Speculating Canada on Trent Radio Episode 32: The Unsettling Power of Horror

I was recently invited by the Canadian lit magazine Quill and Quire to write an article for them about Canadian horror, so I decided to talk a little bit more about Canadian horror in this episode of Speculating Canada on Trent Radio. Today I discuss the power of horror to unsettle and the pedagogical value of being unsettled, and the power of horror to make us look at places and ideas that we tend to ignore. I discuss some of my favourite works of horror, the works that make me uncomfortable including Nick Cutter’s “The Deep”, Andrew Pyper’s “The Demonologist”, Michael Rowe’s “Enter, Night”, and Nancy Baker’s “The Night Inside”.

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.

Advertisements

Darkly Dislocating

A Review of Eileen Kernaghan’s Sophie, In Shadow (Thistledown Press, 2014).

Cover Photo of Sophie, in Shadow courtesy of Thistledown Press

Cover Photo of Sophie, in Shadow courtesy of Thistledown Press

Suspended in the icy waters of the Atlantic Ocean after the Titanic was pulled beneath the waves, Sophie’s life was forever marked, forever suspended between life and the icy, shadowy depths of death. Re-living her brush with death in her dreams, Sophie brings visions of tragedy into her waking world, piercing the veils of the present to experience tragedies and horrors of the past, present, and future, moments steeped in death.

Death chases Sophie like an impenetrable miasma, thickening in moments of dislocation from the quiet life and English gentlewoman is supposed to experience, and drifting in clouds of horror into Sophie’s perception.

Eileen Kernaghan creates a sense of wondrous dislocation for the reader, a darkly beautiful reminder that every place is haunted, every locale filled with ghosts of memory from the past. Sophie, In Shadow reminds readers that we dwell in a place of fantasy, of wonder and excitement, and that those dreamy places of magic and mystery are always steeped in the shadows of past horrors and veiled in secrets. We are always one step through the veil of time away from tragedy.

Kernaghan reveals landscapes written about as darkly mysterious in the era of British colonialism and scarred by that process of colonial control, made dark by the tragedies committed to maintain colonial control and mysterious by the secrecy and denials of those in power. Sophie’s sense of dislocation from a life marred by tragedy and her ability to see tragedies of the past, present, and future at a distance is mirrored bin the colonial world around her where British subjects try to create an English landscape overtop of the locations they seek to control, building “home” in other territories where they are forever reminded that these places are not home and any sense of home is fiction maintained by harsh regulation, segregation, secrecy, and violence.

Set in the early 1900s, Kernaghan creates a novel of secrecy, espionage, violent resistance, and the exercise of power (both within the body through the regulation of psychic abilities, and throughout India through British governmental control).

To discover more about Sophie, In Shadow, visit Thistledown Press’ website at http://www.thistledownpress.com/html/search/genre/Young_Adult_Fiction/sophie_in_shadow_p586.cfm

To read more works by Eileen Kernaghan, visit her website at http://www.eileenkernaghan.ca/ .

Escaping North – Zombified Canada

A review of Dead North: Canadian Zombie Fiction, edited by Silvia Moreno-Garcia (Exile Editions, 2013)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Cover Photo of Dead North: Canadian Zombie Fiction

Cover Photo of Dead North: Canadian Zombie Fiction

In American zombie movies, Canada is a place of escape, a place to run to in the event of a zombie apocalypse to escape from the ravening hoards. I am not certain what sort of magical barrier our country’s border has, or whether perhaps zombies just really don’t like winter, or perhaps zombies are threatened by public health care, but somehow the Canadian landscape is seen as anathema to the zombie apocalypse. Dead North tackles that notion of the zombified Canadian landscape and rustles up our dead to wander in search of Canadian flesh… adding to the BODY of literature.

Like the flesh of the creatures in its pages, the stories in this collection are morally grey, defying the easy morality of most zombie movies and the Us-Them dichotomy that often shapes the zombie genre (and allows for the killing of zombified human beings without guilt). Instead, these zombie stories play with the notion of Us versus Them, breaking down barriers and complicating the possibility of distancing ourselves from the figure of the zombie. The zombie is intimately connected with humanity and these stories question whether it is the zombie who is the monster… or the human who hunts them. The zombies in this volume make the normally straight forward ascription of humans as heroes and zombies as villains complicated, slippery, challenging.

Dead North brings zombies into Canada, but does so with a sense of play with the tropes of the genre, challenging traditional patterns of zombie apocalypse literature and film. These zombies are issue-laden, exploring notions of environmentalism, history, colonialism, protest culture, technological relationships to human beings, capitalism, aging, sexuality, and diversity. These zombies present a mosaic of the dead, a landscape of multiplicity in the types of rotting flesh.

Zombies have something in common with the North: cold, blanched… and they take the notion of a “biting chill” literally!

You can explore a few reviews of the individual short stories in this volume at:

https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2013/11/29/necrosexual/

https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2013/11/25/zombie-survival-training-101/

and

https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2013/11/08/hunger/

Find out more about Dead North: Canadian Zombie Fiction at http://www.exileeditions.com/singleorders2013/deadnorth.html

Interview with Michael Rowe

An interview with Michael Rowe by Derek Newman-Stille

Michael Rowe is an accomplished journalist and horror author whose work I have enjoyed for many years (ever since the publication of the two volumes of LGBTQ2 horror Queer Fear and Queer Fear 2, which Rowe edited. I was extremely pleased that he was willing to do an interview here on Speculating Canada so soon after the publication of his novel Wild Fell. I hope you enjoy the following interview and all of Mr. Rowe’s insights. He, like many great horror authors, has the power to bring attention to things ignored, cast light into the dark corners of society, and take his readers out onto uncommon ground. This is an interview that continues the power of his horror work to bring readers into unfamiliar territory.IMG_3647 - Version 2

Spec Can: Prior to the publication of your first novel, Enter, Night in 2011, which was a finalist for both the Sunburst Award and the Aurora Award, you were known primarily as an award-winning essayist with several nonfiction books to his credit, and a journalist. You’ve now published your second novel with ChiZine Publications—Wild Fell, a ghost story set in Georgian Bay that has earned stellar praise from Clive Barker himself. How did the shift from non-fiction to fiction come about?

Michael Rowe: The shift had been coming for a while. My essays were becoming more autobiographical in content and more impressionistic in style. I wrote a novella a few years back called “In October” that was published in collection with two other writers. The book was titled Triptych of Terror: Three Chilling Tales by the Masters of Gay Horror. Aside from the subtitle’s hyperbolic elevation of me to one of the “masters” of anything, it was my first long-form fiction, running about 50K words.  When I set down to write Enter, Night, I started out with the fear that I wouldn’t have enough story to fill a novel, and ended with me wondering how I had reached 120K words without being at the end of the novel.

Spec Can: Is there something distinctive about Canadian horror? How so? What distinguishes it?

Michael Rowe:  I’ve always been fascinated by that question. To me—and this is personal—it’s been about setting the story squarely and unapologetically in Canada, and having Canadian points of reference with the expectation that the reader will go along with the story based on its own merits.

Spec Can: What can horror reveal about ‘otherness’ and the outsider experience?

Michael Rowe: There’s a great deal written about the “otherness” and the “monster” within when it comes to horror, but I also think that’s germane to good literature everywhere. I think what horror and indeed most speculative fiction does is enable the writer to shift and bend the boundaries of the narrative to reveal more texture and subtext about otherness and the outsider experience. But in and of itself, much of horror is often about bad things happening to ordinary people, which, by definition, negates the notion of any intrinsic “otherness” unless the story is being told from the perspective of an entity that is extraordinary.

Spec Can: Your novel Enter, Night explores a small town in Northern Ontario where difference is suppressed and vampires end up rising from the roots of the past and your newest novel Wild Fell explores a ghost story in a small Northern town. What evoked your interest in the small town environment, and why was this the perfect setting for your novels?

Michael Rowe: With the exception of the two years my family lived in the tiny Swiss village of Céligny, outside of Geneva, I’ve always lived in large cities. In the late-80s, my husband and I bought an old Victorian house in the small town of Milton, Ontario—which has since become a large, sprawling suburb, with no increase to its charm. We spent six years there, and I consider them to be six of my most formative years as a writer. Everything happens in small towns. I was and am entranced at the way the currents and counter-currents that bind people in small towns can be both beautiful and horrifying. I suspect a lot of it has to do with the lack of anonymity in small towns. Anonymity is easily achieved in the city. It’s impossible in the country. In Milton, I would walk to the video store, about a mile from the house. By the time I got there, someone would have passed me in their car and waved. When I walk around in the city today, no one I know passes me in a car and notes what I’m doing. The anonymity is very liberating, but as a writer, I’ve always thrived on personal impact and collision, which is germane to the experience of living in a small town where you are in close proximity with people living their own lives, all the while aware of yours.

Spec Can: Among other things, Enter, Night deals with Canada’s colonial past and the mistreatment of aboriginal peoples. I am pleased to see that you brought attention to issues that are often suppressed in Canadian history such as the horrors of residential schools. I was wondering if you could expand on this and discuss why a horror novel about vampires was a great place to explore Canada’s history of mistreating Indigenous people?

Michael Rowe: I can’t speak for all vampire novels, but with regard to Enter, Night, the central theme was parasitical consumption, and vampire novels are occasionally a rich source of metaphor. The colonial settlers came to Canada and took native land. What they gave in return was brutality: genocide, disease, brutal laws, and toxic Christianity that later became the residential schools to which native children were consigned after being ripped away from their parents. The purpose of the schools was to “kill” the “Indian” in the child, drain the child of the child’s identity, and turn the child into a third-class Christian citizen of Canada, albeit an abused, battered one.

Spec Can:  How is cultural assimilation like a vampire draining its victim of his or her life and replacing that life with something else?

Michael Rowe: The metaphors just write themselves. That’s what vampires do. They drain you of blood and turn you into something else. The primary vampire antagonist in Enter, Night is a resurrected 17th century Jesuit priest who devastated an entire settlement of natives before being stopped the first time. The vampire had his own ideas about how best to colonize the native population. There are other varieties of parasites in Enter, Night besides vampires—the Parr family who owned the town stripped and mined it for its natural resources; Adeline Parr, the matriarch, stripped her gay son Jeremy of his dignity and terrorized the family; the town itself demanded a terrible price of its poorest and most vulnerable citizens. But while I’m not big on collective guilt, the residential school system in Canada, run by churches, is a stain on our national identity that shames me, on a deep level, as a Canadian. The collusion between the churches and the Canadian government that yielded that system is the very definition of vampirism to me.

Spec Can: The theme of repression was a prominent one in both Enter, Night and Wild Fell. What role can horror provide in bringing attention to social repressions?

Cover photo of Enter, Night, courtesy of ChiZine Publications

Cover photo of Enter, Night, courtesy of ChiZine Publications

Michael Rowe: Repression and suppression do two things: they isolate, and they create monsters. The isolation weakens the victim and makes them vulnerable, and hides any number of horrors behind a façade of propriety. Repression also bottles up rage and God knows what else which, when unleashed, is often devastating. You could write reams about the parallels between the way society makes monsters, and the way it makes monsters out of those who are already vulnerable and marginalized

Spec Can: What mythologies of the vampire do you bring into your work?

Michael Rowe: Enter, Night was a deliberate, self-conscious, unapologetic, non-ironic mid-century vampire novel, with crucifixes, bats, wolves, no-reflection-in-mirrors red-eyed long-fanged vampires. That wasn’t an accident. Finn Miller, the young boy who is one of the heroes of the novel, learned most of what he knows about vampires from the Marvel Tomb of Dracula comic books, the same way I did when I was his age.

Spec Can: Why does the vampire fascinate modern audiences so much? What questions does the vampire raise in the reader’s mind?

Michael Rowe:  I have no idea. The notion of the vampire as a gothic lover has never really resonated with me, and that appears to still be the dominant current image. I like my vampires terrifying, and only seductive in the service of their vampirism, like Christopher Lee at the top of the winding stone staircase in Horror of Dracula. That vision of the vampire endured for centuries, and it’s my personal favourite vision. I really loved 30 Days of Night, which is a much closer incarnation of what I think of when I think of vampires than anything else on the scene today, even if the brutality was a bit jarring to me. I’m not a fan of vampire romances, personally, though I would never begrudge anyone their own particular take on what has now become known as “the vampire genre.” As to questions vampires raise in the reader’s mind, I think the eternal question is, would you really want to live forever and watch everyone you love die, over and over again? That loneliness is a very valid them to be explored, and it has been, over and over again. And frankly, “vampire powers” would be pretty sweet.

Spec Can: Is there a “Canadian vampire”, a particular style of vampire that speaks to a Canadian audience or from a Canadian perspective?

Michael Rowe: I don’t think so, in my opinion. Vampires are more or less universal. Again, it gets back to setting. A Canadian vampire would be a vampire in Canada. Enter, Night featured Canadian vampires by default, and I flatter myself that they’d pass as vampires anywhere outside of Canada.

Spec Can: When you edited the Queer Fear anthologies, there was very little gay horror available. Has that changed in the past 12 years? What has contributed to the change or why hasn’t it changed?

Michael Rowe: Queer Fear was the first-ever gay horror anthology. We didn’t want it to be erotica, we wanted it to be horror stories where LGBTQ identity was a given, not something injected for shock value. The intention was to break ground more than to create an ongoing genre. LGBTQ readers have always read horror, they just haven’t seen themselves reflected in it. I have to once again point out Michael Marano’s brilliant, beautiful, heartbreaking horror novel Dawn Song, which features an openly gay protagonist. Is that “LGBTQ horror?” I’d say not. But the inclusion of a character whose sexual preference identity wasn’t trumpeted, but was rather an ensemble characteristic, is the best possible manifestation of “queer horror” in its ideal form.  I think we’ll see a lot more of this as the reading public becomes more and more comfortable with, and accustomed to, seeing more openly LGBTQ people in their lives, and in the culture. In the past, it was often the sexual orientation identity, which, itself, was “the horror.” This resulted in a lot of homophobic horror fiction in the past, usually accompanied by very bad writing. I suspect that if LGBTQ readers had found themselves being included in horror narratives the entire time, and not just as “monsters” because they were LGBTQ, the phrase “LGBTQ horror” probably wouldn’t exist, nor would there ever have been a hunger for it.

Spec Can: Is there something distinctive about queer or LGBTQ2 literature?

Michael Rowe: Once again, I’d have to say that the only difference is that it features openly LGBTQ characters in situations where they interact with each other and with the world at large as openly LGBTQ characters. Also, perhaps, the fact that it’s written by openly LGBTQ writers, and informed with an artistic aesthetic that derives from having observed life and time from the perspective of an LGBTQ person. But when it comes to that, we may be once again talking about notion of “the outsider,” at which point we’re back to talking about writers in general—so many of us started life as observers and outsiders, not necessarily in the mainstream.  I know that informs a lot of my own work. I wasn’t always offered the choice between being an outsider and being an insider. The memory of that lack of choice lingers.

Spec Can: Where do you see LGBTQ2 horror and dark fantasy fiction going from here?

Michael Rowe: There will always be people who seek out LGBTQ horror and dark fantasy primarily because it involves LGBTQ characters. If the writing is good, and can stand on its own merits without the identity politics, I say more power to it. But I think that as sexuality and gender identity become less and less hot-button topics, we’ll see more integrated characters in the wider thrust of genre horror and dark fantasy fiction. In Wild Fell, there is the strong suggestion that one of the characters is transgender. To my way of thinking, that’s as natural as the character having brown hair and eyes. I’m no literary bellwether, but to me, the character’s identity was an organic outgrowth of the story I was telling. I suspect we’ll see more of that.

Spec Can: Horror and eroticism are often linked. What’s so sexy about horror?

Michael Rowe: I don’t personally find horror sexy in and of itself. I draw a distinction between “thrilling” and “sexy,” while acknowledging the possibility of an overlap. I think the themes of vulnerability and surrender probably inform a lot of that aesthetic. There’s a lot to be said for surrendering to a force greater than yourself, to wit, a vampire’s embrace. Being bitten in the throat isn’t sexy to me, but it apparently melts a lot of people’s butter. To each their own.

Spec Can: Many ghost stories open with disbelief on the part of the characters. Why is disbelief often a feature opening a ghost story? Why do we love to simultaneously believe and disbelieve them?

Cover photo of Wild Fell courtesy of ChiZine Publications

Cover photo of Wild Fell courtesy of ChiZine Publications

Michael Rowe: I think many people would like to believe the sprits of the dead could haunt them, but actually don’t believe it. Ghost stories are that marvellous space in between, where readers can enjoy the thrill of seeing in happen to someone else without paying the price themselves. That said, it’s sort of extraordinary to me that vast numbers of people talk about having a “personal relationship with Jesus,” as though God and Jesus are just some “dad and lad” who live down the street and could pop by any time to borrow a hammer and some nails—but they don’t believe in ghosts. Religion is a lot of things to a lot of people, but I suspect it’s only “logical” to those with very little inquisitiveness in their mental makeup.  To my way of thinking, “faith” is belief in the absence of logic or proof. That’s what makes it faith. And in a religious mythology where an entity can raise the dead, or walk on water, or raise storms, the hostility to belief in ghosts is sort of mystifying.

Spec Can: How have ghost stories shaped your own history? What ghost stories did you grow up with?

Michael Rowe: One of my favourite childhood stories was Oscar Wilde’s “The Canterville Ghost,” but the 70s was the age of the paperback horror anthology. There were a lot of them around, many for kids. I remember a book called Ghosts, Ghosts, Ghosts, which was a ghost story anthology featuring a story called “The Water Ghost of Harrowby Hall” about a ghost that appeared every Christmas Eve and flooded an English mansion, until one year the owner found a way to freeze it. That story stayed with me for more than forty years. Later in life, of course, I read the contemporary greats—Shirley Jackson, Jonathan Aycliffe, Peter Straub, Stephen King, Douglas Clegg, Sarah Langan, to name a few. One of the most terrifying modern ghost stores, in my opinion, is Susie Moloney’s The Dwelling.

Spec Can: What ghost stories informed your novel Wild Fell?

Michael Rowe: The genesis of Wild Fell shares an important central theme with both Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw and Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, which is the literal question of the protagonist’s sanity until well into the story. It’s the difference between a story where the ghost appears and shouts boo! and a story where the question of the ghost’s very existence is in question based on the mental health of the protagonist.

Spec Can: What can horror literature ‘teach’ readers, how can it evoke new questions or ideas?

Michael Rowe: The best horror fiction is excellent, enduring literature, and shares qualities with other excellent, enduring literature. What horror allows both the reader and the writer to do is to explore both darkness and redemption by staring both in the face and naming them for what they are.  When the narrative boundaries are as flexible and permeable as they are in horror fiction, the ways to tell those stories, to examine the human condition, increases exponentially. When done right, it’s art. When it’s done badly, it’s as bad as any bad fiction, maybe even slightly worse.

Spec Can: Why does horror literature show such a fascination with the body? What does the body interest us so much?

Michael Rowe: The body is our first haunted house. We live in it. We haunt it. We are literally our own ghosts.

Spec Can: As a horror author, you deal in the realm of fear in the fictional worlds you create, but what about yourself. What is your greatest fear? And how do your own fears influence your work?

Michael Rowe: What terrifies me is the loss of the people I love. Forced loss informs a great deal of my fiction—loss of innocence, loss of sanity, loss of beloved friends and relatives, loss of lovers. In the film John Carpenter’s In the Mouth of Madness, which I covered for Fangoria magazine as a journalist, Julie Carmen’s character, a horror editor, asks her travelling companion to imagine the loss of everyone and everything he loves, literally “to be the last one left.” I think that would be terrifying.

Spec Can: How does the landscape feature in your work? What is the importance of place and is there a gothic potential in the Northern landscape?

Michael Rowe: I attended a very rugged, very macho boarding school in western Canada for four years, and it had a vigorous outdoor program. We canoed a few thousand miles through the Canadian bush during the four years I was there, and I recall, even as a teenager, being struck not only by the beauty of that wilderness, but also by its savagery and gothic isolation. We have our own Transylvanias—high mountain passes, vast lakes, stormy oceans, tundra, dark forests, and isolated small towns in the middle of nowhere. I would say that the seed of Enter, Night was planted in my mind from that experience when I was a teenager. I’ve lived all over the world, but Canada is my home. I consider myself a Canadian writer, and a Canadian horror writer—this country is currently the source of my material in a very natural way. That Northern landscape is my birthright.

Spec Can: In Wild Fell you focus on the potential of small towns to create their own myths and legends. What is it about small towns that inspire legends, that feeds them?

Michel Rowe: As I suggested before, I think it has to do with the sharing of the stories, based on the lack of anonymity. If a real estate agent and his wife kill each other with knives in front of their children in a city, it becomes a news item on CNN and disappears within 24 hours. If it happens in a small town, the impact is devastating, and the story could live for generations because it didn’t happen to “someone” in the news, it happened to someone to whom one is connected by flesh, blood, marriage, extended family, or maybe just civic interaction. But because it’s all contained in a small geographic landscape inhabited by people who know each other, and how to talk to and about each other, it’s written into the fabric of history.

Spec Can: In Wild Fell you describe ghost stories as “bridges between the past and the present.” In what ways do ghost stories bring attention to the past, to things lost and things forgotten?

Michael Rowe: The historical events that caused the haunting in Wild Fell happened in the mid-19th century, but the effect of those events reverberated across more than a century, and it’s up to the protagonist to try to figure out what happened, and to solve the problem before meeting a ghastly fate. To a ghost, there is no such thing as time, by definition. The events that laid the groundwork for its appearance may have happened 200 years ago, but to the ghost, those events are as real, as current and as present as what their victim had for breakfast on the very first morning of the haunting.

I want to thank Michael Rowe for this wonderful interview and for his incredible insights. On a cold, winter night, there is nothing like an author who can bring our attention to the cold breath on the back of our necks and the cold touch of Northern horror.

If you haven’t had a chance to explore Michael Rowe’s work yet, you can explore his website at http://www.michaelrowe.com/ . If you are interested in checking out some of Mr. Rowe’s work, you can explore a few reviews of his work at  https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2013/12/09/shattered-glass/ and https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2012/12/23/postcolonial-vampirism-consuming-resources/

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.

Postcolonial Vampirism – Consuming Resources

A review of Michael Rowe’s Enter, Night (ChiZine , 2011)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Cover photo of Enter, Night, courtesy of ChiZine Publications

Cover photo of Enter, Night, courtesy of ChiZine Publications

In Michael Rowe’s Enter, Night, the true terror is not the vampires, but rather the spectre of the small town and its ability to suppress all forms of difference. Small towns are places of secrets because very few secrets can be kept in a place where everyone knows everyone else’s business. Secrecy and hiding become particularly important in small towns for people that show any difference from the norm, and Rowe’s narrative focuses on two outcasts returning to the small town where they grew up: a woman who became pregnant out of wedlock and her gay brother-in-law who fled from the small town to avoid persecution and torture by groups that wanted to make him conform to a heterosexual image.

For them the town is a haunted, dark, and dangerous place, but there is more to the depths of the town’s horrifying history – a history of secrecy and suppression extending back to the moment of European colonialism. Small towns are haunted places and often haunt the imaginations of those who have left them to avoid persecution. This small town is literally contaminated by a history that it seeks to suppress and remake in a “more respectable” (i.e. suppressed and glossed over) image, much as if tries to make its residents conform to a homogenising notion of respectability and ‘normalcy’ that prevents any sort of individual difference.

This town was infected by a vampiric influence at the moment of European colonial contact, and that vampiric connection permeates the town from its early years both in the random acts of violence that the vampiric spirit evokes, but also in the consumptive character of the town itself. Michael Rowe uses his vampiric narrative to comment on some of the vampirisms of modernity: the consumptive quality of capitalism where the rich suck the life blood from the workers they exploit (this town is a mining town with one wealth family and a population in poverty) and in the image of conversion that permeated the early European settler narratives – much like early European settlers, the vampire seeks to make its victims in its own image. In Rowe’s narrative this vampiric colonialism is literal when an early priest who sought to convert the Indigenous Peoples of Northern Ontario brought his vampiric contamination with him and, much as the European settlers brought disease to Canada’s Indigenous Peoples, he brought a vampiric virus the spread through the population bringing waste and destruction to the people as well as re-making them into his image. The vampire is a figure of exploitation and the exploitative narrative runs through this novel, exploring the destructive power of greed and conquest.

Rowe’s narrative is one that gives life to the suppressed aspects of history and modernity, the hidden corruptions and exploitations that are often understated in a society that does not want people to raise too much trouble or question things too deeply. Rowe also shows incredible skill in giving life to the victims of the vampiric attack. Many horror writers gloss over the life and history of their monster’s victims, portraying them as essentially statistics without individuality or depth, but Rowe creates every character as though he or she could be a central character, a character of significance and makes the reader feel a deep connection to the character before taking them away. He illustrates that no person is a statistic and that each death should effect us on a deeper level and be felt as a personal loss.  Horror is not about numbers, but about feeling loss as though it is our own, as though we have had some part of ourselves ripped from our chests and Rowe is able to make his reader feel every loss.  He illustrates that the real horrors of society are the repressions and suppressions of individuals: the transformation of people into statistics without substance, figures of consumption rather than unique and individual lives.

You can explore more about Michael Rowe at his website http://www.michaelrowe.com/ .  And you can get your own copy of Enter, Night at ChiZine Publications’ website http://chizinepub.com/ .

Doomed to Repeat

A Review of Camille Alexa’s Children of the Device (In Here Be Monsters: Tongues and Teeth: Issue Seven, 2012)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Cover photo of Here Be Monsters courtesy of the publisher.

Since the world is supposed to end at the end of this month according to the Mayan Calendar, I thought I would begin the month with an apocalyptic story by Camille Alexa. Nothing better prepares us for the holidays than a reminder of the dangers of human greed.

Only one ship carrying thousands escaped the destruction of the Earth in Camille Alexa’s Children of the Device and five generations into the ship’s voyage, Earth’s traditions linger – from New Year’s resolutions to our perpensity for overpopulation and selfish greed.

Plagues have spread through the colony ship, erasing much of the access to historical records, and, Alexa gives the reader a reminder that those who forget history are doomed to repeat it as humanity cycles through the destructive behaviours that led to the destruction of their own world.  Instead of learning from each previous generation, the human colonists repeat the horrors of human history, desiring more for themselves than their fellow human beings, privileging present desires over the needs of future generations, and solving debates with deadly battles. The pervasive attitudes that lead to Earth’s destruction continue to surface as the fundamental selfishness of the human animal surfaces even far from home.

A lot of space narratives begin with the image of escaping a destroyed Earth and see this as a moment of freeing ourselves from our past and from the gravitational shackles of home that kept us back from the universe, but Camille Alexa reminds us that a change in environment does not facilitate a change in attitude and escaping from our roots does not prevent us from growing back like weeds to infect new environments with our selfish intentions. Alexa warns readers about the dangers of  presentist thinking, and the belief that an accumulation of more things now wards off the dangers of loneliness and sorrow.

Explore more about this volume at http://herebemonstersanthology.blogspot.ca/ and find out more about Camille Alexa and her current projects on her website at http://camillealexa.com/