Here Be Monsters

Here Be MonstersA review of Michal Wojcik’s “A New Bestiary” in Those Who Make Us: Canadian Creature, Myth, and Monster Stories edited by Kelsi Morris and Kaitlin Tremblay (Exile, 2016)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Michal Wojcik’s “A New Bestiary” is a posthuman tale about body modification. In this near future fiction piece, Mojcik presents a world where people are remaking themselves into monsters as a way to claim a new, non-human identity for themselves. Ranging from Centaurs to Satyrs to Merpeople to Cyclopes, these monsters are not merely evincing biological change, they are building new, resistant identities. 

However, these identities surpass medical modification and the changing of the biological start to change the world, shifting the world to a new space of monsters, a new cartography and vision for the functioning of the world. Islands begin to appear in the ocean that hadn’t existed before and the world seems to be altering itself to medieval settings in a form of vast restoration. Bodies are no longer scarred through their transformations and medical modifications, but are reborn as monsters. The medical is undone and replaced by the miraculous.

Wojcik offers a transhuman tale that questions the idea of the simple boundaries of human existence, inviting the reader to imagine the role of the monster as the ultimate outsider to challenge the simple boundaries policing human definition.

Wojcik’s narrator, Melanie, originally biologically modifies herself as a way of speaking back against resistant classifications and to gain confidence. She embraces a chimera image of assembled animal and insect parts, not wanting to limit herself to existing monster imagery, but instead to construct a new identity. But her identity isn’t just a challenge for others, it is an internalized question, an invitation for her to redefine herself and her place in a world that values normalcy even when there are possibilities for transhuman bodies. 

Wojcik’s “A New Bestiary” collides against normativity in our world, inviting us to reimagine our world and rankle at our restrictions. This is a story of home that asks how we define “home” and “belonging”. 

To discover more about Those Who Make Us, visit https://thosewhomakeus.wordpress.com

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Small Town Ontario Bodies

A review of Jeff Lemire’s Essex County (Top Shelf Productions, 2009)

By Derek Newman-Stille

Jeff Lemire’s Essex County provides a fascinating look into small town Ontario life. Rather than just fixating on the lives of the young in this coming-of-age narrative, Lemire explores the multiple times in our lives that we come-of-age and expresses the idea that we are constantly coming of age as we change and our social and bodily circumstances change. 
Lemire explores ideas of escape and settlement in small town Ontario life illustrating the way that home is something that constantly shifts and changes and is something that is made up as much of relationships to others and to traditions as it is about a physical space. Lemire complicates notions of home, portraying his characters as constantly trying to fit in but also feeling a sense of longing when they leave. 
Lemire’s exploration is about the people in Essex County, but it is also about their bodies since many of the characters become disabled at different points in the narrative, shifting their understandings of their own bodies and their bodily identities. As bodies change and shift, relationships are also altered and changed, pointing out the ways that our bodies are complicit in our understanding of our world. 
The graphic novel format of Essex County brings attention to the ways that bodies occupy spaces and the absence that they leave in the spaces they cease to occupy. 
To discover more about Essex County visit Top Shelf Productions at http://www.topshelfcomix.com/catalog/essex-county/640

To find out more about Jeff Lemire, visit his website at http://jefflemire.blogspot.ca/ 

Resistant Strain 

A review of Kelly Robson’s “The Three Resurrections of Jessica Churchill” in Clarkesworld Magazine (February, 2015). Accessible online at http://clarkesworldmagazine.com/robson_02_15/

By Derek Newman-Stille

Jessica’s life had been haunted by the faces of missing and murdered women that dotted the walls of the gas station where she worked, evoking the idea that when one lived on the Highway of Tears, one’s life as a woman was shaped by persistent loss. Jessica learned early on that the system wasn’t made to help, protect, or support her. She had already found that she couldn’t count on the police, medical, or education system for any form of protection, safety, or health. She has learned that her life was shaped by the controls of others and that the only way to be independent was to reject those controls. But, Jessica’s life becomes marked by the omni-presence of health and the threat of death. Her rape and murder are only the first of her body’s violations and infiltrations as her body is resurrected by alien bacteria who claim to want to help her but have invaded her body and modified it. 

Kelly Robson’s “The Three Resurrections of Jessica Churchill” explores the societal violence done against aboriginal women and its multiple manifestations – whether through the prevalence of missing and murdered aboriginal women or the denial of basic services like quality health, protection, and education to women. Robson explores the idea that the violence against women extends beyond sexual assault and murder to the various institutions that divorce women from their own bodies, that deny them access to health, understanding of their bodies, and means of protecting themselves. Robson’s bacterial aliens are only another manifestation of the types of bodily infiltrations and controls that women’s bodies are subjected to. 

“The Three Resurrections of Jessica Churchill” is a chilling tale about the relationship between violence, the body, and the idea that one often falls into trust by necessity because there aren’t other options… but this trust generally comes with an openness to vulnerability as well.

To discover more about Kelly Robson, visit her website at http://kellyrobson.com 

To read this story, visit Clarkesworld at http://clarkesworldmagazine.com/robson_02_15/

Speculating Canada on Trent Radio Episode 34: An Interview with Helen Marshall

At the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts, I was able to take a few moments of Helen Marshall’s time to do an interview. In this interview on Speculating Canada, we talk about the relationship between bodies and text, aging, changes, open endings, the power of fiction to open up new ideas and new possibilities, writing as an act of personal reflection and exploration, horror, transformations, and history and its relationship to speculative fiction writing. As always, Helen Marshall invites new ways of looking at the world through her fiction as well as through her discussions of fiction.

During our interview, Helen Marshall surprises listeners with an author reading of her brilliant, wonderful story Lessons in the Raising of Household Objects.

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.

To discover more about the work of Helen Marshall, visit her website at http://www.helen-marshall.com/ .

 

Chilly Renewal

A review of Dominik Parisien’s “My Child Has Winter in His Bones” in Tesseracts Seventeen: Speculating Canada From Coast to Coast (Edge, 2013)

Cover photo for Tesseracts Seventeen courtesy of Edge

Cover photo for Tesseracts Seventeen courtesy of Edge

By Derek Newman-Stille

In My Child Has Winter in His Bones, Dominik Parisien evokes his characteristic blend of the human and the landscape, amalgamating a child with the icy lake where his parent fishes. Like much of his poetry, this piece evokes the horror and beauty of a body modified and the child in this poem is described as being almost fish-tank-like, clear and full of aquatic matter. There is a beauty in the image of the body as a living landscape, an ice-scape imbued with life and yet always temporary, doomed to thaw in the spring. Parisien evokes the beauty of the permeable body, a body that is revealed as being integrated with its environment even though we spend so much time as a society creating barriers around our bodies, trying to suggest that they are separate from their environments.
Although a temporary body, the child’s body evokes the image of renewal, a body that is forged from the ice and then melts in the spring to be re-formed.
Unlike most poetry that is obsessed with images of youth symbolised in spring and growth, Parisien reverses this paradigm by equating youth with winter, with the freeze, and with a season that we tend to think of as inherently liminal, frozen, between times: the Winter. Parisien invites his readers to question why we associate youth with the Spring and asks us to look at the shallow way we observe youth and the passage of the seasons.
To discover more about Dominik Parisien, visit his website at https://dominikparisien.wordpress.com/
To discover more about Tesseracts Seventeen, visit Edge’s website at http://www.edgewebsite.com/books/tess17/t17-catalog.html

Speculating Canada on Trent Radio Episode 19: An Interview with Dominik Parisien

When I mention Speculative Poetry to most people, they respond with a bit of confusion. I often think this may be because they are seeing poetry as the quintessential example of  high culture and anything “genre” as the pits of low, popular culture… then again, maybe they just picture poems like this:

Roses are Red
Aliens are Green
Space is vast and largely unseen.

But, that isn’t what speculative poetry is like (unless I am attempting to write it).

Dominik Parisien is a master wordsmith, able to play with language in such a way that all communicative forms become weirded. He shows both the potential of language to push boundaries, and also the inadequacy of non-poetic forms of communication for capturing the complexity of an emotional situation.

In our interview Dominik and I discuss aging, disability, poetry, high versus low culture, the human body, sexuality, and so many things. For some of the answers, Dominik realised that poetry was the only way to answer the question adequately and that conventional speech was too limiting to express the full body of emotion, thought, feeling, philosophy, and ideal that poetry can bring together with clever word play and evocative image intermixing.

A brilliant editor, author, and scholar, Dominik will fascinate you and inspire you to open the world up to questions. I hope that you enjoy our interview as much as I did!!

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 explore some of my reviews of Dominik Parisien’s poems at:

https://speculatingcanada.ca/2013/09/12/hidingrevealing/

https://speculatingcanada.ca/2012/10/01/the-green-in-the-human/

You can explore Dominik’s website at https://dominikparisien.wordpress.com/

Mojo Disabled

A review of Nalo Hopkinson’s Sister Mine (Grand Central Publishing, 2013)
By Derek Newman-Stille06a88f39f94401a3f86871d46c3bf5f5

There is a beauty in complexity, an ethereal quality to the display of Otherness and the richness of diversity. Sister Mine evokes the complexity of reality, the beatuty and power evoked by the richness of the human experience. Nalo Hopkinson’s characters are diverse in cultural background, ability, and engagement with the body, as well as multifaceted in their engagement with the magical, the mythical, and the otherworldly.

Sister Mine is rich with characters who often are cast to the fringes, to the Other Worlds within our world, and it is appropriate that she sees these characters as full of potential, as full of the Otherworld, the complexly spiritual. Conjoined twins, people with mobility disabilities, characters of diverse ages, sexualities, psychologies, economic backgrounds, and ethnicities are pulled into the novel in unique ways as she gives voice to those who are often rendered voiceless in a society that is focused on normativity and de-voicing those who don’t fit into its narrow definition of normalcy. Hopkinson evokes the complex engagement between identity and the body, diverse ways of knowing ourselves and how we relate to our physicality – our world and the physical parameters of our bodies.

Makeda, born a conjoined twin with her sister Abby, the “crippled deity half breed” of a human and a celestial deity that is evocative of the vodoun Loa, has always craved the mojo that her sister possesses. Undergoing surgery to separate their bodies, Abby ended up with something that Makeda felt she lacked, a certain spiritual power and ability to render her power into the world in the form of her singing voice. Makeda is called the “donkey” of the relationship by her celestial family, seemingly without any power that would render her other than human. She feels herself incomplete, less than her sister and merely a vessel that carried her sister who others seem to view as superior to herself. Physically separated, she feels tied to her sister intimately, unable to find herself and her identity as something different from her family (a place that she feels has been made clear to her by her family’s rejection of her). She leaves her sister’s house in an attempt to make her way in the human “claypicken” world, as one of them since she feels that she has more in common with a humanity without mojo than with celestials whose mojo can at times make her feel disoriented and woozy.

Yet, even among a humanity that she feels she can relate to bodily, there is still distance. She is still the child of a father who is a deity (though transformed by his fellow deities into a human being that now is experiencing Alzheimer’s) and a mother who was transformed into a sea monster and has been distanced from her from birth… and she still receives regular visits from an uncle who is death personified and a family of deities that feel that they can interfere with her life because she is family and less than them because she doesn’t have any of the mojo of a celestial. Out of place everywhere she goes, Makeda is able to see more than others, notice things that others would disengage with in their attempt to render things ‘normal’ according to their own status quo and predictable patterns of behaviour. She is a body seeking identity and discovering that nothing about identity is certain or fixed, but rather exists in a flux and flow of changeability that doesn’t entirely relate to her bodily ontology. She is caught in a system where others feel that they can change things for the good of those whom they believe are less than themselves, and sees that intentions based in superiority are often built on shaky ground.

To discover more about the work of Nalo Hopkinson, visit her website at http://nalohopkinson.com/ .