Ennui in Space

A review of James Alan Gardner’s Ascending (Open Road Media)

By Derek Newman-Stille

Ascending is James Alan Gardner’s discourse on boredom wrapped up in science fiction. Gardner’s narrator Oar is from a genetically modified species that at the age of 50 literally just becomes bored with the world and lays down to sleep for eternity…. and Oar has just reached the age of 54. They refer to it as having a “tired mind”. In order to keep going, she needs to stay stimulated and keep her mind active. She already has moments when her mind is tired and she loses minutes and hours as she spaces out. She finds herself losing time and becoming disconnected to the world around her even as she sets out on a galactic adventure full of action-packed excitement and new challenges.

Oar was first introduced in Gardner’s Expendable, when Explorer Festina Ramos was dropped off on her planet and changed the world that Oar had known. Now, Oar has sought out Festina again and the two are plunged into a galaxy of conspiracies, advanced paranoid aliens, and secret discoveries.

Although Oar is 50 and that is normally the end of her species time awake and active, Ascending is a coming of age story for Oar as she faces the reality of the universe around her, challenges her pre-existing ideas, and grows up. Growing up is never easy and Oar’s coming of age is one that involves painful awakenings.

Through the lens of Oar, Gardner presents an examination of the social meaning of boredom and writes a discourse about ennui through an exciting sci fi adventure.

To discover more about Ascending, visit https://openroadmedia.com/ebook/ascending/9781497612259

To find out more about James Alan Gardner, visit https://jamesalangardner.wordpress.com

Reviewed by Derek Newman-Stille, MA, PhD ABD (They/Them)

Trapped by Destiny

A review of Lydia Peever’s “Shrinking Dwell” in Pray Lied Eve (Hora Minor Productions, 2013)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Cover image from Pray Lied Eve courtesy of Lydia Peever

Cover image from Pray Lied Eve courtesy of Lydia Peever

It starts with a ball of ice that has fallen from the sky. Connor becomes fascinated with this odd phenomenon, obsessed with the mystery and the need to solve it. He can’t figure out why others aren’t as interested as he is – why others don’t seem to care about this small oddity. It is often the small things that people ignore that point to a larger imbalance in the world, a bigger oddity.

Drawn by this mystery and his need to solve it, Connor begins researching ice, sound, and the possible conspiracy of fate around him that keeps pushing him to change the churches around his city to modify the sounds of their bells… and the atmosphere surrounding them.  Despite the warnings of the people around him, the obvious dangers he sees as he explores further depths to this conspiracy of the world, he continues to pursue his obsession.

Lydia Pever’s “Shrinking Dwell” explores the power of obsession that can possess someone – the need to know, the need to solve a problem. Connor’s obsession has absorbed him, encompassed him, and he becomes caught up in a larger pattern of fate/ moira… an inescapable draw from which he cannot escape. Obsession becomes a loss of personal power, a loss of control and internal motivation. His compulsion becomes all-encompassing.

Peever illustrates to her reader that destiny is not always good or kind, and can be a trap.

To find out more about Lydia Peever and her short story collection Pray Lied Eve, visit her website at http://nightface.ca/portfolio/ .

Five Stages of Grieving Yourself

A Review of Corey Redekop’s Husk (ECW Press, 2012)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Cover Photo of Husk, courtesy of the author

Cover Photo of Husk, courtesy of the author

Corey Redekop’s Husk is a visceral, body novel with philosophical ponderings on existence. Redekop’s protagonist is a queer-oriented zombie actor, trapped in consciousness as his body deteriorates around him. The reader is put into the position of experiencing death and resurrection into a desiccated body and Redekop captures the feel of that experience – the emotional, physical, and psychological upheaval that would accompany the shift into a new form of bodily existence. His zombie protagonist, Sheldon, pines over the simple things that his body used to be able to do like sneezing, breathing, and yawning and he becomes obsessed with these lost experiences and the feeling that they were linked to his human experience.

Sheldon is a zombie, an Other, who pines for and grieves for his humanity. He fights the sociopathic impulse to feed on friends and family and the dissociation from the human experience that comes with his new state of being and the switch to viewing human beings as food. He struggles to make connections with others despite the rise in hunger when he approaches human contact. He has to re-train his mind and body to adapt to this new existence – to the loss of human contact and to the deterioration of his body.

As a horror actor, he is met with the idea that identity can be performed. Even on a Reality TV show, he is asked to perform his queer identity for an audience, play it up so that the audience can see that he fits with their stereotypes. But, his new body and change in existence forces him to come to terms with reality and see the falseness of social performance. Despite having to play human and adapt to human customs (and the little taboo against cannibalism), he sees existence more clearly. He watches as his agent spin doctors his zombieism into a sensationalist sales experience, marketing him for the masses, and sees the hollowness of that performance and that she is perhaps more sociopathic in her desire to make money and gain power than he is in his desire for human flesh.

Despite the deeper philosophical implications of exploring the mind and the body as a site of the mind as well, Corey Redekop infuses his work with humour, recognising the interrelationship of horror and humour, the little bubbles of laughter that arise when one is truly terrified, and the exaggeration of emotional experience that comes when one faces true horror. The horror of the novel amplifies its humour and the humour of the novel boosts the feeling of fear and revulsion.

The underlying horror that Corey Redekop evokes in this novel is not the fear of being consumed by the zombie (as is often the case with many zombie books and films), but rather the existential questions – the fear of being trapped in a state of awareness within a rotting body, being disembodied from consciousness and having no way to interact with the world around you.

To read more about Corey Redekop, you can visit his website at http://www.coreyredekop.ca/ . To get a copy of Husk for yourself, visit ECW press at http://www.ecwpress.com/

It Was A Dark And Stormy Night…

A Review of Ian Rogers’ SuperNOIRtural Tales (Burning Effigy Press, 2012).
By Derek Newman-Stille

Cover photo for SuperNOIRtural Tales courtesy of the author

Cover photo for SuperNOIRtural Tales courtesy of the author

I was so excited to see that Ian Rogers had collected a number of his Felix Renn Black Lands novellas into one volume and published it as SuperNOIRtural Tales. I had reviewed his novellas Temporary Monsters (https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2012/08/13/performing-the-monster/), The Ash Angels (https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2012/08/28/spectres-spooks-and-supernatural-s-a-d/ ), and Black-Eyed Kids (https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2012/09/26/when-death-is-better-than-continuing-fear/) and was happy to see that they were brought together with extensive new materials on the Black Lands and a new story titled The Brick into this fantastic volume that blends the supernatural with a detective noir novel.

Ian Rogers twists and warps the natural world in his Black Lands stories, taking normal experience, normal reactions, and normal people and placing them into contexts where they are forced to face trickles of the weird drifting in from otherworldly portals from the monstrous Black Lands. This is a world where children, for generations told that the monsters that they imagined under their beds are now real and are taught how to cope with the monstrous in their school. A world with governments like ours who are coping with a populace afraid of invisible, sudden, and unexpected threats and are coping (much like ours) by keeping details secret and doing horrible things in their belief that they are preserving the public interest. Where in our world, government secrets, the policing of people, and militarism are focussed on issues like ideas of global threats like nuclear militarisation, the spread of viruses, environmental degradation, and ideas of border security, the borders of Ian Rogers’ world are that of the Black Lands, a realm of the monstrous where everything is potentially a predator, where secret agencies cover up public dangers, where disappearances could be related to the supernatural or to those who might be considered a public threat, where military groups are sent into the ‘enemy territory’ of the Black Lands, and where the Black Land portals can be considered a spreading taint that can appear without warning. Like in our world where the permanent, nascent fear of catastrophe has permeated aspects of social and political life, the Black Lands is highly politicised and represents the anxious currents of the world surrounding unknowable threats.

But, like in our world, the nascent anxiety of potential danger becomes a background noise, fearful whisperings in the dark, and people in the world of the Black Lands novels learn to ignore the reality of the monstrous threat that stands a thin reality line away in order to cope and live normal lives. They know that the world as they know it can change at a moment’s notice, that constant interruptions to the world that they view as normal are possible, likely, and increasing, but they cope with the low-level anxiety in order to maintain their thin conceptions of a normal world.

Rogers plays with the juxtaposition of the ordinary and the extraordinary, illustrating how ordinary people can learn to cope with the introduction of the Weird into their everyday lives.

In the newest Black Lands story in this volume, The Brick, Ian Rogers focusses the idea of disruptions interrupting the norm on a place that most of us most associate with safety, security, and normal existence: The Home. Felix Renn is brought into a case involving a girl who disappears suddenly from her home, and, in his search to find her, encounters a real estate agent friend who specialises in buying and selling haunted houses. The house becomes an unsafe space, its insecurity and lack of safety exposed: Ian Rogers ‘Weirds’ the home, disrupting the safe blanket of domesticity that has become the foundation for Western modernity. Houses become things that can attack people, that can kill, that can be possessed… and even the bricks of the home itself can become infused with the ‘Weird’. They can be tainted spaces, infused with the miasma of the Black Lands.

Even people in The Brick can become tainted, contaminated by exposure to the Black Lands in a syndrome that has been labelled by society as “The Influence” and dubbed by Health Officials “Black Lands Syndrome”. The body, the most fundamental particle of our identity structure, can be changed, touched by darkness, and can become unfamiliar…. and more frightening…. the monsters can sense this taint and some like to keep their privacy enough to hunt the people who have contaminated THEIR world…

You can explore more about SuperNOIRtural Tales at Burning Effigy Press’ website at http://www.burningeffigy.com/ . To find out more about Ian Rogers and his other books, check out his website: http://www.ian-rogers.com/ . And, to feed your love of the Black Lands, there is even a Black Lands website at http://theblacklands.com/