Insectile Intimacies

A review of Edward Willett’s “The Mother’s Keeper” in The Sum of Us by Susan Forest and Lucas Law (Laksa Media Group, 2017)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Edward Willett takes a different perspective than many of the authors in the collection “The Sum of Us”, a collection about caregiving, and, instead LITERALLY dehumanizes caregiving. Instead of focusing on caregiving among humans, Willett focuses on the idea of insectile care, specifically that of a sentient alien race that has insectile characteristics. 

Care is an important part of most colony insects that have a queen. In these colonies, various insects specialize in certain duties to ensure that the queen is able to continue reproducing and providing new members for the hive. These roles can be varied from protecting the hive from intruders, bringing food, removing waste, carrying larvae, cooling eggs, and maintaining the queen’s needs. 

Willett’s “The Mother’s Keeper” centres around the growth of a young member of a hive society named Praella, whose caring role changes as she ages, but centres around the care she needs to provide for the Mother (who takes on an insect queen role). The Mother of this hive has a body that extends throughout all parts of the colony, and is needed for all aspects of life in the colony. The only problem is that Praella is witnessing the end of the Mother’s long life, something that her hive is unprepared to deal with. The Mother is gradually rotting throughout the city and the hive begins to dissipate, but Praella maintains her adherence to the Mother, staying with her through all of her changes even though she does not speak to Praella. 

Although “The Mother’s Keeper” focusses on an insectile relationship, an adherence and total dependency on the hive queen and her total dependence on her children, Willett explores very human relationships, examining the way that our relationship to caregiving changes as we age, and the complexities involved in caring and, particularly, in being a sole caregiver. His narrative involves more than a civic duty to offer care, but, rather, a biological impulse, a fundamental NEED to offer care, which allows the reader to interrogate ideologies of caregiving in our society and contemplate what care could mean. 

To discover more about Edward Willett, visit http://edwardwillett.com/
To discover more about The Sum of Us, visit http://laksamedia.com/the-sum-of-us-an-anthology-for-a-cause-2/

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Inevitability

Inevitability
A review of “Expiration Date” Edited by Nancy Kilpatrick (Edge, 2015).

By Derek Newman-Stille

  

Nancy Kilpatrick’s “Expiration Date” is a collection of stories that investigate one of our closest companions, an ever-present voyager on our path through life: Death. From Vampires to Banshee to the Grim Reaper him/herself, “Expiration Date” is an exploration of that inevitable force that shapes mortal life. The tales in this collection draw on folklore and modern speculations about death to create a complex tapestry of jagged life-threads, strings of tales cut off by the Morae (the Fates) and strung together into a death shroud of imagination and speculation. 
These aren’t just morbid tales about the ends of lives, but speculations about this inevitable force that all of us have to eventually face. These are thought-provoking imaginings about issues of mortality, immortality, the fear of the unknown, grief, and fate. These tales explore the power of loss when someone dies, but they also explore the loss that immortality entails, the accumulation of losses over the course of years that make up the lives of the eternal. 
“Expiration Date” is an interview with Death, an interrogation of those mysteries, and, like Death itself, these stories open up more questions than they answer. This is speculative fiction at its most powerful, speculating the greatest mystery and the final frontier. 
To discover more about Expiration Date, visit Edge’s website at http://edgewebsite.com/books/expirationdate/expirationdate-catalog.html

Deadly Musings

Deadly Musings

A review of Mary E. Choo’s “That Brightness” in Expiration Date, Edited by Nancy Kilpatrick (Edge, 2015)

By Derek Newman-Stille
  

Having a gift for artistic expression is a challenging thing. It tends to come with a heavy dose of “imposter syndrome” and the feeling that one is never doing enough or that one’s work is not good enough. When Jess sees a woman in white tie red balloons around the necks of various artists, killing them and trapping part of them in the balloon, she begins to think that her psychological disability has changed to include delusions, but the experiences are seen by other artists, propelling them to produce more work and express their artistic gift.

Mary E. Choo’s “That Brightness” explores the complexity of artistic experience and the societal pressures surrounding the artist to create new works of art. This is work on the palette knife’s edge between life and death with a muse who inspires through threats to offset the incredible amounts of doubt that surround any artistic pursuit in a society that de-values art and presents the artist herself as a cultural consumable object. 

To discover more about Expiration Date, visit Edge’s website at http://edgewebsite.com/books/expirationdate/expirationdate-catalog.html

Immortality Quest

Immortality Quest

A review of Kelley Armstrong’s “Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word” from “Expiration Date”, Edited by Nancy Kilpatrick (Edge, 2015)

By Derek Newman-Stille

It is always exciting to see a collection on the notion of the “Expiration Date” open with a vampire story – a monster developed as a fundamental question to the notion of death itself and occupying a liminal status between life and death while complicating both ideas. Kelley Armstrong’s “Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word” reintroduces some of the vampires from Kelley’s other fiction including Zoe, the Toronto vampire who people feel doesn’t really count as a vampire, and Cassandra, a vampire who has lived well beyond the date at which most vampires die. In Armstrong’s Otherworld stories, vampires are only able to live a certain number of years and each year, on their birthday, they must kill a human being and drink the last of their blood. As vampires age (still well beyond a human lifespan), they begin to experience the effects of aging and eventually die. Cassandra is seeking a replacement for herself on the supernatural council as the vampire representative and she has identified Zoe as a potential replacement.

Armstrong’s vampires, like many vampires in fiction, embody the clashing of past and present – figures who blur the understanding of the past by carrying memory into the present. Cassandra embodies this clash of temporalities by being an antique dealer, working with items from the past and bringing them into the present. Zoe embodies her resistance to the timeline by being an antique thief, stealing those moments of the past as she does by living beyond her years. But, Zoe and Cassandra’s strange relationship to time is most important in the notion of what is remembered and what is forgotten or left in the past. When Zoe’s young, human protage, Brittany the (former) Vampire Slayer (yes, she is definitely an Armstronged Buffy) begins asking Cassandra about Zoe’s past, the vampire obscures the details of Zoe’s past to hide the more unsavoury details of her life, hiding the rawness of Zoe’s memories and her previous identity from Brittany. This desire to hide the past only highlights how much Zoe has changed and how much she is concerned about her changes. Yet, this is also a narrative about wanting an apology for a past wrong done to Zoe and apologies are a way of coping with the past.

To further the issues of time and long life embodied by the vampire, Zoe is also facing an influx of “immortality questers” into the Toronto area – supernaturals who dissect vampires as a way to try to gain immortality. This act of questing for immortality underlines the role of the vampire as a question about immortality and survival as well as the obsession our society has with finding ways to life forever.

Armstrong’s “Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word” is about the uncertainty of time and memory and about the loss that long lives can imprint on the undead. Situated in a collection about death, this story serves as a question about death and the social power it has.

To discover more about Kelley Armstrong, visit her website at http://www.kelleyarmstrong.com

To find out more about Expiration Date, visit Edge’s website at http://edgewebsite.com/books/expirationdate/expirationdate-catalog.html

 

 

Transitional Words

A review of Nalo Hopkinson’s Falling in Love With Hominids (Tachyon Publications, 2015)
By Derek Newman-StilleIMG_0213

Falling in Love with Hominids illustrates Nalo Hopkinson’s playfulness with language, her characteristic exploration of the way that language shapes social interactions and develops plot. Hopkinson illustrates her fascination with ideas of sound and the power of mis-hearings, exploring stories that came from her own mis-hearings of things and the point of speculation that occurs when one tries to determine what was actually said. In stories like The Easthound which came from a mis-hearing of “The Eastbound”, Hopkinson examines what an Easthound would be and how this notion can create a figure of terror. In “The Smile on the Face”, she examines the relationship between names and identities, creating a character named Gilla who discovers a resonance to the reptilian (coming from the association with her name) and a connection to mythic stories about other reptiles.

Hopkinson plays with characters who question the way they are written, examining figures (for example) from Shakespearian plays such as Caliban from The Tempest and allowing them a place to resist the texts that have been written about them and providing a space for them to push their own meanings through the text. In Shift, she explores the way that racialised assumptions have been cast onto Caliban and his desire to escape from the narrative that has shaped his life.

Hopkinson enters into shared-world creations and disrupts the idea of a very white, Euro-centric fairy world in the Bordertown series by creating figures who challenge this focus on the European magical world by creating characters who come from non-European mythologies. In “Ours Is The Prettiest”, she asserts the multi-ethnic nature of characters, playing with previous reader assumptions about character ethnicity and examining the intersection of ethnicities and cultural identities.

Hopkinson illustrates her ability to represent the under-represented, bringing attention to those areas that are cast in the shadows of most mainstream ideas of science fiction. She brings attention to those characters who are largely left off from mainstream SF, populating her worlds with characters from an array of sexual and gender identities, challenging the white-centric worlds created by most SF authors, and inserting those presences that are Othered in so many SF narratives.

Falling in Love with Hominids is a text of transitions, examining those times when change is at its peak. She examines transitions between adulthood and youth, portraying the idea that adulthood is not always in a protective role over youth and can, in fact, be damaging to youth because of the excesses of power adults wield over the young. She plays with the transition between life and death, exploring notions of life after death and the way that we tend to be haunted by memory and guilt.

Hopkinson casts the light of speculation onto those ideas that are cast into shadow in everyday reality, those areas that can be seen best by the outsider, the oppressed, the erased. Falling in Love with Hominids represents a text of examining the human experience, an act of recovery of those aspects of humanity that are suppressed or repressed and a re-invigoration at the sense of wonder about human experience.
To read reviews of individual stories in the collection, click on the links below:

https://speculatingcanada.ca/2015/09/16/the-oddity-of-children-2/

https://speculatingcanada.ca/2015/07/28/growing-up-monstrous/

To listen to an Episode of Speculating Canada on Trent Radio about Falling in Love with Hominids visit:

https://speculatingcanada.ca/2015/07/26/speculating-canada-on-trent-radio-episode-45-a-discussion-of-the-work-of-nalo-hopkinson/

To read more about Falling in Love with Hominids, visit Tachyon Publications’ Website at https://tachyonpublications.com/product/falling-love-hominids/

No Longer Invulnerable, But Not Vulnerable Enough

A review of Matthew Johnson’s “Heroic Measures” in Irregular Verbs and Other Stories (ChiZine, 2014)
by Derek Newman-Stille

Superheroes inspire the imagination. They are larger than life. They are impossible. They are figures of immortality, defying the touch of death and aging. So, what happens when our superheroes age? What happens when their bodies begin to change? 
Matthew Johnson explores superhero mortality in “Heroic Measures”, presenting readers with an aging superhero who seems remarkably similar to Superman (with dark-framed glasses, invulnerable skin, a little s-curl of hair on his forehead, a bald, wealthy adversary, and plucky former reporter for a partner). This superheroic figure has had what may be a stroke and is experiencing the shut-down of all of his bodily organs.
Doctors, in their compulsion to ‘fix’ whatever they see as ‘broken’ try to intervene in his health care, but their medical technology is no more able to pierce his skin than a speeding bullet would be. They admit that even if they could see into his body with X-Rays or a scalpel, they still wouldn’t know what was normal for his alien biology. This Super body is medically defiant and resistant, unable to be ‘fixed’. But, his body is also trying to constantly heal itself. He is suspended in a liminal space between healing and death, his organs healing themselves only to have others fail. 
What happens when our Supermen age and approach death? What happens when these icons of seeming eternal youth and virility meet age, something that our society imbues with the imagery of loss and eventual death? 
To discover more about Matthew Johnson, visit his website at http://zatrikion.blogspot.ca

To discover more about Irregular Verbs and Other Stories, visit ChiZine’s website at http://chizinepub.com/books/irregular-verbs 

Spin The Bottle With Death

A review of Helen Marshall’s “Death and the Girl from Pi Delta Zeta” in Gifts For The One Who Comes After (ChiZine Publications, 2014).
By Derek Newman-Stille

Cover Art for Gifts For the One Who Comes After courtesy of ChiZine Publications

Cover Art for Gifts For the One Who Comes After courtesy of ChiZine Publications

In horror films, sorority girls have a metaphorical relationship with death, perpetually constructed as figures who are courted by death. Helen Marshall, demonstrating her characteristic desire to play with tropes to disempower, subvert, and challenge expectations, makes that relationship literal in her short story “Death and the Girl from Pi Delta Zeta”. Marshall’s subversion is as beautiful as it is powerful, shifting reader expectations from the often disempowering genre of horror to play with expected tropes.

Marshall constructs a scene of a typical frat boy party, the sort where women in horror films are often the victims of monstrous acts. She creates the typical scenes of frat boys objectifying sorority girls, in this case literally writing their claims to them on their shirts along with sexualized slogans. Death serves as a contrast to this activity, asked by Carissa to sign her shirt with a magic word. Instead of writing exploitative messages, he playfully writes “abracadabra”.

Death is given celebrity status and constantly asked for his signature by people who he has helped by releasing loved ones from painful lives. Yet, he serves as a romantic contrast to all of Carissa’s previous frat boy lovers by giving her flowers, being romantic, and proving himself a gentle and caring lover. Death is by far the better alternative to frat boys. Horror film, generally constructing frat boys as the typical audience, depicting their expectations on screen, is here reversed by Marshall, who depicts them as background characters serving only as a contrast to the beauty of Death.

Marshall’s sense of play shapes this short story as a thoughtful but exciting piece. Like many of her works, she plays with scenes we have accepted as ‘normal’ and illustrates the beauty in re-framing them and seeing the subversive potential in them. She masterfully plays with normative scenes like a frat party or sending out wedding invitations and inserts a touch of the macabre.

You can discover more about Helen Marshall’s work at http://www.helen-marshall.com/

To find out more about the collection Gifts For The One Who Comes After, visit ChiZine Publications’ website at http://chizinepub.com/

You can read this story online at its original place of publication, Lackington’s at http://lackingtons.com/2014/02/13/death-and-the-girl-from-pi-delta-zeta-by-helen-marshall/