Frozen Wooden With Steampunk Horror

Frozen Wooden with Steampunk Horror

 

A review of Kate Heartfield’s “The Seven O’Clock Man” in Clockwork Canada: Steampunk Fiction, edited by Dominik Parisien (Exile Editions, 2016)

By Derek Newman-Stille

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As much a horror tale as it is a steampunk story, Kate Heartfield’s “The Seven O’Clock Man” evokes the powerlessness of youth. Heartfield constructs a community where the late mayor had built a clock with a clockwork automaton in it who seeks out any children who are awake past 7 o’clock to turn them into wood. The mayor had viewed order and control to be central to his city, believing that the best means of exerting control was to create a persistent threat to the children of the community, punishing them for disobedience of community rules that are imposed on them. Like many communities that use fear as a means of securing power, the mayor made certain that any of the children who were turned to wood would become part of the clock, peaking through the clock’s doors when the clock struck the hour. The children held within the clock were frozen in horrified immobility, able to see the world, but controlled by the mechanisms of the clock, exhibiting the horror of absolute powerlessness.

 

As much as “Seven O’Clock Man” is a discourse on the powerlessness of childhood it is also a narrative about systems of colonial power. The mayor of the city was particularly interested in controlling aboriginal children, viewing them as a threat to the order of the city. He constructed the clock in order to force his notion of decorum onto the population of aboriginal children, symbolically representing the horrors visited upon aboriginal children in the residential school system where children were similarly taken away, locked up, and subject to threats and violence all in the attempt to force children to conform to colonial cultures. Most of the children frozen in the clock were Mohawk and the man who the mayor forced to wind the clock was also a man who came from a Mohawk family – Jacques. Jacques is forced to continue to wind the clock because his son has clockwork gears installed in him that wind down if the clock is not wound.

 

Heartfield brings attention to the depression and post-traumatic stress that comes from systemic colonial control and threats when Jacques’ wife Marie-Claire (a former slave) experiences regular depressive episodes, freezing in catatonia while her husband winds the clock. Her life of horrors shapes her ability to interact with her family and her frozen state mirrors the frozen state of the statues subject to the punishment of the figure in the clock.

 

Heartfield creates a sense of creeping horror with “The Seven O’Clock Man”, evoking the fear of being made powerlessness, subject to someone else’s will, and the emptiness that flows from being denied expression.

 

To find out more about Kate Heartfield’s work, visit her website at https://heartfieldfiction.com/

 

To find out more about Clockwork Canada, visit Exile’s website at http://www.exileeditions.com/singleorders2016/clockwork.html

 

 

And Dominik Parisien’s website at https://dominikparisien.wordpress.com/clockwork-canada-anthology

 

 

 

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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.

Dead Depressed

A Review of James Marshall’s Zombie Versus Fairy Featuring Albinos (ChiZine Publications, 2013)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Cover photo courtesy of ChiZine Publications

Cover photo courtesy of ChiZine Publications

Zombies are normally pretty content – they groan, they chase, they eat, they shuffle… but what happens when a zombie becomes depressed? In James Marshall’s Zombie Versus Fairy Featuring Albinos, depressed zombies get promoted. No matter how much they tell their bosses they hate their jobs, plan to demotivate workers, and decrease productivity, a diagnosis of depression is a one way ticket to the top… in fact, Buck Burger’s description of how he plans to destroy the company is exactly the skill-set and thought pattern that zombie corporate life thrives on. After all, when you are a people that are totally steeped in decay and the destructive lifestyle, what is more appealing than destruction. But, Buck starts to feel stuck, realises the monotony of his existence… and unlike most zombies, he dislikes this monotony… he wants to do forbidden, stigmatised things like change.

When Buck meets Fairy_26, a green-haired beauty infused with life, he sees in her everything that is lacking in his own unlife. The fairy, and the supernatural races have something that he has been desiring, something that challenges the monotony of existence and promotes growth. She is the opposite of everything every zombie wants (which is probably why the zombies and the supernatural races have been at war for so long), but because she is so different and because he hates his unlife due to his depression, she represents an opportunity for change, a challenge to the status quo of boring zombie existence. Instead of mindless destruction, she is steeped in mindful life.

Buck wishes he could become what he eats… a living human being. He pines for his lost life and envies the living. Fortunately, as depression often does, his depressed state serves as a hunger suppressant, which is ideal for someone who wants to give up gnawing upon people.

Buck has to question commitments, obligations, social restraints upon him that hold him in his current unlifestyle in order to make a new unlife for himself. He has to challenge his marriage obligations to his wife, his job requirements, and commit social faux pas that would horrify any moral zombie in order to free himself from the chains of dull, colourless zombie existence and open himself to the vibrancy of fairyland and fairy life.

Marshall reveals a social critique of the monotony of human existence through the figure of the zombie. In our corporate greed and unquestioning repetition of outmoded patterns, we become like zombies – unwilling to change things, unwilling to question, unwilling to extend our creative impulses. His zombie society represents a flesh and blood covered mirror of corporate life and the eerie creep of suburban society. Zombies in his world impose their values on the young through an unquestioning education system designed to make them into automatons and prepare them for transition into zombie society or the zombie digestive system.

Marshall notes the allure of the zombie lifestyle and why it is so desirable for so many people “I know how they feel. Angry. Mindless. They’re doing things because they’re supposed to do things. They don’t want to. They don’t know what they want. They don’t know anything. For a while, they tried to learn but they didn’t so they stopped. They became zombies. It’s easier than trying to stay human when everyone else isn’t” (195). Like zombies, we get trapped into simple desires in an attempt to fill a void in our life of what we really want with meaningless trinkets that the marketing world tells us will fill that void. We mindlessly replicate things, follow the status quo, don’t seek to learn the meaning behind things. This is pretty alluring. It seems, on the surface, to be an easy lifestyle… but our society have become like zombies, not questioning, not changing, following outdated patterns, and mindlessly destroying – after all, look what we are doing to our environment. After reading this, any trip to the mall or witnessing of road rage lets the reader see the zombie apocalypse already in full swing.

To find out more about Zombie Versus Fairy Featuring Albinos, check out ChiZine’s website at http://chizinepub.com/books/zombie-versus-fairy.php

To read more about what James Marshall is up to, visit his website at http://www.howtoendhumansuffering.com/ .

It’s the End Of The World As We Know It, and I Feel Speculative

A review of OnSpec #90, Vol 24, No. 3 Fall 2012 Apocalypse Special Issue.

Cover image courtesy of On Spec

Cover image courtesy of On Spec

By Derek Newman-Stille

On Spec, with their combination of SF stories and non-fiction SF essays and interviews, never fails to be entertaining, but the special issue on the apocalypse was even more fantastic than most. It was as thought-provoking as it was entertaining, reminding readers of their own culpability in creating the potential for a destroyed world as well as their responsibility for making the world a better place.

The layout of the volume was, itself, fascinating and had the ability to draw the reader in on multiple levels. This was most in evidence by the interweaving of Kevin Cockle’s “Timeline” (a recounting of some of the history of economic theory as well as a postulation on the future of economic policy and where this will lead) throughout various narratives – every few pages, elements of Cockle’s timeline would appear at the bottom of the page, threading itself through the overall narrative of the On Spec volume and tying stories together.

As a disability scholar who does work in fantastic fiction, I was particularly taken with Camille Alexa’s story “All Them Pretty Babies”, which challenged social ideas of beauty in the post-apocalyptic future. Unlike many authors who revel in the horror of the different body, who present the “deformed” body as something that should evoke shock and disgust, Camille Alexa puts the reader into the position of her narrator, Esme, who collects babies that have been mutated by bio weapons that have damaged the future. Esme is an incredible character, able to see the beauty of diversity, seeing disability and difference as markers of beautiful bodies. She defines beauty as difference from the mundane normalcy of the human body that is preferred by most of society – Esme sees beauty in extra eyes, legs, arms, and conjoined bodies. She is dismayed that she is so boring, with only two legs, two arms, and two eyes: “Bonita’s so pretty, she probably never walk. Not even walk like New Mama, who hunch over cane and hobble like on third leg – though she’s not that pretty, what with her having only two like most” (6).

Despite the human race suffering because there are too few human beings remaining after the bombing, the people of the future preserved cities are abandoning children that they view as deformed, trying to stick to an ideal of what the “normal” human being should be.  People in haz mat suits come out to the destroyed fields to leave babies to die because of their biological difference, while worrying about the future of human fertility. Esme and her group go through the fields to rescue these abandoned children of a humanity that fears biological difference, telling these children how beautiful they are for their diversity from bodily norms. Esme and her group of abandoned children are trying to make the world outside of the city livable again while the city-dwellers consistently deny the changes that they have wrought. The city dwellers waste human life because the life forms they encounter don’t conform to their notions of beauty.

Camille Alexa provides a commentary on the ableist (able-bodied centred) world that we currently live in. She creates an exaggerated ableist future to point to issues regarding biological diversity and disability in our current world. Disabilities are made more prevalent and occurring more often, and people with disabilities face even more discrimination – having their lives and rights taken away completely rather than facing the likelihood of facing a life of reduced rights, government control, and the medicalised body. Her future population tries to euthanize functioning human bodies because they differ from a socially determined norm and they justify these actions as humanitarian because they cannot imagine people living with diverse bodies. Rather than shifting their own notions of what is bodily acceptable, they eliminate difference and further regulate and control the body.

Ideas of the danger of birth continue into Daniel LeMoal’s short story “Destroyer”, where small elements of future populations have developed the ability to project dreams into the minds of others. When a child begins to show an increased ability to control the minds around him, he is seen as a biological threat. Like Camille Alexa’s story, this apocalyptic narrative focusses on the danger embodied in the future – represented by children. Apocalyptic narratives are fundamentally about the future, and, therefore tales about children and the potential embodied in future generations brings attention to the impact we have on the future of the world.

Karl Johanson’s “Frats and Cheers” is probably the most terrifying narrative in this volume for me since it shows a future population that is so inundated with media manipulation that it has lost the ability to think for itself. His population is terrifying because it shows a magnification of the modern disinterest in challenging and questioning messages. His future population enjoys reality T.V. more than the actual reality of the world around them, and actively avoids interest in world affairs, while being content to have their messages fed to them. This is a narrative of the dangers of apocalyptic stupidity – truly terrifying.

Timothy Gerwing plays with ideas of religious apocalypse narratives and portrays a future that is visited by an avenging angel in his “Hog-Killing Weather”. Gerwing turns religious apocalyptic narratives on their end by creating an angel who punishes religious zealots as much as any others who show a fundamental inhumanity.

Al Onia, also playing with religious narratives of the apocalypse, presents us with four horsemen who are gathered together to fight the four horsemen of the apocalypse in “Knights Exemplar”. Despite their desire to save the world around them, they are subject to the social fear and hatred of outsiders that becomes magnified in times of crisis.

Douglas Smith’s “The Walker of the Shifting Borderland” creates a different kind of religious narrative of the apocalypse when he presents the embodiment of Chaos and Order and their child, the Walker, who is seeking balance between these forces. Reality is crumbling as Order and Chaos seek to maintain their old status quo and prevent new changes in the world. This is a tale of epic love when a mortal gets caught between a battle of the gods. Smith reminds us that we have the potential to change the world around us and that self-sacrifice can be a means of making the world around us better.

Leslie Brown’s “Mesa at the Edge of the World” portrays a future in which the government has provided a method of euthanasia for any who want to commit suicide. Rather than putting funding into health care and psychological care programmes, the government has shown a willingness to ship people who seek suicide out into the desert so that they can hurl themselves into a vortex. Brown illustrates the treatment of people with psychological disabilities as disposable objects and inconveniences.

The apocalyptic narratives in this On Spec issue are not ones of futility, hopelessness, or loss, but are rather reminders of the importance of continuing a battle for social justice and a reminder that we have the potential to change the world around us, to fight the apocalypses that we continually create around us.

You can explore On Spec at their website at http://www.onspec.ca/ and pick up a copy of this apocalyptic issue since the world didn’t end after all. Thank goodness you will have enough time to read this before the next apocalypse comes along.