Speculating Canada on Trent Radio Episode 62: Afrofuturism

In this episode of Speculating Canada on Trent Radio, I explore Afrofuturism and particularly focus my examination on the work of Canadian author Nalo Hopkinson. Even though I am not a black person myself, I felt that it was important to examine Afrofuturism as an important contribution to imagining black futurity and to science fiction in general. In this episode I examine the important interconnection between imagining a new future for black populations in Afrofuturist texts, but also the importance of acknowledging the history of oppression that has shaped the lives of black Canadians.

Afrofuturism provides a space for imaging new possible futures, for questioning the status quo, and for asking critical questions about the continued oppression of black Canadians and African Americans.

My examination of the work of Nalo Hopkinson focuses on her ability to examine complexities and intricacies involved in imagining utopian future possibilities while examining the way that colonialism, slavery, diasporic experiences, and oppression have shaped the lives of people.

You can listen to this episode of Speculating Canada on Trent Radio at the link below.

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This audio file was originally broadcast on Trent Radio, and I would like to thank Trent Radio for their continued support. I would also like to thank Dwayne Collins for his consistent tech support and help with the intricacies of creating audio files.

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

 

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Definitely Not A Chameleon.

A Review of Jason Loo’s The Pitiful Human-Lizard Issue 1 (May, 2014)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Few superheroes call themselves “pitiful”. Most tend to hypermasculinize themselves to try to make themselves seem beyond the human, more powerful, further beyond moral critique, but Jason Loo’s The Pitiful Human-Lizard plays with the superhero genre and opens it to critique, question, and, yes, pity.

Jason Loo brings a distinctly Canadian aesthetic to the superhero genre and challenges the notion of moral ease for heroic work. His superhero The Pitiful Human-Lizard has few powers at the start – glue that allows him to stick to walls, but no super strength, no laser vision, no power ring… and he keeps failing his Brazilian Jujitsu classes. Also… he has to hold on to a regular day job… and, with transit time on the subway, that doesn’t give him much time to engage in the superhero business. In order to make ends meet and pay for the repairs to his costume, he even has to undergo drug trials.

Loo creatively takes on the hypermasculinity and intense gender divisions of the superhero genre by creating a superhero who is nominally pitiful, and minimally powerful. He is incredibly outclassed by Toronto’s female superhero Mother Wonder, who has all of the powers (super strength, invulnerability, laser vision) of Superman AND is also a mother with children. The Pitiful Human Lizard just wants to have a chance to collaborate with the big leagues, which is a nice change from the majority of the comic industry which generally leaves the superheroine in the support role. The Pitiful Human-Lizard dwells mostly in the shadows around greater heroes, often serving as a distraction for villains rather than a key threat.

Most superheroes are created by a fundamental loneliness, which is constructed as the necessary setting for creating a figure dependent on no one but themselves to emphasize the superhero’s personification of the American dream of ultimate independence and self reliance. But, he is not a self made man. The Pitiful Human-Lizard relies on his (very much living) parents, piecing together various networks of support in order to conduct his acts of superheroism.

Jason Loo is comfortable expressing the fallibility of superheroes, disrupting their certainty, and in so doing, pointing out the arrogance of the “regular” superhero and our need as a society to have a superhero who is uncertain.

Loo has created a Toronto superhero, putting him in battles at Toronto scenes like the Royal Ontario Museum to counter the habit of Hollywood for trying to create Toronto as the Everycity, filming in Toronto but then calling it New York, Seattle, or whatever city they need for the plot of their film. He has created a superhero who talks about the issues of Toronto life as he travels from place to place on the TTC (subway) and, at the end of this first comic, encounters a supervillain who bears a striking resemblance to Toronto’s Mayor Rob Ford.

This is a lizard who is not a chameleon… he is fundamentally at odds with his place, uncertain, and questioning. He expresses the diasporic feeling of many people in large cities, lost to obscurity but wondrously awkward.

To find out more about The Pitiful Human-Lizard, visit the facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/PitifulHumanLizard or the kickstarter page at https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/761064731/torontos-new-superhero-the-pitiful-human-lizard-is

Slippery Landscapes

A review of Kate Storey’s Blasted (Killick Press, 2008).
By Derek Newman-Stille

Steeped in the rich fairy lore of Newfoundland and a sense of longing for home, Kate Story’s Blasted is a novel about dislocation. Story’s stream of consciousness style of writing beautifully enhances the sense of temporal and special dislocation represented by movement through and slippage into fairy realms. Her poetic use of language adds to the depth of the landscape, it’s history, and the people upon it, reveling in the simultaneous beauty and terror embedded in the land.

Cover photo from Kate Story's "Blasted" courtesy of http://www.katestory.com/

Cover photo from Kate Story’s “Blasted” courtesy of http://www.katestory.com/

Newfoundland, as an island landscape of harsh extremes, fog, snow, unclear edges… it is a perfect location for fairy stories and a tradition of wandering into the fairy lands and being lost. As a place that experiences a great deal of emigration – the loss of population to other locations out of the belief that there will be better economic opportunities elsewhere – it has become a place of loss, a place of inconsistencies of population, a shifting populace where people ARE lost. Story combines this narrative of loss and the feeling of diaspora, of being separated from home, among Newfoundlanders who have left the island, with the losses into the fairy landscape – a place where people disappear, where people are led and lured into another place and pulled from home.

Ruby is a character who is enmeshed in both types of loss and dislocation – economy-led to Toronto with the belief that there are better economic opportunities, and fairy-led into Fairy from a difference in her blood, a family disposition to wander into fairy. Her sense of home is disrupted, discontinuous, yet no less strong.

Ruby’s family history has been kept secret, Othering her in her own home. Fairies in Newfoundland are considered to be beings that it is best not to speak about, and suffering in Ruby’s family is believed to be increased by being discussed. But this secrecy, carried out through the belief that it will keep Ruby safe, leaves her unprepared for the realities of her family and its interactions with “Them”, the fairies, the strangers who are also intimately close – in the landscape, in her home, and within her blood.

You can discover more about Kate Story on her website at http://www.katestory.com/

To find out more about Blasted and other Killick Press books, visit their website at http://www.creativebookpublishing.ca/en/index.cfm?main=groupdescription&poid=278

Graphic Noir

A review of Drew Hayden Taylor, Alison Kooistra, and Michael Wyatt’s The Night Wanderer: A Graphic Novel (Annick Press, 2013, Toronto)
By Derek Newman-Stille

I have been finding comics unsatisfying in recent years because too many of them have been cutting down on dialogue. I tend to like a lot of dialogue and narrative movement in a graphic novel, so I was excited to see that the graphic adaptation of Drew Hayden Taylor’s novel The Night Wanderer blended text and image effectively, creating a complete story.

Alison Kooistra’s adaptation of Hayden Taylor’s novel pulls out the effective characteristics of the novel and presents a complete story. This is a story about two entwined lives – one beginning and one reaching its completion. It has been 300 years since the man calling himself Pierre L’Errant has returned home to Otter Lake. The world has changed drastically. 300 years ago, L’Errant was an Anishinaabe youth who sought adventure and left his home with the pale faced visitors to his land.  When he arrives in Otter Lake, he meets with Tiffany, a young woman who is bored of res life at the Otter Lake reserve and seeking adventure. As a vampire, L’Errant has 300 years of knowledge to share with Tiffany, wisdom from the past. Two periods of time intersect as L’Errant explores his own history and connection to the landscape he left while teaching Tiffany to appreciate the place she calls home and not to move too quickly away from her land or lose touch with the history of her place.

Tiffany has to cope with the multiple pulls on her identity, the pull on her identity from school, friends, and boyfriends. Only a vampire can bring her the history of her place to realise what has changed and what remains the same and to share with her his curiosity about the land he called home. His passion to return, to re-visit the place of his youth and humanity permeates the novel, inviting the reader into the longing for home that people in diaspora have. Being a vampire means that L’Errant is pulled in multiple directions from multiple longings – the desire to find home and to complete his life in a place where his identity was shaped… and, of course, the longing for blood, something attached to his life in Europe when he was transformed into a vampire. His return has caused him to fast, to hold back his urge for blood and focus on finding his place in his significantly changed home.

Michael Wyatt’s art work blends effectively with the message of the story. The grey scale he uses for the novel lends an air of the gothic to these pages, and makes the red of blood stand out more… and the red of the vampire’s eyes. These sharp strikes of red become more potent for the viewer. An abundance of colour would have lost the shock and power of the vampire’s reaction to blood and his fundamental difference and otherness. In the splashes of red, the viewer is invited into the attention that the blood evokes from the vampire, making it ever-present and visually alluring.

Since most of the novel takes place at night, the use of grey shades evokes the feel of night to the graphic novel, pushing the viewer into the indistinctness of dusk and the uncertainty that comes with a story full of change and surprise.

Change is a significant part of Hayden Taylor’s story and Wyatt effectively uses his artwork to invite viewers to see the multiple juxtapositions of the current era (Tiffany’s time) and the past (L’Errant’s place of origin). He uses fog across panels to invite the reader to see the presence of change, and overlays panels from modernity over the past and vice versa to show that time is layered and that the past always dwells beneath the surface of the present. This layering is effective when L’Errant is uncovering items from his time period and sharing them with Tiffany: arrowheads, rocks that were once sacred and have been the seat for multiple people’s bottoms over time as they contemplated their place in the universe. Hayden Taylor’s story and Wyatt’s artwork highlight the changeability of the landscape and remind the reader that the stones we touch and the environments we inhabit have history.

The vampire in this narrative serves as a reminder of the fact that although landscapes and situations may change, there are always things that stay the same, hauntings from the past that we need to pay attention to – reminding us that people have been experiencing the same struggles and challenges before and will again in the future.

To find out more about The Night Wanderer: A Graphic Novel, visit Annick Press’ website at http://www.annickpress.com/Night-Wanderer-A-Graphic-Novel-The

To read more about the work of Drew Hayden Taylor, visit his website at http://www.drewhaydentaylor.com/

To discover more about the artwork of Michael Wyatt, visit his page on the Annick Press website at http://www.annickpress.com/author/Mike-Wyatt .

Abstract – Speculating Diversity: Nalo Hopkinson’s Brown Girl In The Ring and the Use of Speculative Fiction to Disrupt Singular Interpretations of Place

A few readers have expressed some interest in my academic work researching Canadian Speculative Fiction. I have sent out versions of my abstracts for upcoming conferences to people directly, but I thought it may be worthwhile for me to post them on Speculating Canada so that people can see them.

For those of you who are not from academic backgrounds, abstracts are sort of like teasers for a paper that you are going to present at a conference. They give the reader a general idea of what the paper will be about so that they can determine if they would like to attend your conference paper or not.

The abstract below is for a paper I will be presenting at the Academic Conference on Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy on June 7th in Toronto. You can explore the conference at http://www.yorku.ca/accsff/Introduction.html and determine if you would like to attend. I highly recommend it since it is of interest to academics as well as accessible for the general public.

Speculating Diversity: Nalo Hopkinson’s Brown Girl In The Ring and the Use of Speculative Fiction to Disrupt Singular Interpretations of Place

By Derek Newman-Stille

In Brown Girl In The Ring, Nalo Hopkinson uses speculative fiction to suggest an alternative reading of the space of Toronto. In order to assert a form of belonging in a space that traditionally denies racialised and ethnic others, Hopkinson rewrites the Toronto landscape of the future. Denied a past in Canada because of the erasure of blackness from the Canadian landscape, she instead writes diversity into the Canadian future. Hopkinson uses the speculative fiction medium to take an iconic image of the Canadian cityscape, the CN Tower, and transform it through a Caribbean-inspired vodoun ritual into the world tree and pillar of the vodoun temple. Toronto becomes temporarily a space where the Loa (vodoun spirits) walk the landscape.

She transforms the Canadian landscape by disrupting notions of the set role that artifacts and architecture are constructed to represent and by suggesting another dialogic possibility. She reconfigures aspects of the traditional Canadian landscape into a traditional Caribbean landscape, marking the space as multivalent and subject to multiple interpretive frameworks. She illustrates that meanings are not static, but constantly shifting, being reinterpreted and reconfigured by new people with new ideologies and new systems of meaning. The CN Tower in Hopkinson’s proposed future Toronto is not a static thing, but is rather transformative, changing with the populations that shift in Canada. The landscape and its meanings are constantly shifting as our social and political landscapes shift and things that are traditionally Canadian, like the CN Tower are able to shift as Canada’s traditions and ideologies shift to include a more diverse group of Canadians with more diverse readings of the features of heritage.

Hopkinson sets her Toronto in the slight future, creating a city that has been ghettoised and cordoned off by the Canadian state. It has been designated an unsafe space and becomes a place where racialised people are trapped. Hopkinson plays with ideas of invisibility of difference by having her characters literally become invisible through Caribbean magic. She seems to be suggesting in her narrative that the only place that Canadian racial geographies can be transformed is in a science fictional reality.

Literature has the ability to create diverse spaces even when it seems as though it is impossible to transform the physical landscape. Speculative fiction can propose an alternative reading to the landscape and allow a space for diversity. For New Canadians, literature and the arts can become a space where the Canadian landscape can be transformed into an inclusive space that challenges dominant narratives of belonging and suggests an alternative reading of the world and its spaces. The meaning of objects can shift in the consciousness of diasporic people as they assert their own identities and prevent their erasure from the Canadian landscape. Hopkinson uses literature as a space for the assertion of the idea of home for people in diaspora.

April Aliens – Wednesdays throughout April

Throughout the month of April, Speculating Canada will be bringing you discussions of aliens every Wednesday.Alien mountie

Aliens in Canadian SF can be used to explore Canadian multiculturalism, the feeling of alienation, diaspora (being without a home), ethnicity, the clash of cultures, and the extents and limits of the human. Aliens are often created as a foil, an opposite, an other to humanity, but many Canadian SF authors (such as Julie Czerneda, and Douglas Smith) complicate this ideology and put the reader in the perspective of the alien, occasionally even alienating the reader from the experience of the ‘human’ by presenting human beings as alien in behaviour as the figure from a different planet.

Aliens call on us to question ourselves, to see ourselves from a new perspective and examine what it means to be human. They challenge us to look at ourselves in a distorted mirror. In the words of Canadian author Judith Merrill “We have met the Alien and it is us” (Afterward, Tesseracts).

Avatars of Reality

A review of Ven Begamudre’s Vishnu Dreams (Gaspereau Press, 2008)
By Derek Newman-Stillejacket_med

The Hindu god Vishnu sleeps and dreams the lives of mortals in Ven Begamudre’s Vishnu Dreams, allowing for the intersection of Hindu cosmology and the physical reality of everyday existence. Tales of the Hindu gods are interspersed amongst a seemingly magic-less narrative.

Stories and sacred tales become the binding feature of this novel, allowing for the continuance of an Indian Hindu experience even when displaced from home and living in North America. They become the support structures to hold onto to find a sense of place, an idea of belonging in a place that actively seeks to exclude them. Durga and Subhas move to Canada from India and then to the United States, where they find that their sense of community is disrupted. In school, they are enwrapped in the American love of their own history to the exclusion of the diversity of other histories and find themselves searching for some place to find themselves. They have to perform the identities of the North Americans who surround them, often pretending to fit in even when the behaviours around them make no sense and conflict with their own morals. Subhas, for example, is horrified at a pep rally where the entire school is called upon to recite the word “kill” as an expression of the desire for success in sports, and mouths the words along with the rest of his schoolmates while looking with horror as even other outsiders are brought into the collective madness around him.

Begamudre contributes to the sense of dislocation with his narrative style, to attempt to have the reader feel that displacement and unsteady territory. He varies his narrative between third person (using he or she) and second person (using “you”) to allow for a sense of the changeability of perspective and the sense of loss. The use of second person also allows the reader to be fully enmeshed in the experience of dislocation. Begamudre uses second person to prevent the reader from dislocating him or herself from the narrative, but rather forces the reality of the characters onto the reader.

The use of scenes of the Hindu gods speaking to one another also contribute to this sense of dislocation and also a sense of the greater significance of experiences. The gods appear in random sequences throughout the narrative, seemingly unconnected to the general events taking place for the youths that are the focus of the realist half of this narrative. However, when one wonders why the gods are appearing, one remembers the statement early in the novel that Vishnu dreams the lives of mortals, and one realises the sense of connection between Indian people in diaspora and the greater connection between the Indian population and Hindu peoples. Even when in a new location, there is a sense of home that binds people together, linked through religious tales and myths – a common binding between people that is constructed in the telling of narratives and the binding of words from stories. Begamudre reminds readers that stories have power; that they connect people in significant ways and help them bring a sense of home and community with them wherever they go.

Begamudre’s interplay between a realist narrative about adapting to an unfamiliar and unaccepting place and the cosmological reality of Hinduism presents interesting genre questions. Is this a Speculative Fiction novel or is it a religious realist novel? I decided to include it on Speculating Canada because of its ability to ask questions and push the boundaries of mundane reality, suggesting an intertwining of religious reality with the physical. This is not meant to suggest that I doubt the cosmological significance of Hinduism or the reality of Hindu beliefs, but rather to acknowledge the speculative potential of intersecting cosmologies.

You can find out more about Vishnu Dreams at the Gaspereau Press website at http://www.gaspereau.com/bookInfo.php?AID=113&AISBN=0