Penning the Subtle Murmur of Death and Splash of Blood

A review of Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s This Strange Way of Dying (Forthcoming 2013, Exile Editions)

Cover photo courtesy of Silvia Moreno-Garcia. Artwork by Sara K. Diesel

Cover photo courtesy of Silvia Moreno-Garcia. Artwork by Sara K. Diesel

By Derek Newman-Stille

Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s This Strange Way of Dying is just one step abstracted from reality, with one foot in The Weird. Populated with monsters, magic, and folklore, her work is fundamentally about the human outsider experience, the deeper engagement with the world that comes from being on the fringe, looking in at the oddity that is “The Normal”. From this outsider position, her characters navigate a world that is simultaneously familiar and odd to them. The city in Moreno-Garcia’s work, is a place of wonder and misery. She engages with the estrangement of the urban environment and the isolating and abject quality of living in modernity.

Setting most of her stories in Mexico, and exploring Mexican legends and Mexican urban environments, Moreno-Garcia uses the power of being a person between spaces (both Mexican and Canadian) to navigate the duality of her identity, presenting Mexican themes for a primarily Canadian reading audience. Her stories revel in the creative space of between-ness.

Moreno-Garcia provides the deep and intelligent critiques of “The Normal” that can best be expressed through outsider characters and their ability to have a dual vision of society both from the fringes and from within, questioning and interrogating the norms that are constantly being imposed on them. While engaging with monsters, monstrous changes within, and the touch of magic and death on their lives, her characters explore their relationship to the environment, to mortality, critique capitalist disparity, war and violence, and explore their estrangement from others. Her stories swirl around a critique of people who are obsessed with the mundane while ignoring the violence, disparity, and death around them. The glimpses she provides into the dark don’t allow the reader to escape from the reality of horrors embedded in our world.

Penning shadows that soak and stain the page with midnight ponderings, Moreno-Garcia creates worlds of dark wonder that pull the mind of the reader into a dream-like-state of pondering. Courting death and violence as her muses, and breathing them out onto the page, whispering little deaths onto the paper, she evokes the horror that exists around us, constantly being pushed to the shadows by our own desires to ignore it.

Much like the god of the woods in her story Shade of the Ceiba Tree, her voice is joy and love, yet the reader discovers that beneath the layers of beauty in her words is the subtle murmur of death and the splash of blood on the earth. She, too, wields a double-ended blade of fear and desire.

You can explore some of my reviews of individual stories from this volume at https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2013/07/22/coyotes-in-urban-turf-wars/ and https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2013/07/15/commodifying-extinction/ .

To find out more about This Strange Way of Dying and Silvia Moreno-Garcia, visit http://silviamoreno-garcia.com/blog/this-strange-way-of-dying/This Strange Way of Dying will be available on September 1, 2013.

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Commodifying Extinction

A Review of Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s “Maquech” (This Strange Way of Dying, Exile Editions, 2013)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Cover photo courtesy of Silvia Moreno-Garcia. Artwork by Sara K. Diesel

Cover photo courtesy of Silvia Moreno-Garcia. Artwork by Sara K. Diesel

Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s short story “Maquech” is a narrative of wealth disparity and the value attached to animal life. Set in the near future, rare animals that are going extinct have become commodities for the rich, purchased as fashion items, status signifiers, and indicators of wealth. Animals are not valued unless they serve a capitalist end, providing an economic advantage.

In a world of wealth disparity, where the poor are struggling to survive, animals are endangered, seen as competitive resource consumers, and de-valued. Rather than balancing wealth and making clean water and food available to all (instead of just to the wealthy), the poor starve and live with thirst and come to see animals as only competition for resources rather than valuable contributors to the world around them. Rather than viewing the wealthy as the competing consumer, the cultural messages of this near future world construct animals as the competing organism, and a draw on resources, much as, in our own time period, the wealthy tend to blame others for the disparity in availability of resources.

Mario is the grandson of a man who makes rare animals, reconstructing them before they are extinct. He wants to travel to Canada to see the polar bears before they become extinct and sells a rare maquech (an insect) to Gerardo in order to get the funds to witness animal life flourishing before it disappears. Gerardo sees the maquech as an economic advantage, a saleable item for the wealthy to consume since the rich use these live insects as clothing items, a living broach on their clothes. Animals have been reduced to trade items, methods for people to make money and survive in a competitive future.

Ignoring the ecological and mythical significance of the animal, its life has been reduced to a dollar value. It is the very nature of extinction that attributes value to these animals, their rarity constructs them as something to be used as status symbols: “he likes real things and real things are scarce”. Life itself has been rendered as part of the capitalist economy, but the real wealth of animals, their deeper significance is lost in the trade for money as Gerardo discovers when he finds a loss in himself at the loss of his maquech.

To find out more about Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s work, you can visit her website at http://silviamoreno-garcia.com/blog/ . To read this story and others from This Strange Way of Dying, you can explore it at http://silviamoreno-garcia.com/blog/this-strange-way-of-dying/ . This collection will be available in the fall.

Transformative Art

A Review of OnSpec #91 Vol 24, No 4 (Winter 2013)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Cover photo courtesy of OnSpec (Art by Kenn Brown)

Cover photo courtesy of OnSpec (Art by Kenn Brown)

One of the key narrative threads running through Volume 24, number 4 of OnSpec is the transformative power of art and writing. This thread is most potent in Kevin Cockle’s Palimpsest, a short story about a man who learns how to transform the world and people around him through calligraphy, over-writing people’s personalities, histories, and selfhood with simple movements of pen and ink. The world becomes a transformative space, subject to authorial whims and transformative thoughts.

Gaie Sebold’s Sharali focuses on an artist who is resisting social pressures to devote his artistic energies toward capitalist means. In a society that is over-writing the natural world with the destructive industrialist enterprise, Charentin concentrates on painting natural scenes and scenes of natural beauty, capturing the numinous quality of the natural environment rather than scenes of industrial expansion and wealth. Through his artistic ability to overlay the natural, Charentin is capable of releasing himself and the prostitute Sharali from their lives of servitude and artificiality.

William B. Robinson’s poem Delta Theta Alpha Beta concentrates on the numinous quality of letters, the ability of letters to transcend the limits of simple meaning – the power of sigils to speak to more than their representative value but summon an eldritch quality that arises from beyond the mundane.

In Steven Popkes’ 10 Things I Know About Jesus, the transformation that occurs is on a mythical level, shifting the tales told from the past to illustrate how rumour leads to legend, leads to myth, and the mythical says very little about the original subject and speaks more to the ideologies of those creating the myth. Jesus in this story is far different from the character outlined in Christian belief. He plays poker with Satan and Lazarus, doesn’t attend a church, has little interest in performing miracles, and views the events leading up to his crucifixion as his last foray into the realm of politics. He resists the mythical structure that has been built around him.

David Gordon Buresh’s The Devil’s Eyes looks at the transformative power of consumption and hunger, the way that the act of eating can fundamentally shift something in the structure of human beings, pushing them into something Other, something mythical.

Leslie Claire Walker’s Ghost Ride explores the world of a driver for the dead, bringing the deceased to their new destinations (whether it be Heaven or Hell). Mack, the driver, seeks to change destiny, trying to find his wife (who committed suicide) a means of finding her way into Heaven, transforming the stigma and spiritual blight that was branded onto her soul by her act of suicide. The transformative quality of this story is huge, facilitated by the vehicle of travel (the car ride to the realms of the dead) and the transformative quality of death itself, moving between one state of being and another. The life (and afterlife) narrative of the passengers is in flux, determining what their next steps will be.

Kim Neville’s One Shoe Highway is a powerful transformative travel narrative. Like Ghost Ride, it is focused on the roadway as a place of transition and change. Women in this story disappear periodically from the road, leaving behind a symbol of their travel as well as of their previous lives – their shoes. These women have the option of giving up their previous lives (often marred by abuse) and separating themselves from the world that victimises them.  Bringing attention to the social issue of so many battered women disappearing, Kim Neville has her characters instantly be forgotten after they disappear (mirroring the social response to women who are victims of assault and abduction, which is often to forget about them and erase their memory). Instead of being abduction victims, however, the women in One Shoe Highway are given the option of changing their narrative future and instead of tolerating a future of spousal and societal abuse, they are allowed to move out of the world into a space primarily for battered women.

As a medium that brings the SF community short stories, SF artwork, interviews, and editorials in one volume, it was incredible to see OnSpec’s focus on the power of narrative and stories to shift and change and to alter the world around them. SF stories have the potential to bring social attention to issues in our world – they can shift our consciousness, help us see things that we ignore, and open our minds to new possibilities. Art and narrative really are transformative – they can change the world.

On a personal note, as a disability scholar, I was extremely excited to see the interview conducted with Kevin Cockle and his discussion of the influence of his own medical disability on his authorial work.

To find out more about OnSpec, you can visit their website at http://www.onspec.ca/ .

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/ .