Ageing “Usefully”

A Review of Teri Babcock’s “Prometheus on the Operating Table” in Lazarus Risen (Bundoran Press, 2016)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Frequently, the discourse around ageing is that elderly people are no longer useful in our society. Teri Babcock’s “Prometheus on the Operating Table” complicates these ideas of “usefulness” around ageing by creating an aged character who is the most useful person on the planet, indeed the story opens with “Old as I am, Im useful still, so they keep me alive”. After a viral outbreak damages the livers of Earth’s inhabitants, a 120 year old man discovers that he is the only person with immunity and his liver is repeatedly cut into smaller pieces to be disributed amongst the remaining population. 
The discourse of usefulness shapes his care and he receives extra care because of his perceived importance, pointing out that frequently care is constructed as something that should only be available to the few people who society deems are useful. Yet, his care is also related to constant monitoring and control. He lives out his extended life in a coffin-like pod with a zipper attached to his body for easy access to his liver. Quality of life isn’t a concern for his care-givers and instead they focus on providing him with bodily necessities which reflect their own necessities for the use of his body.
While in “care”, his body is treated as a useable commodity, controlled and without options, and simultaneously treated as a resource to be exploited both for his liver and also for his other bodily fluids since his sperm is also taken and used to impregnate people without his consent. 
Yet, Babcock brings attention to the way that care of aged people need to take into account psychological and social needs, portraying a decline in health coming from depression.
Babcock brings critical attention to the treatment of aged bodies and perceptions about identity and critical needs by portraying a future in which an aged body is constructed as extremely useful, resisting the social portrayal of ageing as a decline in use.
To discover more about Lazarus Risen, visit the Bundoran Press website at http://www.bundoranpress.com/product/1/Lazarus-Risen

Growing Up Monstrous

A review of Nalo Hopkinson’s “The Easthound” in Falling in Love With Hominids (Tachyon Publications, 2015)

By Derek Newman-Stille

Nalo Hopkinson’s “The Easthound” takes the reader onto the streets with a group of street children who have been displaced from their homes. There is a long history of street kids creating their own myths and legends about survival as a means to be able to deal with life on the streets, which, in the case of most of these kids, was safer than life in their original homes with abusive parents. But in “The Easthound” the monsters of those street tales is true. There is something lurking in the dark and it is something that often threatens children on the streets – adults and adulthood.

Hopkinson explores the spectre that haunts most kids on the streets – the violence of their parents and other adults in their lives. But, instead of these adults being regular abusers, they become actual monsters, transformed at the age of adulthood into werewolf-like beasts that prey on anyone who remains human. The street kids in “The Easthound” have gathered together in small groups to keep themselves safe from the spread of the monstrous virus that sets in at puberty and they try to resist adulthood, starving themselves to prevent their bodies from maturing. Many of the children were already abused by adults who were turned into beasts by the spreading virus, some losing limbs. 

Although Hopkinson deals with the spectre of violence as an actual viral spread of monstrosity, she points to the overall issue of violence against youths and the fact that many young people have to take to the streets to escape the violence of adults in their lives and then live in fear on the streets as well. 

Hopkinson’s “The Easthound” mirrors the classic Star Trek episode “Miri” (Season 1, Episode 8) where a virus has spread on an Earth-like planet that turns people monstrously violent when they hit puberty. But, she takes thing further. Whereas the writers of “Miri” try to resolve these issues with a cure (followed by sending educators to the planet), “The Easthound” expresses the idea that there generally aren’t simple solutions to the violence that street children experience and adults are generally part of the problem rather than part of the solution. Hopkinson explores the complexity of street life and the complex ways that “growing up” has a different set of meanings for kids on the street. 

To discover more about the work of Nalo Hopkinson, visit her website at http://nalohopkinson.com

To find out more about Falling in Love with Hominids and other books by Tachyon Press, visit their website at https://tachyonpublications.com/product/falling-love-hominids/