Grey’s SUPERanatomy

Grey’s SUPERanatomy
A review of Corey Redekop’s “SUPER” in Tesseracts Nineteen: Superhero Universe edited by Claude Lalumiere and Mark Shainblum (Edge, 2016).

By Derek Newman-Stille

Corey Redekop’s “SUPER” intertwines the medical drama with the superheroic, creating a commentary on the medicalizing of bodies that differ from a socially created norm. “SUPER” presents the reader as one of a group of doctors who are being led into a facility whose purpose is to deal with medical issues that may arise from superhero bodies. The reader is led through an introduction to the facilities and some of the specific concerns that relate to super bodies. Redekop, although playing with humour and the absurd, also plays with the hyper-real by examining the potential realities of the diverse bodies presented in traditional superhero comics from the problematic digestive issues of a body made of stone, what happens when a super body heals too much and produces new bodies out of every discarded part, and what happens when an elastic body stretches too far. He also invites questions around those issues not explored in comics like what happens when a superhero acquires an STI or how superheroes cope with erectile dysfunction. 

Redekop plays with medicalised rhetoric around disability by instead applying this to superhero bodies, bringing attention to the ways that we socially construct disability as a problem. He uses medical rhetoric like calling people “supercapables” (playing with the term ‘handicapables’) to point at the way that language often is used as a distraction from deeper social discriminations against people with different bodies. He brings attention to the way that rhetoric often replaces real social change and nifty acronyms replace accessibility. Indeed, the facility itself is called SUPER (Sanatorium for the Uberhuman Palliative, Emergency, and Restorative care), playing with the way that medical bureaucracies often apply language to new situations instead of policies of change. Bringing attention to things like palliative care and terms like “restorative”, and “sanitorium”, Redekop focuses the reader on the institutionalization of people with disabilities and the aged. He invites the question of “what happens when we no longer consider different bodies to be USEFUL bodies?”, a question that has occupied disability scholars regarding the representation of disabled bodies as only valuable when perceived as productive. 

Redekop reverses the lens of looking at disability as the Other by also ensuring that the doctors are from traditionally pathologised groups, made up of people who exhibit borderline personality disorders and “near-crippling” social phobias. The doctors would likely be treated as stigmatized people because of their psychological disabilities and be subject to all of the social oppression that other people labelled “mad” would experience. By situating the doctors as people with stigmas, Redekop breaks down the barrier that is arbitrarily created between able-bodied and disabled, or, in this case, between able-bodied and superable-bodied. He portrays the psychological disabilities of these doctors as assets, aiding in their ability to think up new medical treatments. By putting the reader into the position of one of the doctors through the second person narration, Redekop further complicates the portrayal of disability by having the reader occupy a diagnostic position, making the reader the medical authority who is learning about new bodies. 

Combining social critique and questions with his characteristic humour, Corey Redekop wields his words like a scalpel, cutting to the root of complex social questions and operating in a theatre of critical wit.

To find out more about Corey Redekop’s work, visit his website at http://www.coreyredekop.ca

To discover more about Tesseracts Nineteen, visit Edge’s website at http://edgewebsite.com/books/tess19/t19-catalog.html 

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Canadian SF Authors, What are you Reading? Corey Redekop

A spectacular readinf list from Corey Redekop perfectly timed for all of those boxing day sales!! Thank you Corey for this brilliant description of your best of books for 2015! It looks like i have a LOT of books to add to my reading list!



Top Baker’s Dozen Books 2015 by Corey Redekop

There are three things I keep in mind when making such lists: 1) I arguably read too many books, and inarguably am not terribly discerning. 2) I fully realize the inherent subjective flexibility of such lists; tomorrow this list could be completely different. 3) There is nothing more dispiriting then cutting books out of a list.

Today, this is the list I ended up with, my favourite reads of 2015 (but not necessarily from 2015).

I’m going to cheat a bit and provide a baker’s dozen of taste treats. I’ll present alphabetically by author and leave the choice of “best” up to you. And yes, I’m cheating even more by adding more than one book per author. Sue me.

Jacqueline Baker – The Broken Hours (2014, HarperCollins Canada)

  
• Baker’s tale of the personal assistant to H.P. Lovecraft evokes the cosmic weirdness of Lovecraft’s work while keeping the story fully rooted in the real. The result is both tremendously spooky and a remarkably moving treatise on the lonely art of writing.

Andrew Battershill – Pillow (2015, Coach House)

  
• I picked up Battershill’s debut novel on a whim, but within ten pages I knew I had discovered something special. Battershill’s crime yarn of a boxer caught up in the wild gangster machinations of a famous French surrealist really shouldn’t work on any level, but succeeds on them all.


Nick Cutter – The Deep (2015, Simon & Schuster), The Acolyte (2015, ChiZine)

   
 • Cutter released two markedly different books in 2015. The Deep’s tale of scientists trapped in a deep-sea laboratory is a claustrophobic nightmare, evoking Michael Crichton’s scientific mumbo-jumbo and Stephen King’s depth of character. The Acolyte is a dystopian detective fiction set in a militaristic theocracy that is equal parts Raymond Chandler and Fahrenheit 451. Both terrified me to the core, for markedly differing reasons.

Sebastian De Castell – Traitor’s Blade (2014, Penguin Random House)

  
• The flat-out most enjoyably fun novel I read this year. De Castell mixes the swashbuckling exploits of The Three Musketeers with dashes of fantastical magic and gritty dialogue, resulting in an adventure novel that never stops moving and leaves you wanting more.

Beth Goobie – The First Principles of Dreaming (2014, Second Story Press)

  
• Being a juror for the 2015 Sunburst Award, I’ll quote my Honourable Mention description here: “An unsettling and unnerving erotic exploration of a young woman’s psyche, Beth Goobie’s mix of sexuality, morality, and religious fundamentalism is a coming-of-age tale unlike any other.”

Kenneth Mark Hoover – Haxan, Quaternity (2014, 2015, ChiZine)

   
 • I’m hardly a western aficionado, but these two books in Hoover’s John Marwood series instantly rank among my favourites of the genre. Grisly, horrific, intensely personal, and plaited with blood-soaked threads of magic realism, these violent yarns of a man’s hopeless search for redemption are simultaneously unpleasant and impossible to put down.

Matthew Johnson – Irregular Verbs and Other Stories (2014, ChiZine)

  
• Johnson’s compendium of zombies, folksingers, detectives, dragons, and Mark Twain may be my favourite of all ChiZine short story collections. If you consider that ChiZine authors include Helen Marshall, David Nickle, Ian Rogers, Gemma Files, Halli Villegas, Douglas Smith, Claude Lalumière, and more, you’ll understand just how good Johnson (and ChiZine) is.

Nathan Larson – The Dewey Decimal System, The Nervous System, The Immune System (2011, 2012, 2015, Akashic Books)

   
   
• Being a librarian, how could I not read a novel called The Dewey Decimal System? Larson’s blisteringly odd series of an obsessive-compulsive bagman caught up in conspiracies galore in a post-terrorism New York is damned fun, Dashiell Hammett filtered through Chuck Palahniuk (when he was good).

Saleema Nawaz – Bone & Bread (2013, Anansi)

  
• Unlike everything else on this list, there’s no overt weirdness present in Nawaz’s gentle narrative, only the lovely, sad story of two sisters growing up Sikh in Montreal. Nawaz captures the minutiae of sisterly relationships like few others I’ve read, admittedly a short list but why damn such a fine novel with faint praise? This is a winner through and through.

Peter Norman – Emberton (2014, Douglas & McIntyre)

  
• Back to weirdness. The adventures of a strangely illiterate man working for the dystopic Emberton Dictionary, Norman’s gothic novel careens back and forth from office satire to tangled mystery-thriller to epic Lovecraftian horror, all the while working as a meta-examination of the intricacies of language. It’s breathtakingly original, and hits all my sweet spots.

Robert Repino – Mort(e) (2015, Soho Press)

  
• After the ant rebellion, evolved members of the animal kingdom take up arms against humanity. Through the war and its aftermath, housecat turned hero Mort(e) searches for his one true friend, a dog named Sheba. I have an inexplicable love of anthropomorphic fiction, and Mort(e) more than earns an honoured place on my shelves next to William Kotzwinkle’s The Bear Went Over the Mountain, Tim Davys’ Amberville, and Clifford Chase’s Winkie.

Emily St. John Mandel – Station Eleven (2014, Penguin Random House)

  
• After all the awards and accolades, there’s nothing I can add about Mandel’s wonderful work. Following a troupe of artists after the fall of mankind, Station Eleven has earned its fame. Damn this is good.

Lavie Tidhar – A Man Lies Dreaming (2014, Hodder & Stoughton)

  
• If you’re not reading Lavie Tidhar, shame on you. Equaling his superb work in Osama and The Violent Century, A Man Lies Dreaming is at once a crazed detective story (starring a certain German dictator) and a devastating Holocaust novel. There’s no reason for any of this to work, and I’d fear to read any lesser author taking on such a challenge. But Tidhar simply kills it.
Now that that’s done, let’s look at what didn’t make my list.

Sadly, I had to disqualify: The Exile Book of New Canadian Noir (2015, Exile) and Licence Expired: The Unauthorized James Bond (2015, ChiZine)

• If it weren’t that I am a contributor to both, I‘d have gladly placed them near the top; both gifted me with some of the best short fictions I’ve read in years.

  
• New Canadian Noir is laden with dazzling stories that demolish preconceived notions of “noir” and expand the concept into fantasy, sci-fi, and horror. All the stories are outstanding, but Keith Cadieux’s “Donner Parties” and Dale L. Sproule’s “Nunavut Thunderfuck” are personal faves.

  
• Licence Expired similarly plays with expectations, resurrecting the literary roots of Ian Fleming’s superspy in utterly surprising ways. Robert J. Wiersema’s “The Gale of the World,” Ian Roger’s “Two Graves” and A.M. Dellamonica’s “Through Your Eyes Only” are my standouts in a crowded field of excellence.

And finally, another baker’s dozen, this one of superior runner-ups, any of which could be dropped into the above list with no loss in quality:

Margaret Atwood, The Heart Goes Last; Adam Christopher, Empire State; Ian Colford, The Crimes of Hector Tomás; Wab Kinew, The Reason You Walk; Thomas King, The Back of the Turtle; Nicole Kornher-Stace, Archivist Wasp; Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Signal to Noise; James Morrow, Galapagos Regained; Carsten Stroud, The Reckoning; Paul Tremblay, A Head Full of Ghosts; Robert J. Wiersema, Black Feathers; Jane Woods, The Walking Tanteek; Ben H. Winters, World of Trouble

Now go read something, will you?

Speculating Canada on Trent Radio Episode 1: Canadian Zombie Fiction

In many American zombie narratives, people escape the zombie apocalypse by crossing the border into Canada. Is it our health care? Is it the cold? Is it the maple syrup? Whatever it is, American zombies don’t seem to like us very well… so, Canadians have created our own zombie fiction and we do something a little bit different with our zombies.

This first radio show of the season explores the history of the zombie narrative then delves into some examples of Canadian zombie narratives and explores the potential for the zombie to ask social questions of us as readers.

Listen to a discussion of:

The film Pontypool by Tony Burgess and Bruce McDonald

Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s collection Dead North: Canadian Zombie Fiction, and particularly the stories “And All The Fathomless Crowds” by Ada Hoffmann and “The Herd” by Tyler Keevil.

Corey Redekop’s novel Husk.

James Marshall’s novels Ninja Versus Pirate Featuring Zombies and Zombie Versus Fairy Featuring Albinos.

Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s short story “Cemetery Man”

and

Claude Lalumiere’s short story “The Ethical Treatment of Meat”

Click on the link to hear about how Canadian zombie fiction can comment on everything from the media, violence, the human as monster, social performances, the education system, depression, war, and animal rights.

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.

Make sure to allow a few minutes for the file to buffer since it may take a moment before it begins to play.

The Pedagogical Power of Play – Teaching Canadian SF (okay, and other literature courses too)

The Pedagogical Power of Play
by Derek Newman-Stille

Play is an important way to help students (of any age) learn. When you evoke student emotions, they remember things more effectively since memory acquisition is linked to emotional responses. By using an element of play in your teaching, your students are also more willing to take bigger risks, and do things that seem too stressful in a classroom that takes itself too seriously. When playing, students become more active learners. They know that the rules are somewhat suspended, so they are willing to take greater risks, think further outside the box. Once you are able to get students to think outside the box, they are able to think more critically about what they are doing. Not only will they remember the ideas you are covering, but they will also be more willing to question things, engage deeper with ideas, and be more inspired.

A lot of instructors use questions about the text (memory exercises) as a way to help students learn. They will create activities geared at helping students remember facts, but students remember facts best through using them, and being emotionally attached to them.

The most important thing to do is to let the texts themselves lend different ideas for inspiring students. Applying ideas from outside to various texts ends up feeling unnatural to the students. Look for entertaining ideas that stem from the text itself. For example, when I was teaching Stephen King’s Misery to my students, character Paul Sheldon discusses a game that he used to play with his friends where they would tell a story and then vote about whether it was believable or not. I adapted this for an activity for the classroom, having the students share in telling the story of Annie Wilkes (the villain of the story) in pieces and then vote after each segment whether the tale was believable for the Annie Wilkes that King created. By playing at giving Annie a background, students were able to explore narrative potentials and they were able to look deeper and more critically at the character King had created.

A Few Activities:

 1. Fan Fiction

Have students search for those narrative gaps in the text, those areas that the author didn’t explore and are rich for exploration. Fan fiction allows students to get deeper into the narrative and do an analysis beyond the surface reading. When students write fan fiction, they need to understand the text deeply in order to write a story that feels authentic to them. They tend to mine the text for incredible amounts of detail to support their ideas… which is great preparation for later essays and examinations.  When students write fan fiction, they look for narrative gaps, which means they look at the text critically, searching for what is missing, for problems in the text.

Make sure to provide students with a few examples of fan fiction (it is best if it comes from texts outside of the course so that they don’t feel like they are too limited)
(Thank you to Kelly McQuire for inspiring this)

2. Title Mash-Ups

Have students chose the titles of two different books from the course and then mash their titles together. Provide them with a few examples (of titles outside of the course). Then ask students to do an “elevator pitch” about what that novel will look like. Let them know that an elevator pitch is the pitch for a new novel that you would give in the few minutes that you have between floors when you are in an elevator with a publisher – make sure that they limit it to about 5 minutes.

This activity will help students to start making connections between the texts and thinking about them comparatively. This allows them to work out some ideas about the conversations between the texts and the overall themes of the course. Once they begin looking at things through a comparative lens, it makes it easier for them to do comparisons between texts later in essays and exams.

Here are a few examples of title mash-ups:

The Twilight Games
(Mash up of The Hunger Games and Twilight)

Vampires from each of the districts of Panem have to enter into an (eternal) life or death match with other vampires. Each of them has to protect a human companion from vampiric attack by their other opponents and battle their own hunger for human blood in order to keep their human alive in a world where everyone else and even the land itself is out to get them.

And some Canadian SF examples:

Blood Expendable
(Mash up of Tanya Huff’s Blood Price and James Alan Gardner’s Expendable)

After developing Retinitis Pigmentosa, Vicki Nelson, detective for the Technocracy loses her position and is made a member of the Explorer Corps, or, as they call themselves, Expendable Crew Members and sent on all of the dangerous missions that other, able-bodied crew members aren’t sent on because the Admiralty knows that people with disabilities aren’t mourned as much as able-bodied crew members. When the Admiralty sends her on a mission to a planet that is known to be a place of certain death, a planet where it is rumored that people frequently die of blood loss, she finds out that her only ally on this planet is a vampire. She learns that she can heal her body if she choses to become a vampire, or she can embrace her Retinitis Pigmentosa and try to change a society that rejects its disabled members and views them as expendable.

Bitten by a Turn of Light
(Mash up of Kelley Armstrong’s Bitten and Julie Czerneda’s A Turn of Light)

The small valley of Don is an odd pioneer settlement on the outskirts of Toronto where there are elements of magic like house toads, wells that fill up with sweet-tasting water whenever it is desired, fields that suddenly lay down during harvest, and where the woods are populated with strange beings. After being bitten by her friend, a mysterious, invisible entity named Wisp, Elena Nalynn discovers that something has changed in her body. She discovers that she is cursed, stuck between the human world, and the world of her friend. While trying to control her new hungers, her ability to turn invisible, and the impulse to fly, she has to confront whether she wants to try to make a normal, human life for herself in Toronto or venture into the Verge to join Wisp and live with the dragon pack.

3. Monster Mash-Up

In the wake of Mash-Ups like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, Mash-Ups have become really popular with readers. A mash-up is a work of fiction that combines a pre-existing literary work with another genre – essentially an injection of a monstrous bite into an existing literary work. In a work like this, students are encouraged to use somewhere between 60-85% of the original text and adapt other parts of it to suggest monstrous figures like zombies, vampires, or werewolves.

This can be a great activity for teaching a course that combines traditional Can Lit with Canadian genre fiction, for example, inviting students to mash up Anne of Green Gables with the monstrous. But, it can also be used to mash up other works of genre fiction, combining aspects of the monstrous with other narratives – for example, taking Canadian SF stories and injecting in a bit of monstrous characteristics.

You can ask students to do a full novel Mash Up, a single chapter, or even just do an elevator pitch about what the Mash Up would look like. If you decide to do an elevator pitch, ask student to think about how monsters would be integrated into the novel’s world, what challenges the narrative would face, which characters would be (or become) monstrous, and what elements of the story would shift with the monstrous introduction.

To begin, introduce students to a wide variety of Canadian monster short stories and/or novels.

Some Examples of Great  Canadian Zombie Short Stories or Anthologies:
Dead North: Canadian Zombie Fiction Edited by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
“The Ethical Treatment of Meat” (in Objects of Worship) by Claude Lalumiere
“A Visit to the Optometrist” (in Objects of Worship) by Claude Lalumiere

Some Examples of Great Canadian Zombie Novels:
Husk  by Corey Redekop
Zombie Versus Fairy Featuring Albinos by James Marshall

Some Examples of Great Canadian Vampire Short Stories or Anthologies:
Evolve: Vampire Stories of the New Undead Edited by Nancy Kilpatrick
Evolve 2: Vampire Stories of the Future Undead Edited by Nancy Kilpatrick
“Stories With Happy Endings” (in This Strange Way of Dying) by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
“Cemetery Man” (in This Strange Way of Dying) by Silvia Moreno-Garcia.

Some Examples of Great Canadian Vampire Novels:
Blood Books (series) by Tanya Huff
Blood and Chrysanthemums by Nancy Baker
A Terrible Beauty by Nancy Baker
The Night Inside by Nancy Baker
The Embrace of Life and Death by Liz Strange
The Night Wanderer: A Native Gothic Novel  by Drew Hayden Taylor
Enter, Night by Michael Rowe

Some Examples of Great Canadian Werewolf Short Stories or Anthologies:
“Out of the Light” (in Chimerascope) by Douglas Smith
“Spirit Dance” (in Impossibilia) by Douglas Smith

Some Examples of Great Canadian Werewolf Novels:
The Wolf at the End of the World by Douglas Smith
Bitten by Kelley Armstrong
Naked Brunch by Sparkle Hayter

Think about how much fun your students could have writing Anne of Green Pustules!

4. Write a review on GoodReads or another review site

Introduce students to a review website so that they can get a sense of what book reviews look like. Then, ask them to write their own review of one of the books on the course or one of their own books for a later essay. By asking students to check out GoodReads or other review sites, it introduces them to the notion of literary media sites and allows them to begin participating in literature communities. This will allow them to engage with a wider community of literature fans and prepare them for writing their own critiques of the books they are reading. By having them post their reviews on GoodReads or a similar site, students will feel engaged and will also feel the social pressure to write good reviews for others who might be interested in the book. It also allows them to feel more responsible for writing a good review since they will be responsible to a whole group of other readers.

I like to introduce GoodReads to students as “It’s like Facebook for people who love books”.

By having students review Canadian SF material, you are also contributing to Canadian authors by making sure that there are more reviews available for a genre that is traditionally under-reviewed.
(Thank you to Adam Brittain for inspiring this)

5. Now You Go There

Have students think about what it would be like to suddenly be in the world of the novel they are reading. What would their experience be? How would they survive in this world? What challenges would they face?

This activity will help students to deeply explore the role of setting in the novel – the social, political, and environmental context of the novel. This is especially effective for fantasy, science fiction, and some types of horror since students will have to examine the world-building of the author and try to fit themselves into that world. By asking the student to enter metaphorically into a new world, you are helping them to become (quite literally) personally involved and students often remember things better when they somehow relate back to themselves.

I find an effective accompanying text for this (in addition to whatever novel you are teaching) is Gary W. Renshaw’s “Vacation” in OnSpec #92 Vol. 25, No. 1 since it explores a sci fi author who ends up crash landing on an alien world (as well as the accompanying issues and frustrations that come from living on that world). You can find a review at https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2013/09/25/sci-fi-author-in-space/

6. Correspondence

Have your students write a series of emails or letters between various characters at various key points in the narrative. This will help the students to explore character psychology and interaction. They can interrogate the intentions of the characters as well as the way they want to represent themselves to other characters, and how they manage their identity portrayal.

7. Comic Book It!!

Have your students think about how they would adapt the novel they are reading into a comic book. I would suggest limiting their comic books to a 5 comic book run to cover the material from the original novel. Have them think about what they would need to include, what they would have to remove (while still making certain that they text conveys all of the relevant parts of the novel), ask them to think about their audience and in which ways they may have a different audience.

Ask students to do character layouts for each of the characters, considering the personalities, motivations, desires, flaws, strengths, and quirks of each of the characters. Following this, ask them to write out titles for each of the 5 comics and write a short description of each comic, considering the action of the scene, what to highlight, the fundamentals of the dialogue, and which parts of the novel they will cover.  Then, ask them to think about the essential dialogue of the text and choose some key quotes that would appear in word bubbles to capture the action of the scenes.

You can introduce students to an adaptation of a Canadian novel into a comic by having them first read Kelley Armstrong’s Bitten and then have them explore the comic book adaptation of the novel by Angilram at http://angilram.deviantart.com/gallery/6373443 .

8. Interview the Author

Have students develop questions for the author of the book that they have just read. This will allow them to delve into the narrative gaps, the missing or unexplored parts of the book.  In order to help them to prepare, you can introduce them to some interviews that you have found particularly interesting (hopefully, perhaps, like those on Speculating Canada). Consider using interviews that do deeper interrogations rather than ones that just ask the author “how did you sell your first book?”

9. Dating Profiles

This works particularly well for novels that have a romantic component. Ask students to choose three characters from the novel and write a dating profile for each of them. Have them consider the personalities of the characters as they are laid out in the novel and think about what they would write in a dating profile.

Here are some key areas that you can direct them toward:

-Headline:
-Name/ Pseudonym:
-Gender:
-I am Looking For: Marriage/ Dating/ Relationship/ Casual/ Friendship
-Looking for a Person Who is:
-Likes in a Partner:
-Dislikes in a Partner (Deal-Breakers):
-About me:
-Physical Description:
-Interests:
-Hobbies:

You can also have students write a dating questionnaire from the perspective of their characters with questions like:
-Describe any frequent types of barriers or patterns you encounter in your search for relationships:
-Please describe any circumstances or conditions in your life that you are concerned about regarding your relationship search and/or ultimate relationship success:
-What is your greatest achievement?
-What is your greatest disappointment?
-What is your best attribute?
-What is your worst attribute?
-If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
-What is your greatest passion?

As a really fun way to finish this activity, you can ask students to engage in a speed dating activity, having them play the part of the character trying to date one of the others. I find it really entertaining to have them speed date random other characters from the novel (other than the one the author intended to be their ideal partner).

You can, of course, use these activities for any literature course (not just for Canadian Speculative Fiction), but I hope they will inspire you to consider proposing a Canadian genre fiction course at your university or high school, or at least to include a few Canadian genre fiction texts on your syllabus.

These activities lend themselves particularly to literature courses, and the activities in the course assist students to develop confidence in creative writing, so can be quite effective for a creative writing course.

Remember, the more skills your students develop, the better your marking experience will be!! Well-written, interesting papers are much MUCH easier to mark.  So, when you inspire your students to develop their skills, you also save yourself time, energy, and headaches. Plus, playing when you teach also means that you will look forward to your own classes instead of dreading the boredom that comes from repetitive, replicative teaching.

Interview with Corey Redekop

An interview of Corey Redekop
By Derek Newman-Stille

Author photo courtesy of Corey Redekop

Author photo courtesy of Corey Redekop

Wouldn’t the world be better if we just asked the monsters politely if they could please not eat us at the moment? Corey Redekop and I had a chance in this interview to explore the figure of the monster and its role as a representation of the social outcast, the rejected. It is great to talk to an author who shares my belief that horror and SF in general can be a medium of social change. I hope that you enjoy our interview as much as I enjoyed talking to Corey Redekop.

Spec Can: Could you tell us a little bit about yourself to begin this interview?

Corey Redekop: I was hatched in the Canadian north, and spent the next 18 years building up my strength to order to escape. After bouncing around for a few decades, I wrote my debut novel Shelf Monkey, which helped open some doors I didn’t know existed. Currently I eke out a living as publicist for book publisher Goose Lane Editions in Fredericton, NB.

Spec Can: Why is the zombie so appealing to people right now? What has led to the current excitement about the figure of the zombie?

Corey Redekop: It’s well known that people flock to monsters and horror in times of stress, which explains the popularity of giant radioactive monsters during the beginnings of the nuclear age. I don’t know why zombies in particular have taken off. I think it has to do with the fear that we are the ultimate monsters in our world. If we want to better this planet, we have to fight our own fears, our own weaknesses, and our own ignorance.

Spec Can: What are some of the things that the zombie can represent in our society?

Corey Redekop: Zombies are a terrifically malleable monster, the “jack of all trades” of symbolism, capable of subtextually representing almost anything we care to name. Crime, disease, ego, sexuality, bureaucrats, consumerism, class warfare, conservatives; you name it, they can do it.

Spec Can: What myths of the zombie influenced the type of zombie that you created in Husk and what zombie myths fascinated you most?

Cover Photo of Husk, courtesy of the author

Cover Photo of Husk, courtesy of the author

Corey Redekop: Much of my initial idea had to do with the resurrection myths that permeate modern and ancient religions. In a real sense, they may be the progenitors to the zombie of today. What was Jesus post-death, really, if not a zombie with functioning brain? In my original manuscript, I played a lot more with this theme, trying to push the rotting corpse of Sheldon into a messiah figure. By combining the two, I tried to find a way that Sheldon could be both a zombie in the b-movie Hollywood sense and a fully sensate individual.

Spec Can: What made you decide to write Husk from the perspective of the zombie?

Corey Redekop: I didn’t want another “us vs. them” story. I like stories about outsiders and loners, which all monsters are to some extent. I also like tales where protagonists have to adapt or fight against something completely out of their control. (Which, I suppose, is the basis for all fiction, now that I think about it).

I love body horror, which is horror of the most unsettling sort; the horror of being trapped within flesh, a prisoner of your own DNA. David Cronenberg — whose movies The Fly, The Brood, and Videodrome are required viewing for those who appreciate both the form and a great mix of gore and intelligence — is the preeminent purveyor of the theme, and I wish he’d go back to it. I also find the idea of a man continually trying to keep his innards in check very funny, as well as gross; I recommend Stuart Gordon’s Re-Animator and From Beyond as two examples of just absolutely grotesque transmogrifications of the human form that are horrifying and horrifying funny. It seemed natural that I combine the two.

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

Corey Redekop: All horror is about coming across some form of evil; Canadian horror is about confronting such evil with unfailing politeness. Why thrust a wooden stake through the heart of the vampire when a strongly worded letter can be just as effective? “Dear ancient evil; I must strongly object to your recent killing spree…” (joke)

Horror is horror, no matter who writes it. I don’t think that there’s a necessarily Canadian POV that permeates northern horror, other than possibly setting (which doesn’t even work, since fiction crosses borders with such ease; one of my favourite horror novels, Cabal by Clive Barker, is set in Alberta, yet the author is British). I think this may be because fear is a primal instinct, something shared between peoples across the globe. Authors such as Andrew Pyper, David Nickle, Gemma Files, Michael Rowe, Susie Moloney, Ian Rogers, and Tony Burgess stand firmly with the best horror fiction available in the world. This could be because horror authors are all of a similar breed, a sect of damaged individuals who yearn to explore the darker corners of the world. Some are darker than others, but all appreciate what confronting our demons can achieve.

Spec Can: In your novel Husk, you wrote about a gay zombie. What inspired you to make your zombie character gay?

Corey Redekop: I actually didn’t know Sheldon was gay until (*SPOILER*) he killed his boyfriend. It just wrote out that way, but as soon as it did, I knew there could be no other choice. Sheldon has always been uncomfortable as himself, which may explain his striving to be an actor. He was never truly at ease with his homosexuality, a discomfort that can be placed at the feet of domineering religious mother. In our society, homosexuality is one of the last personal characteristics that some people feel very comfortable discriminating against because of their blatant fears and willful misreading of age-old texts that have very little bearing on the world of today (although this is lessening, thank God). Allowing Sheldon that experience informs his refusal to fully “monster up” and embrace his new identity as a member of the undead.

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

Corey Redekop: In Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend, the hero Neville, after fighting vampires for what seems like ages, suddenly understands himself to be the outsider, the monster that preys on innocent victims. Similarly, in Cabal, Boone, filled with self-loathing and believing himself a monster, realizes that the monsters are in actuality the prey, living forever in fear of humanity. Like the best of any fiction, horror allows us to turn the mirror and see ourselves as others see us, as monsters in our own right. This isn’t meant to excuse the monstrous acts of others, of course, but is it right to condemn the monster (or the outsider) as evil simply for following its own instincts? A zombie isn’t intrinsically evil; it is simply following an impulse we do not share. A vampire is only trying to survive, the same as us, reacting in the same way as any animal that has its habitat threatened through civilization’s continuing encroachment.

Spec Can: Can horror be a medium for empowering people who have been oppressed? How so?

Corey Redekop: Storytelling can always be empowering, and using elements of horror in the medium is no different. Look at how many authors are imprisoned for their stories; there is great power in words and tales, which explains why some governments are so wary and distrustful of their artists. The more we discuss a subject, the more people begin to understand it, come to grips with it, and accept it. This is what some people find so dangerous. The world is a place of constant change and evolution, and that scares some people to the core of their being. This is why Harry Potter gets challenged and banned, because in its own way it challenges some people’s belief as to the way the world works.

Spec Can: Why does horror literature show such a fascination with the body? What does the body interest us so much?804381_10151519200179402_957214904_n

Corey Redekop: The fascination lies in the body’s fragility. The prick of a pin can lead to infection; the eating of a peanut may close our breathing passages. It doesn’t take much to kill us, really, and while we may fight disease, we all know that it is ultimately a losing battle.

There’s also the absolute unfairness of the body that terrifies us. When people die from outside actions, there is always a reason we can attach a form of blame to. The girder wasn’t built to specifications, the terrorist was angry at government inaction, the brakes on the bus failed. We get that; we can deal with it rationally. When our body rebels, however, we have no one to blame, no one to confront, no one to fight back against. That body you took such good care of is now a prison you never escape from. You could apply the term Kafkaesque to the process, although the machinations of the body is even more unfathomable that poor Josef K’s predicament.

Spec Can: What can Speculative Fiction do that ‘realist’ fiction can’t?

Corey Redekop: When people read speculative fiction, they are already primed to accept anything that would, under almost every other circumstance, be viewed as ludicrous. Once you accept that (in the world you’ve just begun reading about) starships travel faster than the speed of light, the colour of your hair may lead to insanity, a society of frog-people live beneath the surface of the lake, Trafalmadorians can experience any point in time at will, and the dead get up and walk around and hold down a job, you’re up for anything.

Speculative makes the impossible possible and the subtext palatable. A reader may not want to read a treatise on the damaging mixture of religion and politics, but a reader will read an enormous set of volumes on just that theme as long as its set on Arrakis. A viewer will not care to sit through a documentary on racial violence, but will watch again and again a tale of space prawns unwilling trapped in South Africa.

I actually don’t care for the term, actually; by definition, all fiction is “speculative.” It feels like a cheat to me, a way of elevating a genre through semantics. I’m all for declaring all genre classifications null and void. However, the librarian in me protests that form of anarchy, because then where would we put the books?

Spec Can: What drew you to write speculative fiction? Why do you write it?

Corey Redekop: This is the only spec-fic I’ve ever written, and I’m not sure I’ll return to the genre soon (I’m now starting work on a crime novel). But I love it. My childhood was made up of equal parts Star Trek, Star Wars, The Prisoner, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, The Wild Wild West, Stephen King, and Monty Python’s Flying Circus. I wasn’t popular as a kid, so most of my free time was spent in my imaginations, and the more outlets I could find, the better. I love stories that give you an alternate view of the world, a viewpoint you never considered.

Spec Can: What role can Speculative Fiction have in provoking people to think about new things and new ideas?

Corey Redekop: Fiction pushes at the boundary of what’s possible, and encourages readers to learn from example and then create themselves what they love in their stories. We dreamed of space travel through our stories, and then achieved it. Jules Verne and H.G. Wells were enormously influential, as is William Gibson today. Yet we’ve now advanced to such a point where such outward innovation has almost caught up to our imaginations. I think speculative fiction will have to look inward now, to expanding our consciousness beyond mortal limits. We see hints of this in talk of Artificial Intelligence and The Singularity.

Speculative fiction can also act as a warning by providing glimpses at what may happen should science go awry. Margaret Atwood’s books are terrific examples of real-world scenarios and advancements having devastating consequences.

Spec Can: Is there anything distinctly Canadian about the worlds and characters you create?

Corey Redekop: I don’t know. I write what I want, and leave the discussion on subtext and cultural influences to others. I like to think my protagonists so far have been polite, which works to their disadvantage.

Spec Can: In Husk, medical doctors are largely corrupt and disinterested in the human element. They privilege their research and economic factors over humane treatment. What influenced this image of science?

Corey Redekop: I certainly didn’t mean for my doctors to infer a distrust of the medical profession. I think doctors (the good ones) are some of the noblest people of the planet. I far more distrust corporations that underwrite research, politicians who suppress research and innovation because of ideological bent, and good old basic human greed. I also follow Vonnegut’s satirical writing rule, “Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the reader may see what they are made of.” I need bad things to happen to Sheldon, and uncaring scientists seemed a good way to test his mettle.

Spec Can: Why focus Husk on an actor? What is the significance of the acting profession and how does it relate to your story line?

Corey Redekop: I thought acting would be a fine way for Sheldon to avoid being himself. Acting can be a psychologically damaging profession (I know from experience), and I thought it a nice touch that Sheldon can’t seem to get anywhere either as himself. I also wanted to play with some of the themes of fame, or more specifically, celebrity. I hate that in this world you can become a celebrity by virtue of being an absolute asshole with no redeeming qualities who somehow lucked into having a television camera catch every revolting act. Sheldon wanted fame, but not celebrity.

Spec Can: Is there anything further that you would like to add to this interview?

Corey Redekop: Only that the response has been far greater than anything I could have hoped for. I’m truly gratified that people have so enjoyed such a deeply weird story.

I want to thank Corey Redekop for this insightful and thought-provoking interview, as well as for his sense of humour. It is always delightful to talk to someone who can ponder about the nature of the Outsider effect in our society and then also joke about Canadian politeness.

 

If you haven’t had a chance yet, you can check out my review of Husk at https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2013/02/25/five-stages-of-grieving-yourself/  and you can explore Corey Redekop’s website at http://www.coreyredekop.ca/ to find out a bit more about him and his upcoming projects.

“Husk” Reading Questions

Some Book Club Discussion Questions for Corey Redekop’s “Husk” (ECW, 2012)

Cover Photo of Husk, courtesy of the author

Cover Photo of Husk, courtesy of the author

What was it like to be in the perspective of the zombie?

Why do you think the author titled his chapters after the stages of grief?

Why do you think the author made his zombie character an actor?

If this book were made into a movie, who would you cast as Sheldon and why?

Why does Sheldon try to hold onto his organs? Why does he attach so much importance to them?

What mechanisms does Sheldon use to adapt to his changing circumstances?

Why do you think the author decided to make Sheldon’s mother into a heavily religious and homophobic person?

Why do you think the author decided to portray Sheldon’s mother as someone who is going senile in old age?

The author contrasts “horror horror” and “Hollywood horror”. Why do you think he does this?

What did you think of the portrayal of Mr. Dixon? Why do you think the author created a character who is secretly controlling things behind government and business?

What did you think of the last couple of pages of disembodied consciousness? What does this add to the novel?

How does this novel differ from other zombie novels you have read?