ourselves that it is impossible to imagine new ideas and to think of fresh ways of understanding the world and so we support the status quo, we don’t challenge the existing authority structures that are unwelcome, unhealthy, and unsafe for so many people. 

I have the same reaction to “what can you do?”, which, despite starting with “what”, a question, has never been about asking a question, but rather providing a nihilistic rhetoric, a closing down of questioning and imagining new possibilities. I would ask us to take that question seriously, to reimagine it as an actual question. When asked “what can you do?” that we operate in the realm of the imaginative, the realm of potentials and we work on thinking about new ways of existing with and within our world. SF has this potential, but that doesn’t mean that this is exclusively the perview of SF authors. As a public, we too can SPECULATE. We can interrogate existing systems and ask what they exist for, whether new and better ideas can rise out of them, how we can substantively change, what posibilities exist, and what we can imagine our way out of and, perahps more importantly, what we can imagine ourselves into.

I am not saying that we should all walk around with utopic visions in our minds, particularly since, for many of us from disempowered groups, we so often have our utopic visions shattered, but that we keep pushing at the fringes of our society to advocate for positive changes. There is still a place for the apocalyptic in our imagination since it often allows us to articulate the way we see our worlds shaped for something other than us, a world that is fundamentally hostile to us (particularly if we are from disenfranchised groups), but it is important to remember that every apocalypse is about change, about a world in flux, and THAT has imaginative potential. Apocalypses are about recognizing that the world is no longer able to support an existing way of being and they call on us to imagine a new possibility, a new method of understanding a changing and changeable world. 
SF can be a way of critiquing the world as well as a way of imagining a new world, new possibilities, and a change to look at our own world from askance to see the things that we ignore, push aside, choose not to contemplate so that we can exist in a world of “it is what it is”. How do we use SF to imagine a world that ISN’T “what it is”? 

Doomed to Change

 A review of A.M. Dellamonica’s “The Color of Paradox” at tor.com. 

By Derek Newman-Stille

Like the past, the future has a way of getting into you and this is certainly true for Jules Wills. Knowing the end of the world was in sight, Jules and other time travellers were bounced off of that horrifying future and sent into the past. The only problem is that the brief glimpse of their future stained them, changed them bodily and mentally. Jules is stained by the future he glimpsed when in the Timepress and sees the horrible burning of that future, the smell of rotted flesh, and the strange, unnatural colours of the future every time he sleeps. Even his personality has changed and he has shifted from a non-violent person to someone who dreams of inflicting horrors on others. He feels that he has been infected with the violence that he saw at the end of the world. His body has been irreparably changed by the process of time travel and feels as though it is fundamentally damaged.

A.M. Dellamonica’s “The Color of Paradox” explores notions of inevitability and the desire to change the future during a time (around World War II), when the world seems attached to an inescapable doom. Dellamonica explores the idea of time travel as an attempt to undo some of the horrors that war could inflict on humanity and shapes the idea of survival of the war as itself a form of miracle (one that this story suggests is achieved through time travellers changing the outcome). She explores the damage that war does to bodies and minds and though the PTSD and bodily damage done to her characters is a result of time travel, it mirrors the effects of war and the trauma done to those soldiers who are told that their actions are necessary for ‘saving the world’. 

Dellamonica puts her characters into a situation where they have the choice of either ignoring orders to save one innocent child who they are sent to kill or allow that child’s life to cause the future that eventually dooms everyone. She puts her characters in that classic philosophical question of whether they would kill one innocent child to save millions or allow the child to live and doom the huge amounts of others… and she carries her readers along for this moral ride, questioning how we would cope with this situation and react under similar circumstances. 

You can access this story for free at http://www.tor.com/stories/2014/06/the-color-of-paradox-am-dellamonica

Explore A.M. Dellamonica’s website at  http://alyxdellamonica.com

Speculating Canada on Trent Radio Episode 31: An Interview with Marie Bilodeau About Nigh

In this episode of Speculating Canada on Trent Radio, I interview the wonderful Marie Bilodeau about her new series Nigh, a series about the Fairiepocalpse. In our conversation, Marie and I discuss the power of myths and legends about fairies, the relationship between the natural world and human occupation, the power of unsettling norms and expectations, and the nature of apocalyptic narratives. Marie recognises the magic of the apocalyptic and the idea of The End as a place of speculation.

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.

Not Tinkerbell… Welcome to the Fairypocalypse

A review of Marie Bilodeau’s Nigh (S&G Publishing, 2015)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Cover photo for Nigh courtesy of Marie Bilodeau

Cover photo for Nigh courtesy of Marie Bilodeau

There has been an incredible interest in apocalyptic scenarios. We are fascinated with the notion of “the end”. Whether zombies, environmental catastrophe, meteors, alien invasion, nuclear war… we are fascinated with the idea of an end of the story of human experience. Marie Bilodeau’s Nigh evokes creatures from humanity’s past, creatures who have been pacified in our recent cultural representations, but who nevertheless embody all of that otherworldliness of ancient myths and stories, creature who when encountered in ancient stories spelled doom … the fairies… and they have returned, angry at their long separation from our world and what humanity has done with it.
Marie Bikodeau’s title, “Nigh”, speaks to now-ness, a sense of the impending, but also, being a word that is rarely used in common parlance, evokes an old-timely quality, speaking to the past. It is a title that suggests a clashing of ideas about time, and Nigh, dealing with fairies, creatures who in myth alter time causing people to age hundreds of years in a night, evokes an idea of time clashing and past and present uncomfortably overlapping. The central image of this work is a watch, an object that promises a regulation and easy understanding of time. But this watch is different from what one would expect from a watch. As a family heirloom passed down through the generations and an object that has been the centre of family storytelling, this watch embodies memory, history, and myths – family legends told for generations. It’s position as a link between past and present may make it a key to understanding what is happening with the world as the fairies enter back into our world.
Marie Bilodeau explores the power of fairies to disrupt expectations, as figures who challenge the fixed, scientific, unchanging, rules-oriented way that we view reality. Fairies are figures that invert our expectations, play with our belief in ‘normalcy’ and illustrate to us that our world IS fundamentally topsy turvy, no matter how much we try to think of it as a place governed by understandable rules. The fairies of Nigh, like those of our myths invert the expectations of reality, assumptions about the assuredness of solid ground, materiality. Bilodeau takes away the sense of stability about our world, taking away our sense of the firmness of our world as the landscape becomes porous, allowing in  something different, something both familiar and strange.
This is a tale of uncertainty that challenges our comforts about a world that is ours and instead reveals to us that this world has always been something that contains an Other.
To find out more about Marie Bilodeau, visit her website at http://mariebilodeau.blogspot.ca/
To discover more about Nigh, visit http://mariebilodeau.blogspot.ca/p/nigh.html

Animal Outbreak

A review of Jeff Lemire’s Sweet Tooth: Out of the Deep Woods (Vertigo, 2010)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Cover photo of Sweet Tooth: Out of the Woods courtesy of http://jefflemire.blogspot.ca/

Cover photo of Sweet Tooth: Out of the Woods courtesy of http://jefflemire.blogspot.ca/

Set in a post-outbreak society where most of the society has died of the plague and the remaining bits of humanity know that they have a countdown on their remaining life, Sweet Tooth: Out of the Deep Woods is a tale of loneliness and the desire to find one’s place in the world. In this post-outbreak society, the only people who are uninfected are human-animal hybrids, who appeared at around the same time that people started dying of the infection.

Having been raised in isolation, Gus, a human-deer hybrid, is soon left without the father who was his only connection to the world. Growing up surrounded by religious ideas and only his father to provide an interpretation of the world, Gus believed that he lived in the End of Days, his small, idyllic forest cabin surrounded by hellfire. When Gus’ father dies of the plague that is spreading across the world, he is left to interpret the world on his own, particularly when people invade his small woodland space and bring to him all of the hatred and fear that a plague-filled world has for those who are different, particularly those who are immune to the disease.

Sweet Tooth: Out of the Woods is a tale of coming-of-age in the apocalypse, a story of youth cut off from any semblance of normalcy and forced to discover this new world with only scant memories of the past world, snippets of conversations, religious ideologies, and fear as a guide.

Jeff Lemire’s artistic style, blending the dreamscape with the harsh sketched lines of a post-apocalyptic reality evokes the complexity of this world, filled of both destruction and the potential for change and growth.

You can explore Jeff Lemire’s blog site at http://jefflemire.blogspot.ca/ .

Coming of Age in the End of Days

A review of Brent Hayward’s Head Full of Mountains (ChiZine Publications, 2014)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Cover Photo of Head Full of Mountains courtesy of ChiZine Publications

Cover Photo of Head Full of Mountains courtesy of ChiZine Publications

The end is a concept that brings hyper attention onto ideas of the body, memory, and the notion of permanence versus change, and Brent Hayward’s Head Full of Mountains constructs a society who, in trying to fend off the end, to preserve humanity, ends up creating a post-human world. Through the figure of Crospinal, raised on distorted memories of the ‘old world’ and confused perceptions of the new, the reader is cast into a realm of confusion and change, uncertain about the various ‘truths’ being given through Crospinal’s encounters with various human and mechanical groups, each staking their own claim on interpreting the world around them.

Crospinal experiences the world in a mix of dreams, experiences, and haptics (computerised learning programmes) which blend together in a distorted reality that allows him to live in ambiguity, perpetually a stranger in a strange land. Despite being born into this new world, Crospinal’s isolation with his father means that the world outside of his father’s realm is one of inconstancy, and a series of challenges to his beliefs about the world around him.

Environment, body, and belief system are all in flux in Head Full of Mountains as the ship that the last remnants of humanity are travelling through space on constantly changes configuration, recycling old parts while building new ones. Crospinal’s body alters from a disabled body in a space suit that recycles his nutrients, to a gradually stripped body exposed to all of the biological contaminants and biological wonders around him, and constantly rebuilt by machines to match an able-bodied expected norm. Crospinal and others are constantly haunted by a past that they can’t recall, erased from the minds of the passengers who came from old Earth and not taught to the new human beings who are born on the ship from embryos.

A father and son text, Head Full of Mountains manifests the uncertainty and confusion following the death of a parent and the re-shaping of one’s understanding of the world as one realises that their parent’s viewpoint is singular and does not encompass the range of potential ‘truths’ about interpreting the world. This is a coming-of-age text wrapped in the end of days, a coming of the end.

To discover more about Brent Hayward, visit his website at http://www.brenthayward.com/

To find out more about Head Full of Mountains and other ChiZine Publications books, visit their website at http://chizinepub.com/books/head-full-of-mountains

The End is Only The Beginning

A review of Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s collection Fractured: Tales of the Canadian Post-Apocalypse (Exile Editions, 2014)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Cover photo of Fractured courtesy of Exile Editions

Cover photo of Fractured courtesy of Exile Editions

Flooding, ghosts, spreading oil sinkholes, whitenoise, bio weapons, nuclear bombs, sudden population disappearances, a strange rotting of the landscape, persistent sleep, the drying of the world’s lakes, alien invasion, shadows, plague, constant rain, technological crashes, ruptures into the abyss, fires… the visions of the apocalypse are multifaceted and Fractured: Tales of the Canadian Post-Apocalypse imagines new nuances of each potential end. But ultimately, this is not a collection about the end, not about the apocalypse itself, but the experience of the end and the way that the end can be a beginning of a changed world, a world that envisions a separation from the past but is still haunted by its memory. Fractured imagines what characters in the post-Apocalypse are feeling, how they are making meaning out of their experiences, how they are coping with severe changes to their world, and ultimately, the loneliness that comes from facing the end. This is a volume of endings that embody beginnings.

The term apocalypse means revelation, the revealing of things and ultimately this volume reveals the nuanced experience of endings and focuses on people coping with the notion of the end, the thought about the idea of endings itself. It is a volume of change, memory, isolation, and desire.

Fractured looks that the connection between human and landscape and how each mirrors and is influenced by the other, illustrating hoe we are shaped by each other – place and people. It is a collection of scavenging from the past and collecting the detritus and rubbish of our civilisation as treasures, reminding us of our privilege to be living in a pre-apocalyptic world.

The post-apocalypse is as much about meaning as it is about survival.

To discover more about Fractured: Tales of the Canadian Post-Apocalypse, visit Exile Editions’ website at exileeditions.com

You can find a review of some of the short stories in this collection at

https://speculatingcanada.ca/2014/11/28/ectoplasmopocalypse/

https://speculatingcanada.ca/2014/04/09/hollow-signals/