Only More Death on the Horizon

A review of Tony Burgess’ The n-Body Problem (ChiZine Publications, 2013)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Cover photo of The n-Body Problem courtesy of ChiZine Publications

Cover photo of The n-Body Problem courtesy of ChiZine Publications

Tony Burgess’ The n-Body Problem is a pharmacological journey through the zombie apocalypse, and a discourse on the collective social habit of avoiding one’s problems. The n-Body Problem explores a world where people keep moving after death, not threateningly or aggressively, but moving nonetheless evoking the question of whether they are alive, what constitutes death, and the bigger problem of what to do with so many moving bodies. WasteCorp, a waste disposal company proposes the idea of launching the living dead into orbit, suspending them in the atmosphere until they burn off as layers of fire, and they are able to do good enough PR work to convince people that this is an almost romantic way to go. The only problem is that the sky is greyed by the network of dead bodies around the Earth and it is creating health issues for the people alive on the planet – both from lack of exposure to the sunlight and from the depression that comes from seeing a network of the dead around their planet every time they raise their eyes. It is a zombie apocalypse filled with threat, but not from the zombies… at least not directly, but rather from the “solution” to the living dead and the horror that ensues.

In order to cope, the population is advised to avoid looking up and to regularly take SSRIs to deal with the perpetual depression and anxiety evoked by this permanently altered world. However, the SSRIs are not benevolent either, causing a Syndrome from the quantities they need to be used in, fundamentally changing the people who use them.

The characters have their moral compass set to grey from the beginning of The n-Body Problem but a dark, dirty grey that gets more ashy over time as layers of dust from bodies burned in orbit rains down on them… a zombie grey that exists in the perpetual twilight of a world that no longer has hope of change.

Playing with ideas of speech and silence, the notion that some people are best left in a devoiced state because when they speak it may only be a diatribe of horrors, Burgess explores the power of voice for propaganda, and the way the silenced are used for religious, corporate, and political causes. Whether corporate propaganda tells the people about the beauty of their dead loved ones floating in silence in orbit close to the stars, or religious leaders use the dead and the dismembered to bring on religious fervour born of fear and a need for some form of change, silence is made to speak loudly.

Burgess experiments with the idea of a social shift from the military-industrial complex and its profit from death through war to a new system of profit based around the pharmaceutical-waste-disposal-religious complex, intertwined in a system of making capital through the disposal of bodies and inciting people to suicide.

To say this is a bleak book is to downplay the significance of the melancholy it evokes – within this novel, the only thing on the horizon is more dead bodies… literally. It is a stream of consciousness narrative that reads like a hallucinatory voyage between pathologies and syndromes, a work that makes the body and the world around it a perpetual uncertainty, a slippery, threatened and threatening thing.

To find out more about The n-Body Problem, visit ChiZine Publications’ site at http://chizinepub.com/books/n-body-problem

Speculating Canada on Trent Radio Episode 7: Feminism and Horror

This episode features an interview with Peterborough’s own Mistress of Dark Scholarship, Amy Jane Vosper. Amy Jane is a PhD student in the Cultural Studies PhD programme at Trent University who conducts research on women’s responses to horror film.

Hear a discussion of the love of horror, audience passion about horror, women growing up with horror, age and different reactions to horror.

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.

Make sure to allow a few minutes for the file to buffer since it may take a moment before it begins to play.

Speculating Canada on Trent Radio Episode 5: Disability in Canadian SF

How many spaceships are wheelchair accessible? Do office buildings create light shielding for the undead who might be singed by solar exposure? Can my guide dog be a werewolf? Does one need to simply WALK into Mordor… or can one wheel in instead? SF has an interest in the body, whether it is the augmented body of sci fi, the body horror of the gothic, or the magically altered body of fantasy, and it is worth looking at the way disabilities are portrayed in Canadian SF.

Speculative fiction often explores the figure of the outsider, particularly the body that differs from the norm, and people with disabilities are often the subject of interest by SF authors. SF readings of the disabled body often speak to the way that disabled people are ‘read’ in our world and our time. This episode examines the interest in bodily difference and in treatments of the disabled body that can be either empowering or intensely problematic.

Among the positive portrayals of disability in Canadian SF that are discussed, we take a look at

Tanya Huff’s Blood Books

James Alan Gardner’s Expendable

Leah Bobet’s Above

Alison Sinclair’s Darkborn Trilogy

and

Sparkle Hayter’s Naked Brunch

Click on the icon below to hear the full radio programme.

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.

Make sure to allow a few minutes for the file to buffer since it may take a moment before it begins to play.

Interview with Sean Moreland

An interview with Sean Moreland by Derek Newman-Stille

Sean Moreland and I have been engaging in a discussion about horror for years, both academically and as fans of the genre and I am pleased that I have been able to share some of that conversation here with Speculating Canada’s readers. I am a fan of Dr. Moreland’s scholarship as well as his editorial work that has highlighted horror texts that may not otherwise have been published. He and others working with Postscripts to Darkness have been able to highlight literary horror and weird fiction and focus on good, powerful works while resisting some of the pressures of the publishing industry to conform to expectations of the genre that have been shaped by the past and by audience expectations from past works of horror. Their genre-bending work has engaged my attention, and Sean Moreland’s own willingness to break barriers between the role of author, editor, and academic have been an inspiration. I hope that you enjoy this conversation between us as much as I have.

Spec Can: To begin our interview, could you tell readers a little bit about yourself?

Sean Moreland:  I’m a sometime-writer of short fiction and poetry, much of it in a grotesque or fantastic vein, a University English professor who teaches sessionally at the University of Ottawa, and a scholar whose major research interests include horror and weird fiction and film. I’m also the founder and a fiction editor of Postscripts to Darkness, a twice-yearly serial anthology of strange fiction and art.

Spec Can: You teach horror courses at Ottawa University, what first got you interested in horror? What were some of the first horror books you read and horror movies you watched?

Cover Photo of Postscripts to Darkness Courtesy of the Editors.

Cover Photo of Postscripts to Darkness Courtesy of the Editors.

Sean Moreland: I’ve had a fascination with horror and weird fiction since I was a small child. When I was five years old, my parents bought me the Piccolo Explorer book of Demons and Demonology (a book whose vivid illustrations still feverishly populate my brain) and shortly after that my maternal grandmother, a one-time schoolteacher who was also instrumental in teaching me to read at about three years of age, bought me a collection of abridged, illustrated literary classics for kids, which is where I first discovered some of Poe’s tales, as well as H.G. Wells War of the Worlds and Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. That seemed to seal the fate of my literary tastes.

It was the literature that first stirred my love of the weird and horrific, but films followed close behind. I was staying up late on weekends to watch horror classics on late-night TV shortly later. My father was apparently convinced at one point that if he agreed to stay up with me and watch, I’d fall asleep before him and he could tuck me in and switch on a late-night sports show or something, and the glamour of being able to stay up late would be eliminated for me. This never worked. I’d be bright-eyed and absorbing a Universal classic or a Godzilla film or something, and he’d be snoring away soundly on the couch by ten.

My tastes were forcefully accelerated by my cousin Tanya, a year my junior, who was, I suppose, my first “horror-buddy.” I remember her regaling me with plot summaries of horror movies she’d watched, and having nightmares about, for example, Friday the 13thand A Nightmare on Elm Street before ever seeing them. I lived in mortal terror of the family dog, a beagle named Candy, for a couple of months after Tanya described the plot of Cujo to me in gruesome detail.

Ironically, when Tanya’s taunts of “chicken” helped me overcome my initial trepidation, I quickly found the films themselves much less frightening than my own imaginings of them, and a life-long horror film habit was off to a sprinting start. It’s always struck me as interesting that childhood gender dynamics featured in my early introduction to horror films, as I was conscious that if Tanya, who was both a girl and nearly a year younger (and bear in mind I grew up in a small-town Ontario context where male child-socialization revolved heavily around sports and such, and where phrases like “you throw like a girl,” or “don’t be a sissy” were in chronic superabundance on the schoolyard) could watch these taboo “grown-up” movies and take them in stride, I should be able to, as well.

Spec Can: What do you enjoy most about teaching horror?

Sean Moreland: Being passionate and enthusiastic about your subject always makes teaching less of a job and more of a pleasure, and that is readily conveyed to the students, I think.

Spec Can: What are some of your favourite moments when teaching horror?

Sean Moreland: Many of the students who already have an interest in, or even a passion for, the genre, but who have never had the opportunity to really engage critically with the pleasures and challenges it offers really rise to the occasion to talk and write about it in the classroom, so that’s always a pleasure. I really enjoy discussing the personal and social dimensions of our reception of horror texts – inviting the students to share their own reception of these texts always generates great in-class discussion, and I’m very curious about both the continuities and differences in terms of how horror texts are differently socialized over the decades. Relatedly, I also love talking about the idiomatic vocabulary that we tend to use in describing our reactions to horror texts (“scary as fuck,” “scared the shit out of me,” and so on) and what it tells us about the embodied nature of our response and the feelings that horror texts evoke, which leads into a wide variety of sociological, psychological and philosophical discussions.

Spec Can: What can students learn by engaging with horror? What can horror do to broaden their horizons?

Sean Moreland: What can’t horror do, if considered closely?  Whether we’re approaching it from a broadly generic viewpoint, or from a psychological response perspective, or looking at how cultural anxieties are shaped and manipulated by horror texts, for centuries horror fictions have been intricately interwoven with our individual and cultural development, and have been actively attempting to tap into our innermost fears and desires. Horror, broadly understood, can be a powerful lens focused on nearly every aspect of our lives.

Spec Can: Horror often heavily involves the body. What can horror say about the body?pstd2cover

Sean Moreland: By its affective nature, horror tends to be closely tied to anxieties about the body, so it has always had a great deal to offer in terms of approaches to studying perceptions of the body and their relation to identity. Horror is, in a way, the proving ground for any conceivable form of alienation from the body, any conceivable kind of dysmorphia. But horror texts also tend to aggressively interrogate the body as a locus of desire, which is one reason there has been so much Freudian and Lacanian ink spilled in discussing horror texts, not to mention how generative horror texts have proven to be for Foucauldian and Deleuzian studies.

Spec Can: In addition to teaching horror, you also write horror fiction. What are some of the things that you hope your horror fiction will do for your audience?

Sean Moreland: Publishing fiction is a new thing for me – I come to it late in life. I’ve published a few stories lately, and hope to gradually publish more, but I don’t have any kind of systematic goal with my fiction, really – each story is very much its own thing. I am an informal apprentice of the writers I read and admire, and an occasional experimenter with ideas and techniques I largely pillage from writers I study and teach.

For example, “The Rosy Boa,” which I was pleased to learn you found to be an effective piece, is basically a re-writing of a classic camp-fire jump-scare story I remember from my childhood, “The Fur Collar,” through the lens of a Poesque unreliable narrative structure and a semi-autobiographical preoccupation with gender dysphoria.

The version I was familiar with came from J. B. Stamper’s book of scary stories for kids, Tales for the Midnight Hour, which I read innumerable times when I was five or six, and which I’ve just bought a copy of for my stepdaughter. My version is a very different kind of “camp” fire story (and one I won’t be reading to her any time soon!)

I can say that each story slowly evolves towards its own practically inarticulable end, an end which I usually think I’ve arrived at prematurely, and then months later, and often after the story has been incised by the keen eyes of the writing workshop I participate in with some story-minded friends, I realize it has further yet to go.

I also have a powerful, unrealistic, irrational, and likely pretentious hatred for the market-end of writing fiction, and generally have little interest in tailoring the things that I write for particular markets, or audiences. Largely for this reason, I’ve never hoped, planned, or tried to make a living as a professional writer, and am often puzzled and amazed by those who have tried, and infinitely more so, those who succeed in doing so.

I write fiction, like poetry, occasionally, shoehorning it in between teaching, working on academic writing projects, and being a family-guy. Of course, like every other wanker out there with literary aspirations, I also often muse aloud about putting more time aside to focus on fiction (this summer, Derek, this summer I swear!) but life devours time nearly as fast as time devours life.

I’m heartened, and intimidated, by the fact that one of my favourite living writers, the incomparable Glen Hirshberg, somehow manages to balance life as a devoted father, full-time high-school teacher, community-pillar, and prolific and masterful professional fictionist, but I personally suspect he’s sold his soul to dark powers in order to strike that balance.

Spec Can: You also co-edit the Postscripts to Darkness series of Canadian horror anthologies. What are some of the things that you are hoping to do with the series?

Sean Moreland: I hope to see our audience, which is currently very small, gradually expand, to which end we are currently re-thinking our production model. Local offset print runs, which we’ve been doing up to Volume 4, really painfully restrict our ability to get the book into the hands of people outside of Ottawa. What is key for me, and for the other editors, though, is being able to preserve our own unique editorial vision for the series, creating a space for unsettling, and often trans-genred, works of dark literary fiction.

Spec Can: What got you interested in doing microfiction for the first two volumes of Postscripts?

Cover for Postscripts to Darkness 3 courtesy of the editors

Cover for Postscripts to Darkness 3 courtesy of the editors

Sean Moreland: PstD got its start following a microfiction competition I organized with Dominik Parisien as a way of generating some local involvement for the Rolling Darkness Revue’s Canadian tour back in 2010. The stories had to be 750 words, max, and were judged by Glen Hirshberg and Peter Atkins of the RDR, who picked three winners. Dom and I were so impressed by not only the winning fictions, but also many of the other submissions, that we decided we should turn them into a book. The first issue was thus conceived as a one-off thing, but it subsequently snowballed in terms of interest (my own and that of my subsequent collaborators in the project, Aalya Ahmad, Dan Lalonde, Ranylt Richildis, James Moran, and of course, Dom, but also that of a small, but growing, body of readers) and so the series was born, and so it continues.

Spec Can: Why was it important to you that Postscripts to Darkness include illustrations and interviews as well as fiction? What does this add to the volume?

Sean Moreland: I loved the idea of including a few illustrations to highlight the fictions, and in the first volume, the illustrations were based on the three winning stories in the contest I mentioned. It was Aalya who persuaded me that having an illustration commissioned for each story in each issue was a great model, and she was, of course, quite right. I’ve always loved the possibilities of ekphrastic art, and having a gifted visual artist bring their own unique conception to an original work of fiction can be a potent combination. The interviews were initially, I think, Dom’s idea – he conducted our first, with Amal el-Mohtar. They have become a central part of the project because they give us an opportunity to connect with writers we admire, to draw the attention of our readers to the great things they’re creating, and to help disseminate their work and thought in some small way. We’re expanding the interview component of the project now, with an eye to including more interviews on the website, and printing excerpts from these in the books themselves. This will free us up to have longer, fuller interviews, without over-stuffing the book itself and squeezing out the fictions. Our readers will see this new format playing out for the first time in PstD 5, which we plan to launch in May or June.

I want to thank Dr. Moreland for his critical exploration of the power of horror, and for reminding us, as readers, that we have power to question and look at the deeper cultural issues evoked by and explored through horror.

You can explore Postscripts to Darkness further at http://pstdarkness.com/

Upcoming interview with Sean Moreland on Wednesday February 12th

Author of speculative fiction and poetry, university English professor, editor… Sean Moreland has a diverse relationship to speculative fiction. Dr. Moreland and I met at CanCon in Ottawa, but have since been able to meet at a variety of academic conferences and discuss the topic of Canadian Spec Fic from a variety of different perspectives. On Wednesday February 12, I hope to share some of Dr. Moreland’s insights about teaching horror as a horror and weird fiction author, gender dynamics in horror, the importance of a horror-buddy, changes in horror over the decades, horror’s power to provide insights into cultural anxieties and desires, horror’s interaction with the body, and issues of the market shaping the kind of horror that often sees light.

Most of these topics are part of an ongoing conversation that Dr. Moreland and I have been having about horror for years and I am very excited to be able to share that conversation with you, Speculating Canada’s readers.

Cover for Postscripts to Darkness 3 courtesy of the editors

Cover for Postscripts to Darkness 3 courtesy of the editors

Here are a few teasers from our upcoming interview:

Sean Moreland: “What can’t horror do, if considered closely?”

Sean Moreland: “I quickly found the films themselves much less frightening than my own imaginings of them, and a life-long horror film habit was off to a sprinting start.”

Sean Moreland: “I really enjoy discussing the personal and social dimensions of our reception of horror texts – inviting the students to share their own reception of these texts always generates great in-class discussion, and I’m very curious about both the continuities and differences in terms of how horror texts are differently socialized over the decades.”

Sean Moreland: “By its affective nature, horror tends to be closely tied to anxieties about the body, so it has always had a great deal to offer in terms of approaches to studying perceptions of the body and their relation to identity.”

Sean Moreland: “Horror, broadly understood, can be a powerful lens focused on nearly every aspect of our lives.”

Sean Moreland: “I also have a powerful, unrealistic, irrational, and likely pretentious hatred for the market-end of writing fiction, and generally have little interest in tailoring the things that I write for particular markets, or audiences.”

Sean Moreland: “What is key for me, and for the other editors, though, is being able to preserve our own unique editorial vision for the series, creating a space for unsettling, and often trans-genred, works of dark literary fiction.”

Dr. Moreland edits Postscripts to Darkness, a twice-yearly anthology that features weird fiction and art. It is a volume that I have been lucky enough to contribute some of my art to. You can explore Postscripts to Darkness yourself at http://pstdarkness.com/ .

pstd2cover

 

Necrosexual

A review of Gemma Files’ “Kissing Carrion” in Dead North: Canadian Zombie Fiction (Exile Editions, 2013)

Cover Photo of Dead North: Canadian Zombie Fiction

Cover Photo of Dead North: Canadian Zombie Fiction


By Derek Newman-Stille

Gemma Files’ “Kissing Carrion” contains the kind of gross sexuality that will mean that you will never quite enjoy sex the same way again. She sexualises the grotesque and grotesques the sexual in a journey into the taboo and forbidden. There is something about hearing about sex with a dead body and the glistening mixture of lube and puss that haunts one’s nightmares for a long time after reading this short story. Files brings the reader into the taboo world of necrophiliac fetishists and to questions about life, death, and the sexual.

Pat wants to make a form of disturbing dark art, and in her desire to go to the extremes and to entertain bored ultra-fetishists, she creates carrionettes, bodies animated by wires and levers like some disturbing dead, rotting Pinocchios. When Pat meets Ray, a porn star who wants to be penetrated by death, believing that this is the ultimate interplay with universal powers, she unintentionally enters into a macabre love triangle – puppeteer, fetishist, and corpse. As the puppeteer, she is the one having sex with Ray, using her levers and pulleys to push the dead body’s penis into him… but things are less easy than they seem when the body’s soul, forced to watch his body used as a sex toy, an appendage on display, finally takes a leap into his desiccating flesh and decides to penetrate Ray in another way… with teeth.

Files not only brings up the disturbing image of necrophilia, but makes the body a victim of rape, a powerless spirit that has to watch his body being forced into sexual acts. Files reverses the assumptions about rape by having the victim of the rape instead of being the penetrated body becoming the penetrator, though not of his own volition or desire. Files unsettles her readers, pushing them out of their comfort zone and pulling them along on the wild fetishistic ride along with the disembodied spirit of a carrionette.

You can explore more of Gemma Files’ work at http://musicatmidnight-gfiles.blogspot.ca/
Find out more about Dead North: Canadian Zombie Fiction at http://www.exileeditions.com/singleorders2013/deadnorth.html

Speculating Canada ON AIR – A Radio Interview with Sandra Kasturi and Ian Rogers on Trent Radio

For any of you who missed the On Air interview with Sandra Kasturi and Ian Rogers on Trent Radio, here is a digital version of it for you to download.

Explore Trent Radio at www.trentradio.ca

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