Radical Acts of Beauty

A review of Daniel Heath Justice’s “The Boys Who Became The Hummingbirds” in Moonshot: The Indigenous Comics Collection Volume 2” (Edited by Hope Nicholson, Alternative History Comics, 2017)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Daniel Heath Justice’s “The Boys Who Became The Hummingbirds” is a comic about resilience and transformation, highlighting the desire of a two-spirit boy to change the world around him through acts of beauty. Despite homophobia, environmental degradation, and all forms of hate against each other, Strange Boy seeks to heal others by bringing beauty into the world. Like many people who seek to bring healing and beauty into the world, especially if they are marginalized, Strange Boy experiences violence. He discovers that a lot of the violence from the people around him is an externalized form of self loathing, their hatred of themselves projected outward toward anything beautiful, anything that represents a reminder of joy that they can’t imagine themselves having.

“The Boys Who Became The Hummingbirds” is an act of beauty in a harsh and close-minded world, it is Daniel Heath Justice’s act of transformative magic, sharing a story of transformation with a world that needs beauty. It is a tale that reminds us that no matter how much violence the world inflicts on us, we can speak back by bringing beauty into the world. Our acts of art can be transformative, remaking the world and opening up others to express their beauty. 

Beautifully illustrated by Weshoyot Alvitre, “The Boys Who Became The Hummingbirds” is filled with images of movement and light. It is a comic that can show the interiors of bodies and make even our bleeding, organic insides things that can be filled with a certain magnificence and wonder. Alvitre is able to capture the etherial quality of hummingbirds, their darting magnificence.

The intwined arts of Daniel Heath Justice and Weshoyot Alvitre add to the message of the story, emphasising the focus of the story on collaborative arts and the ability of one form of art, one story, to resonate in another.

To discover more about Daniel Heath Justice, visit http://imagineotherwise.ca

To discover more about Weshoyot Alvitre, visit https://www.facebook.com/Weshoyot/

To find out more about Moonshot Vol 2, visit https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1350078939/moonshot-the-indigenous-comics-collection-volume-2

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Exposing the Caregiver within the Human Suit

A review of Sandra Kasturi’s “The Beautiful Gears of Dying” in The Sum of Us (Laksa Media group, 2017, edited by Lucas Law and Susan Forest).
By Derek Newman-Stille

Using second person, Sandra Kasturi positions the reader as a caregiver AI caring for an ageing woman in her story “The Beautiful Gears of Dying”. Kasturi explores the relationship between human beings and artificial intelligence (AI), which is significant since robotic assistants are currently being developed around the world with the idea that they may be able to help out in elder care. 

Rather than following what most authors exploring the relationship between human ageing and robots are doing, Kasturi examines ideas of intimacy and beauty between these two figures. Kastrui examines an ageing woman who is angry at the need to have a caregiver and hostile toward that caregiver, something that is normally not covered in tales about caregiving. She tells her caregiver that it can’t understand fundamental aspects of human experience and can only emulate ideas of beauty. 

Kasturi explores ideas of intimacy in caregiving, pointing out the relationship between trust, vulnerability and care when the unnamed elderly woman says to her robotic caregiver “You know my body better than any lover, better than any doctor, maybe better than my future embalmer”. There is something uncomfortably intimate about that statement, revealing to the reader that they will encounter this intimacy if they need a caregiver and will likely have to be exposed to someone who they don’t know. 

In order to reverse some of that vulnerable intimacy, the woman asks her caregiver to take off its artificial skin, to expose its mechanical realness under the human suit it is wearing. Yet, Kasturi illustrates that there is a comfort in that shared intimacy, a safety in seeing one’s caregiver revealed under all of the artificiality, even if all that is underneath the caregiver persona is wires and gears. 

To find out more about Sandra Kasturi, visit http://www.sandrakasturi.com

To discover more about The Sum of Us, visit http://laksamedia.com/the-sum-of-us-an-anthology-for-a-cause-2/

Speculating Canada on Trent Radio Episode 35: A Discussion of the Works of Nancy Baker

Many years ago, I went on a quest to find the works of Nancy Baker since I had heard such wonderful things about her work. I was able to track down some used copies and read them… and they were brilliant, blending the artistic with the dark. Excitingly, ChiZine Publications has re-released Nancy Baker’s works, so I wanted to take this opportunity to talk about some of my favourities. In this episode, I discuss Nancy Baker’s vampire novels The Night Inside, Blood and Chrysanthemums, and A Terrible Beauty, looking at the way that Nancy explores the power of the vampire to talk about humanity, our society’s beauty and youth obsession, and art.

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.

You can read more about Nancy Baker and her work at http://www.nancybaker.ca/

Hiding/Revealing

A review of Dominik Parisien’s “A Mask is Not a Face “ in Goblin Fruit (http://www.goblinfruit.net/2012/summer/poems/?poem=amaskisnotaface)
By Derek Newman-Stille

So much of our identity is attached to our face, our appearance. We construct ourselves and shape our interactions through the medium of visage. Dominik Parisien’s speculative poem “A Mask is Not a Face” explores the notion of a prosthetic face for a skinless girl, a face made out of butterflies that have been sewn together.

This is a text of emergence, the image of the butterfly embodying the idea of transformative beauty and the potency of change. The image of the pierced butterfly brings to light the beauty in horror and horror in beauty – the mixture of the horrific and attractive that is intimately involved in the notion of social masks and constructed appearance. And transformation itself is fundamentally a horribly beautiful experience.

Those around her compare the girl with the butterfly face to a blood orange, Mars, the underside of autumn leaves, and roadside carrion – images that combine life and death, sweet and bitter, distance and intimate closeness. She is contradiction embodied in one form, alternating, changing, complex and carnivalesque.

Masks can be distancing, creating a barrier between subject and object, but they can also be intensely intimate, a representation of the inner worlds of the wearer, constructed from the depths of their soul. Masks can speak.

You can read this speculative poem at http://www.goblinfruit.net/2012/summer/poems/?poem=amaskisnotaface

Perfect Bodies

A Review of Don Bassingthwaite’s “Too Much is Never Enough” in Imaginarium 2013: The Best Canadian Speculative Fiction (ChiZine Publications, 2013)

Cover image of Imaginarium 2013 courtesy of ChiZine Publications. Cover art by GMB Chomichuk

Cover image of Imaginarium 2013 courtesy of ChiZine Publications. Cover art by GMB Chomichuk

By Derek Newman-Stille

We live in a society in which bodily perfection is considered a major goal. Our society privileges its ideas of beauty, its entrenched notions of health, and able-bodiedness. People medically modify their bodies, cosmetically alter them to appear more like the norms and desires of our society, altering their essential selves. Don Bassingthwaite’s “Too Much is Never Enough” allies this desire for bodily perfection with athleticism. Marco Cole finds himself modified, altered, his body more attractive than before… so much so that he can’t stop looking at himself. He becomes stronger, faster, and more dangerous. The danger from him is not just from his bodily abilities, but from the modifications that have been done to his mind. Whenever he suffers, whenever he has a conflict of morality or fear, his body triggers a Dopamine switch to make him learn to enjoy fear, and pain and to get rid of any concern

Like his body, Marco finds that his will is controlled. He is forged into a fighter for a championship match, but the main objective he has had forced onto him is to assassinate a man. He becomes the perfect killing doll, modified into a military Barbie, posed and perfected until he is nothing but plastic, a play thing of his owners.

Bassingthwaite explores the dangers of a system that is based on a desire for modification and the loss that occurs when bodies are changed, altered, and modified for a social purpose. Modifications and the social pressure to enhance the body and conform it to social notions of beauty and control are difficult to battle against, and it is hard to wrestle control away from the desires that are written onto our bodies.

To discover more about Imaginarium 2013, visit ChiZine Publications’ website at http://chizinepub.com/books/imaginarium/imaginarium_2013.php . To find out more about Don Bassingthwaite, you can visit his website at http://dbassingthwaite.com/ .

The Disabled and Disfigured Have Become the “Red Shirt” Class

A review of James Alan Gardner’s Expendable (Avon Books, 1997)Expendable
By Derek Newman-Stille

Fans of Star Trek will recognise the term “Red Shirt”, but for those who haven’t seen Star Trek, “Red Shirt” is the term for people on away missions who die to provide plot fodder for the main characters to grow and develop. Generally these plot victims are garbed in red uniforms. I thought it was apt for the title of this review.

In James Alan Gardner’s Expendable, he presents a future in which the admiralty has decided that the only people that should be allowed onto planets on dangerous missions are those who society “won’t miss”. In a society that is hyper-focussed on beauty, the admiralty discovered that people are less inclined to miss those that don’t fit into the social norms of aesthetics for the human body. Even though medical technology has been created that can ‘heal’ any disability and modify any appearance to fit with social body aesthetics, doctors are discouraged from performing surgery to modify appearance as long as the person can appear ‘unbeautiful’ but is still capable of performing duties.

The disabled and disfigured have become a disposable class, put into danger because the admiralty has recognised that people are less distraught by the deaths of those who they consider ugly.

When Festina Ramos, a member of the Explorers (or, as they call themselves, the Expendables) who has a large birth mark on the right side of her face, is sent down to a planet well known for killing everyone who arrives on it, she comes into contact with a species that is obsessed with aesthetics – beauty and perfection. This world, Melaquin, is populated with people who, through genetic manipulation, have developed bodies of glass, transparent, but idealised and impervious to harm or aging.  Their bodies are so perfect that they have lost their motivations, their desires, and passions. These “alien” Melaquin people believe that it is a moral imperative to be perfect (with an almost religious fervor). They ask the Explorers who visit them why they would maintain the appearance they have since it makes people “sad” to look at them, hating the involuntary shared suffering that they experience when they contemplate the loneliness that aesthetic difference must cause to people who are made outsiders.

Gardner questions ideas of beauty and perfection in Expendable, presenting a future in which bodily difference is discouraged and those who look different are considered to be less worthy of survival. The alien world and beings in it are not so different from us, trapped in the same patterns of fear of difference and desire for conformity to bodily norms and ideals. Purposely made of glass, this world’s “aliens” are transparent in their fear of difference, in their dislike of diversity, and in their ability to represent our own society’s distaste at bodily difference and imposition of social “norms” of perfection.

Gardner explores images of colonialism in his novel, looking at a society in which “expendable” people are sent down to planets to explore them for the potential for human occupation. Like many who deal with ideas of colonialism in SF, he explores the sexual imagery associated with colonialism – the image of “penetrating” a new environment and “seeding” a new world, however, he makes this imagery explicit. The space drive that he creates uses a field generator for interstellar travel that the travellers have colloquially called the “sperm field” – it creates a white, milky bubble around the ship with a trailing tail that whips back and forth(flagellating) like spermatozoa. This tail is also used as a transporter system to deposit crew members on planets – literally whipping down to the planet and then ejaculating crew members onto the surface. He explores this image of colonialism as a form of forced penetration and impregnation. It is fascinating that Festina Ramos, the crew member who questions the damaging impact of human beings placed on the planet Melaquin, is also someone who saves and rescues eggs from various planets since they are the female equivalent of the sperm, situating her as a figure who is rescuing the feminine from contamination by exploration.

You can explore James Alan Gardner’s website at http://www.jamesalangardner.com/Welcome.html . Expendable is now available in ebook formats, and you can explore it and other Gardner books at http://www.jamesalangardner.com/novels.html .

Thank you to Alissa Paxton for recommending this novel to me.

Medusa’s Confusion

A review of Sandra Kasturi’s The Medusa Quintet in Tesseracts 14: Strange Canadian Stories (Edge, 2010)

Cover Photo of Tesseracts 14, courtesy of http://www.edgewebsite.com/

Cover Photo of Tesseracts 14, courtesy of http://www.edgewebsite.com/

By Derek Newman-Stille

In her poem The Medusa Quintet, Sandra Katsuri re-envisions the story of Medusa. She is created as a largely unaware and unquestioning woman who is coping with ideas of perfection and an imperfect body. Her body is destroyed and her vain sisters cannot look at her due to their desire to gaze at themselves.

This brilliant reinterpretation of the Medusa myth situates her not as a monster but as an innocent and naive woman who misinterprets the oracles around her and assumes a saviour in an enemy who cannot see beyond her surface appearance.

Poetry often takes as its subject the idea of beauty, and this poem questions notions of beauty, reverses them and calls the reader to examine ideas of appearance and the underpinnings of the beauty myth.

To explore this and other volumes of the Tesseracts books, visit the Edge website at http://www.edgewebsite.com/ . You can explore mor about Sandra Kasturi on her website at http://sandrakasturi.com/ .