Haunted by Secrecy

A review of Robin Riopelle’s Deadroads: A Novel of Supernatural Suspense (Night Shade Books, 2014).

Cover photo for Deadroads courtesy of http://robinriopelle.com/

Cover photo for Deadroads courtesy of http://robinriopelle.com/

The Acadian Grand Derangement or Great Expulsion was a time of loss and displacement when people were uprooted and disconnected from their origins. Robin Riopelle brings these themes forward into the present in her novel Deadroads: A Novel of Supernatural Suspense, exploring an Acadian-Cajun family struggling with this continual state of disconnectedness, loss, and identity crisis. Like the ghosts they hunt, the Sarazzins are defined by their displacement, by their uprootedness and the confusion resulting from it. They are cut off from their past, isolated by secrecy about their own history.

When their mother left with their sister, Lutie, Baz and Sol had to be raised by their father, a man who wanted to erase the memory of their mother to ease his own pain and to feel stable. Sol had followed his father’s erasure of the past despite his constant defiance of the man, but Baz seeks to bind his family back together, to recover his own roots by finding the rest of his family. After their father dies, Baz seeks out Lutie, who has been living with a foster family since their mother died. Lutie has lost knowledge of her family’s ability to lay ghosts, to send them onto the deadroads to the afterlife. Her foster family saw her affinity with ghosts as a sign of mental illness, medicating her to suppress her ability, but Lutie has maintained a belief that she could control the ghosts, that she could turn them into her pets… the same issue that caused their mother to leave in the first place when she decided to keep a ghost despite their father’s insistence that ghosts should be sent on to their place of rest.

Suppressed by medication and a culture of disbelief, Lutie’s family knowledge was rendered mythic and lost. But when Baz makes a deal with a demon to find his lost sister, these siblings are reunited and a process of recovery can begin. Baz and Sol, both wanderers, perpetually drawn to the road by the desire to escape from overwhelming responsibility, are brought back to their sister, reunited as a family seeking to discover secrets about a past that was obscured by time and by a history of hiding information “for their own good.”

Deadroads is a novel about the interconnection between family responsibility and secrets, and the ability for secrets to pull a family apart and continue to haunt the lives of all of them with the absence of memory. Ghost hunting pulled the Sarazzins apart, but also brought their family back together, allowing them to begin the process of recovery through a shared notion of protection and discovery.

Angels and demons, the dead and the living, everything is a potential threat in this novel, inscribed with danger and needing to both be kept secret and to keep secrets from. Deadroads is a novel marked by uncertainty and characters coping with a deficit of knowledge and the danger that knowledge can bring to them.

To find out more about Robin Riopelle, visit her website at http://robinriopelle.com/

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TRANSformations

A review of Anna Frost’s The Fox’s Mask (Musa Publishing, 2012)

By Derek Newman-Stille

Photo courtesy of Musa Publishing

Photo courtesy of Musa Publishing

It is refreshing to see a fantasy book that is set in Imperial Japan. So often, fantasy series are based on a Western Medieval archetype, inferring that this is the only forum for sword and sorcery. Anna Frost, although not Japanese herself, explores the imagery and richness of Japanese culture as a framework for her novel The Fox’s Mask. Populating her novel with Kitsune (fox spirits), healing spirits from springs, demons possessing humans, and dragons, it is clear why she chose an ancient Japanese setting for her fantasy series because it is so rich with mythical material for her to incorporate into this narrative. The framework of Shintoism works so well for explorations of the fantastic, having a general comfort with the notion that the natural world is populated not just with recognised animals, but also with a range of spiritual beings and manifestations.

Frost’s novel explores the relationship between duty and love (whether that be of a job or of a person), the social obligations that try to push people to accept familial responsibility over their own needs. Akakiba is a kitsune, able to transform from human form to fox form. He is a samurai, interested in protecting humanity from demons who would do them harm. He loves his job, and tolerates the humanity that he serves to protect… yet, his world is shaken when he is forced to take on a human apprentice, Yuki. Despite sharing years with his apprentice, he keeps secrets from him about his past, his family, and his kitsune nature. Despite his family wanting him to hold his first duty to them, he sees his primary duty as the protection of humanity, honouring his relationship to Yuki, and living the samurai lifestyle.

Yet, his choices have consequences. By not choosing to settle down and have a family of his own, he risks his clan, a people that are facing extinction as their numbers dwindle. Not only the foxes, but all spirits and otherworldly beings are beginning to dwindle, gradually disappearing from the world. The world is changing and Akakiba is faced with the notion that he may be contributing to that change by not taking a mate.

The Fox’s Mask is further enthralling because of its willingness to feature LGBT or queer characters. Characters are accepted in a large number of different relationships and love is not limited to heterosexual relationships. Because the foxes are able to change shape between human and fox and change sex between male and female, they are comfortable with ambiguities of gender and sex. They aren’t stuck in the human notion that one’s born gender defines them, or that one must chose to only enter into a sexual relationship with the opposite sex… the only challenge is that they try to encourage their members to enter into relationships with the opposite sex to ensure that there are children born and that the dwindling population continues. Anna Frost’s engagement with queer subject material is complex, not allowing easy relationships, but instead inviting the reader to engage in the complexity of issues that arise from a past society that is different from our own (both because of the past setting and the fact that they are foxes).

To find out more about The Fox’s Mask, visit Musa’s website at http://musapublishing.com/index.php?main_page=product_info&products_id=400

Upcoming interview with Timothy Carter on Thursday, February 7th

I met Timothy Carter in October during Can Con, an Ottawa-based Speculative Fiction Conference (http://www.can-con.org/). Timothy gave a fantastic talk and I knew that I wanted to share some of his insights with all of you on Speculating Canada. He, fortunately, agreed to do an interview and share some brilliant insights with all of you.

Timothy Carter author, cat servant, and lover of tea shares his insights on humorous YA fantasy, the bullying phenomenon, writing Queer or LGBTQ2 characters, creating ambiguous characters, writing monsters, religion and supernatural fiction, the power of humour to question the taken-for-granted, the ability of fiction to challenge authority, writing good YA without being preachy, and writing about hate crimes.

Here are a few teasers from the upcoming interview on Thursday Febdurary 7th:

Timothy Carter: “A lot of my protagonists/heroes are kids who are the victims of bullying. One of the oldest bits of writing advice is to write what you know, and I know a lot about bullies. My characters overcome their tormentors the way I never could.”

Timothy Carter: “School officials can brag about their zero-tolerance policies all they want, but that won’t change very much. You can’t just wipe something like bullying out with a hastily-concocted policy; you need to understand why it happens. Why is it so much fun to cause another person pain? And why do we secretly despise the victim? We reward strength and look down on those who are weak, an attitude that encourages (and rewards) bullying.”

Timothy Carter: “The more YA books there are with gay characters, the more young readers will see that being gay is just as acceptable as being straight.”

Timothy Carter: “Monsters aren’t normal, and neither am I! And by normal I mean average and everyday. I like to play around with people’s expectations, suggest one thing and present the exact opposite. People expect monsters to be evil, pure and simple. Especially demons. People also assume that angels are always good. I love writing villainous angels!”

Timothy Carter: “A monster gives you the opportunity to write about Issues without being so obvious about it.”

Timothy Carter: “I hope to encourage readers to question the world around them. Especially authority.”

Timothy Carter: “I like to have morals and lessons come about on their own, rather than saying ‘In chapter 12, Dylan will learn a valuable lesson about sharing!’”

Timothy Carter: “I guess what I’m saying is, if you plan your book to be a “Johnny Learns About Hate Crimes” story, the message will likely feel forced. If one of your characters has a penchant for prejudice, their interaction with the others should bring it out of them in a more subtle, organic way.”

I hope that you get a chance to check out this interview and that you enjoy Mr. Carter’s insights as much as I did. If you haven’t had a chance to read my review of Timothy Carter’s YA novel Evil, you can check it out at https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2012/11/04/bullying-bodies-and-baddies/ . You may also want to check out Timothy Carter’s website at http://timothycarterworld.com/

Eldritch Summonings from the World of the Unconventional

A Review of Here Be Monsters: Tongues and Teeth Edited by Duane Burry, Vincent Mackay, and Alexander Newcombe (Here be Monsters Speculative Fiction issue seven, September, 2012)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Cover photo courtesy of the publisher

Here Be Monsters: Tongues and Teeth is the first of the Here Be Monsters anthologies that I have read, and I am extremely impressed with the quality of work in this volume. It is great to see that an epic battle for which stories should be included in the volume, that, according to the editors involved “fighting with tooth, tentacle and claw… eldritch summonings [and] chaos magic” still proves its effectiveness in producing an incredible volume of speculative fiction – the old methods still produce incredible results.

The magical and monstrous suffuses every page of this volume, summoning the reader’s attention and passions. The stories in this volume question reader pre-conceptions, encouraging them on their own adventure into the darkness of their own subconscious to find the root of their social confinement and dig it up.

The volume itself becomes like a body of text or a textual body, laying out each section with a depiction of the body, illustrating that horrors come not from without, but from within.

Claude Lalumiere’s short story The Ministry of Sacred Affairs evokes the threat of a society that demonises others, a society where fear prevents any form of inquiry or debate and supporting the supernatural is viewed as a terrorist threat. Goblins and golems become figures that question the status-quo and shake up a society that has become complacent in its fear of others.

Numbered by Duane Burry continues the theme of questioning social fears. When communication technology is discovered that allows for interplanetary conversations and connections with aliens from other worlds, instead of viewing it as a method of discovery, it is perceived as a militaristic threat. Humans, unable to travel to the stars, are able to speak to other civilisations, talk to people from distant worlds who have foreign experiences and knowledge to share, but in a universe of fear, all they share are threats of war and questions about possible dangers. It is not the silent vastness of space that cuts off interplanetary voices, but the vast terror of the sentient mind and the secrecy that terror imposes.

Karl Johanson’s The Airlock Scene illustrates a different danger with encountering new worlds: beauraucracy and the need to perform for an audience at the expense of the adventure of exploring a new environment. Johanson portrays the need of scientific minds to mediocritise the fantastic through their pedantic ego battles. Like Burry’s story, Johanson’s is about political issues interfering with the sense of wonder the pervades exploration.

Universal questions are turned domestic in Amy Bright’s Private Transit where the monstrosity of domestic assault is displayed and one can see that abuse is as alienating as any landscape from space, causing the victim to lose all pieces of themselves to feed the monstrous abuser.

Pickle’s Story by Alexander Newcombe reveals the power of myth and legend as well as the bond that can develop between the human and the animal. Newcombe shows the power that gossip and tales can have in creating a reputation, and the power of a thief who wields lies to create his own mythology.

Tarquin Steiner evokes nostalgia in his story Cobbled by modeling it after a text-based computer game.

Camille Alexa casts us back into space in her Children of the Device where, despite being the fifth generation of inhabitants on a colony ship escaping from a doomed Earth, our traditions continue from New Year’s resolutions to war and greed.

Tyler MacFarlane brings the search for identity and the inescapability of ourselves back to the Earth in his Antennae. MacFarlane illustrates that despite the desire for a distraction, the next new thing, we always are brought back to ourselves.

We are reminded that we can’t escape from ourselves again in Carl Roloff’s If Not the Moon, Then the Exquisite Sun where humanity faces the destruction of the Earth by our own sun, and, in an attempt to save something about the human experience, decides to transmute the remaining human beings into crystals – converting individual human thoughts and experience into art that will reflect the burst of the sun into the universe. But Roloff reminds readers that eternity is an experience that is alien to humanity and transcendence is a form of loss itself.

Where Carl Roloff presents the mind as a form of escape and transcendence, Vincent Mackay’s Brain Freeze warns readers of the dangers of technologies of the mind. The mind becomes something that can be used for terrorism and war, converted into supermindbombs that can only be decoded through a process that seems equal parts psychology and computer programming. The Earth’s surface has been made uninhabitable by a field that requires inhabitants to control their own thoughts to the point at which they become insane. Thought becomes a weapon.

Thought is further explored as a vehicle for terror in Sterrennacht by Cat McDonald as art itself becomes a place where kidnap victims and stolen items can be stored. McDonald explores the idea of a world where people can enter into paintings and the terrifying effects of experiencing impressionist art from the inside. Van Gogh has never been so absorbing as McDonald explores the physical, auditory, and other sensory experiences of being totally enmeshed in the world of art. But art has an effect on those who experience it, and the danger of art is that it can consume you.

Ann Ewan explores the loss of humanity in a different way, through literal consumption by an ogre. In Ogre Baby, human beings are infected with ogreness (through ogre mud placed in the body of dead human beings) as a means for the ogres to reproduce. They depend on human beings as an infusion into their own tribe, as a way of expanding their numbers. The familiarity and difference of the human being and the ogre horrifies both species and, in the ogre, excites a deep hunger that may stem from their need to be partially human, to incorporate humanity into their monstrous form.

The body further fascinates Rich Larson in his Strings. The body becomes a marketable commodity, and re-shaped for sexuality. It is divorced of its thoughts so it can become a vessel for sexual pleasure, conveying the notion that as a society we tend to look at bodies in isolation, separate from their fundamental humanity.

Here Be Monsters: Tongues and Teeth is as much a voyage into the self as it is a voyage into the realm of the Other. Like the monster itself, the pages of this volume are dark mirrors reflecting all of the hidden things we like to forget. It is a volume that is fundamentally about the search for a deifining feature of our humanity, the fear of a loss of our humanity, and the dangers that are presented in the human spirit.

To find out more about this volume of Here Be Monsters and other volumes in the series, visit their website at http://herebemonstersanthology.blogspot.ca/