Speculating Canada on Trent Radio Episode 59: An Interview with Edward Willett

This year Edward Willett was the Guest of Honour for Can Con and I was invited to interview him about his work. In this episode of Speculating Canada on Trent Radio, I talk to Willett about writing ideas of heroism, revolution, government power, resistance, individualism, and writing space operas.

You can listen to this episode of Speculating Canada on Trent Radio at the link below.

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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 Edward Willett, visit his website at http://edwardwillett.com/

 

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A Love Leter to Can Con

A Love Letter to Can ConBy Derek Newman-Stille

One of the things being talked about in academic circles currently is the issue of the “all male panel”, which happens far too often. I often expect academic conferences to be ahead of a lot of public conferences, but was increadibly excited when I heard Can Con planners talking about the issue of the all male panel earlier this year and was even more excited when I arrived and saw that it was already in practice. In all of the panels I attended and presented in there were panelists who identified as male and female. This is yet another reminder of the welcoming environment that Can Con strives each year to create. 
For those of you who don’t know, Can Con is an annual speculative fiction conference held in the Ottawa region with a particular focus on literary SF. I have attended Can Con for a number of years and have seen it grow in numbers. A growth in numbers always evokes an anxious response from me because I worry that the sense of camaraderie and family will be lost as the numbers increase, but Can Con consistently excites me because even as the numbers grow, the welcoming environment grows with those numbers as more people are invited into this familial environment. There is no ubiquity that comes with the growth, but rather Can Con makes sure to invite the individual to express themselves in diverse ways. 
I think part of what makes Can Con so welcoming (especially of diversity) is the excitement by the organizers to create panels that explore the diversity of people creating Canadian Spec Fic, reading it, and being represented in its pages. Can Con organizers make sure to have exciting panels on representations of disability, neurodiversity, sexuality, gender diversity, ethnicity, and a range of identities as part of their planning and they consistently are able to attract exciting panelists who are writing these SF representations of identities, are people who identify with these identities, and people who are invested in exploring what these identities mean. But the really exciting part is the reactions of the audience to the panels on identities because these panels are consistently packed and the audience questions are insightful…. and I think this is part of that culture of diversity inspired by the Can Con organizers. It filters through into the audience and whereas at other conferences where there is the one token “here are the people who aren’t talking about the white, straight, able-bodied, neurotypical, male” panel the audience is often not as geared toward excitement about the exploration of identities, because of the plethora of panels on diverse identities at Can Con and because of the welcoming and encouraging support of the organizers, Can Con tends to have more positive and excited audience responses to diversity. 
Why do I write a love letter to Can Con? Because there is a certain environment to the conference that allows me to feel refreshed, inspired, and excited after every conference. I often throw myself on as many panels as possible because I love to participate in Can Con, but I don’t feel exhausted after the conference as one would expect from all the work put into it. Instead, I feel energized, excited, and inspired to do some writing, reading, and (most importantly) fan boying about Speculative Fiction. I have been watching the various love letters to Can Con come rolling in through Facebook, Twitter, and through my email inbox and I think that I can say that this sense of camaraderie is shared by others who attend the conference and that they are experiencing the bittersweet combination of excitement and mourning that comes with having a great time and realising that we all have to wait another year for this exciting experience.

If you haven’t checked out Can Con, you can find out more about it by visiting http://www.can-con.org and I hope to see you all there.

Cripping the Light Fantastic: Disability and Speculative Fiction

A Brief Exploration of Disability in Speculative Fiction
By Derek Newman-Stille

This post will explore some of the notions we examined in my panel at Can Con on Disability in Canadian SF. The panel went extremely well, and I hope to be able to share some insights with Speculating Canada readers who were unable to make it to Can Con.

The various speculative genres of fiction can engage with notions of the disabled body in a variety of different ways: through the notion of the medical cure or the augmented body of Science Fiction, the magically changed body of Fantasy, body horror and notions of disfigurement in Horror. Speculative Fictional engagements with the body are often problematic and disabling, much as the superstructure of our society is disabling in its construction of certain bodies as “problematic”. Through the absense of disabled bodies, or the treatment of the disabled as people who “need to be fixed”, SF can disable.

Disability is a socially constructed phenomenon, casting certain bodies as “unable” when the social structure itself is unwilling to accommodate bodily diversity. Texts (books, films, televisions, and other items of culture) can disable in the way they present certain bodies, re-affirming societal biases or reinforcing power dynamics. BUT, they can also disrupt these power dynamics. Literature has the power to change the way people think. It can reinforce or change social conditions. Speculative fiction, in particular, can SPECULATE. It can ask questions, encourage its readers to ask questions, and these questions can challenge social notions that are largely unchallenged and taken as unquestioned truths in our society.

Speculative Fiction has the power to present a different world of possibility where ideas about disability can be questioned, where disability is treated as a social issue, not an issue with the bodies of specific individuals. However, this requires a deep awareness of the issues and a desire to see social change on the part of SF authors.

As readers we can ask questions like:

-How is disability presented in this novel?

-Does this portrayal empower people with disabilities or does it disempower them?

-Is disability treated as a convenient plot device or is it a part of a wider narrative?

-Is disability portrayed accurately?

-What questions is the author asking about disability?

-Do I feel like the portrayal of people with disabilities is stereotypical.

Remember, as a reader, you can (and should) pose critical questions about what you read – interrogate it, challenge it, and question it. That is part of the enjoyment of reading and being an engaged reader.

As authors we can ask questions like:

-Have I consulted with the disabled community about this?

-What questions about disability does my work bring attention to?

-Do I construct disability as a “problem body” or as an issue of a society that is unwilling to accommodate bodily diversity?

-Have I made my character with disabilities a complete character or a walking symbol and plot device?

-Does my work challenge stereotypes or does it reinforce them?

-Have I considered how disability would relate to all situations or am I only applying issues of disability when it is convenient to my plot?

-What common tropes about disability do I want to avoid?

One of the most important things to consider is the axiom “Nothing About Us Without Us”. If you are an able-bodied author writing about disability, you should make sure to talk to members of the disability community about your characters. In the same way as you may research ideas of physics for your starships or the history of portrayals of the werewolf for your horror novel, consult with the experts about disability. This is even more important research than physics or mythology because it pertains to real people, and real readers that you may alienate or disempower through your writing.

 

Here are a few common tropes of disability that I observed when reading and watching portrayals of disability in Speculative Fiction novels, comics, movies, and television. I used these to create a disability trope bingo for the panel on disability at Can Con, and I thought I would replicate it here for you to explore:

 

Disability Trope Bingo

Mark your bingo card whenever you see a disability trope appearing on the slide. Feel free to mark multiple spaces if there are multiple categories that apply.

Here are the questions for each of the categories:
B1: My disability is a superpower
B2: “Better dead than disabled”
B3: The magical / technological cure
B4: Other senses magnified to “cope” with “deficit”
B5: Disabled person as inconvenience to others
I1: Disabled person as inspirational
I2: People helping disabled people as heroic
I3: Disability as burden on the social system
I4: Disabled person as perpetual victim
I5: Disabled in Distress (always needing to be saved by the Able-bodied)
N1: Exclusively plot relevant disability that is forgotten at other times
N2: The “Who is at fault for this person being disabled” trope
N3: The token disabled character
N4: Assuming disability means ubiquitously unable
N5: Disability as ugliness
G1: Disability only as contrast with perfection or to highlight the perfection of another character as the opposite
G2: Disability as moral weakness of character or villainy
G3: Assuming every emotional state of the disabled person relates to his/her disability
G4: Character angry at world because of their disability – defined by frustration
G5: “Heroic Disabled” able to “overcome disability”
O1: “Tragically damaged” former hero – often a person who is disabled in an act of heroism and is now unable to accomplish heroic feats
O2: Disability as only a state of mind – the idea that a person can overcome disability with enough willpower
O3: Cursed Disabled – victim of magic
O4: Disabled as mentor for hero
O5: Disability hiding other difference

 

 

 

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Regarding the title of this post, as a disabled person, I am reclaiming (like many scholars of disability and people with disabilities) the term “crip” that has often been used to oppress and disempower people with disabilities.

This is only an initial exploration of the topic of disability in SF and should not be considered complete. It is used here only to open dialogue about disability in SF.

Can Con Updates!

Can Con is coming up soon in Ottawa on October 4-6th (and you can find out more about it at http://www.can-con.org/ ). The diversity of activities this year is absolutely amazing with sessions on writing, academic analyses of literature and literary themes, author readings, book launches…. and even a few singing events (seriously!).Canada Day

Prepare for discussions of AI, comics, enhancing creativity, fandom, astronomy, disease, zombies, future technologies, possession, poetry, humour, horror, law, LGBTQ issues, multiculturalism, mystery, publishing, popular music, gender, genre, and YA fiction among many others.

As many of you who follow my blog will note, there are a few special areas of interest of mine in Canadian Speculative Fiction: portrayals of characters and themes of LGBTQ or Queer people, and discourse about disability featuring highly among them. I am particularly excited that I get a chance to talk about both of them at Can Con this year and I hope to see many of you at these panels. Here are the panel descriptions:

Cripping the Light Fantastic: Disability in Canadian Speculative Fiction

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.

Panelists: Derek Newman-Stille, Tanya Huff, Douglas Smith, and Dominik Parisien

Let’s get Fantastic: LGBTQ or Queer Speculative Fiction

Speculative Fiction is sexy, but so often TV only shows heteronormative relationships. Canadian SF literature seems to be more willing to portray gay, bisexual, lesbian, transgendered, and queer-oriented characters. Let’s take a look at gay zombies, sex-changing aliens, lesbian superheroes, bisexual wizards, and other potential queerings of the fantastic.

Panelists: Derek Newman-Stille, Tanya Huff, and Liz Strange

You can explore all of the panels at http://www.can-con.org/2013/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/Can-Con-programming-panel-descriptions-2013.pdf

Check out some of your favorite authors like Robert Sawyer, Tanya Huff, Sandra Kasturi, Chadwick Ginther, Jean-Louis Trudel, Brett Savory, Karen Dudley, Hayden Trenholm, Marie Bilodeau, Violette Malan, Dominik Parisien, Derek Kunsken, Matt Moore, Sean Moreland, Liz Strange, Kate Heartfield, Suzanne Church, Lydia Peever, and many more. This is your chance to meet some really brilliant Canadian Speculative Fiction authors, scholars, and fans and have a chance to ask those questions that have been occupying your minds.

I hope to see you there, and please feel free to come up and chat with me about Speculative Fiction. I always enjoy a chance to have a great conversation about this genre that I love,
Derek Newman-Stille

Can Con October 4-6th in Ottawa

As many of you know, Speculating Canada has made the short list for a Prix Aurora Award. The awards will be announced this year at Can Con http://www.can-con.org/ in Ottawa on the weekend of October 4-6th. So, if there is any way that you can get out to Ottawa, you will have a great time and it would be great to meet those of you that I haven’t met yet and have a chance to talk again to those of you that I have met at other conferences and conventions. This will also be a great place for you to meet some of the award winning authors from this year’s Prix Aurora Awards.

If you haven’t been to Can Con before, it is a Conference On Canadian Content In Speculative Arts And Literature. It is a blend of a fan convention, a meeting of authors, and an academic conference. It has something of interest to everyone and is a great opportunity for people to engage in a wide variety of different ways with the SF community.

There will be discussion panels, author readings, book launch parties, and general fun (and of course, opportunities to really express your love of Speculative Fiction with like-minded people).

I am fortunate enough to be on 4 different panels this year:

Spirit Possession in Speculative Fiction

Speculative Fiction Poetry

Cripping the Light Fantastic: Disability in Canadian SF

Let’s Get Fantastic: LGBTQ and Queer Speculative Fiction

(The latter two were proposed by me).

I hope that many of you are able to attend the conference and have a chance to talk about Canadian Speculative Fiction in person. Check out Can Con at http://www.can-con.org/ .

Check out how many of your favourite authors and academics will be around for you to talk to!