No Longer Isolated

No Longer Isolated

A review of Robert Dawson’s “Iron Jenny and the Princess” in Over the Rainbow: Folk and Fairy Tales from the Margins (Exile Editions, 2018)

By Derek Newman-Stille

Fairy tales have a propensity toward a “happily ever after” that results in a heterosexual marriage… yet that excludes a lot of people and suggests that only straight identities can be happy identities. Robert Dawson’s “Iron Jenny and the Princess” presents readers with a princess, Topaz, who has never had a desire to marry and whose mother tells her that she will either wed or be put in jail. Dawson explores the collision of duty and personal desire, of family and freedom examining the systems of controls placed on princesses.

Topaz is a princess who has always been different, always looked at as rough and gruff, yet when she is on her own, she is able to sing and be herself and to express more of herself than she can to others. It is in seeking isolation in her kingdom’s labyrinth that Topaz finally meets someone she can relate to: Iron Jenny, a woman made of iron.

As occurs in many fairy tales, Topaz has to prove herself to be worthy of marrying a prince by completing multiple tasks… and all of these tasks are related to her perceived eventual domestic role. Yet, Dawson writes a character who challenges assumptions about women’s work and about a princess’ role, offering a tale that disrupts heterosexual patriarchal ideas and presents characters with more nuance, complicating the idea of the “happily ever after” and a woman’s role in that traditional fairy tale ending.

To find out more about Over the Rainbow: Folk and Fairy Tales from the Margins, visit http://overtherainbowfairytale.wordpress.com and check out Exile Editions’ website at https://www.exileeditions.com

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A Fable About Overcoming The Odds

A Fable About Overcoming the Odds

A review of Rati Mehrotra’s “The Half Courage Hare” in Over The Rainbow: Folk and Fairy Tales from the Margins (Exile Editions, 2018).

By Derek Newman-Stille

Animals offer a fascinating element to folklore and fairy tales, often grouped into their own category of “animal tales”. These tales often use animals as symbolic representations of human characteristics, hyper-accentuating these characteristics. The animals are anthropomorphised (given human characteristics like speech, human cultural customs, and human behaviours) as part of this rendering of animals into the symbolic realm to speak about human experience. From Aesop’s fables to medieval bestiaries to the plethora of cartoon animal stories, we have been fascinated by our relationship with the animal world and with our belief that animals can reveal something about us and our experiences.

Fables are a form of folk tales that uses animals to convey lessons to people about how to operate in the world. One of the most popular fables is the Tortoise and the Hare, a tale that originated in Aesop’s Fables and conveys the lesson “slow and steady wins the race”. It is a common type of folk tale that explores power structures by illustrating two opponents of differing power (one who is believed to be much more suited to the task at hand, and one who seems underpowered) and by reversing the audience’s expectations about who will succeed and who fail at the task.

Rati Mehrotra’s “The Half Courage Hare” tells a tale many generations of rabbits after the initial contest, exploring a family of rabbits who have lost everything. Mehrotra mixes otherworldly entities into this classic fable who have stakes in the race, providing a potential sanctuary for the all-to-vulnerable animals who are trying to live out their lives close to a farm with a human farmer who likes to hunt.

“The Half Courage Hare” is a tale of the vulnerability of rabbits and the potential of the vulnerable to resist oppression and find new ways of rallying through community.

To find out more about Rati Mehrotra, visit https://ratiwrites.com

To discover more about Over The Rainbow: Folk and Fairy Tales From The Margins, visit https://overtherainbowfairytale.wordpress.com and visit Exile’s website at https://www.exileeditions.com

Not Malfunctioning

Not Malfunctioning

A review of Fiona Patton’s “I Am Not Broken” in Over the Rainbow: Folk and Fairy Tales from the Margins (Exile, 2018)

By Derek Newman-Stille

In our ableist society, disability is treated as a flaw, as a malfunction. In “I Am Not Broken”, Fiona Patton explores the problematic assumptions about disability by abstracting the image of malfunctioning onto a robot who has been deemed to be malfunctional and is preparing for disassembly. By making this parallel, Patton explores the way that our society assumes that disabled people are “broken” and not capable of fulfilling a social role. Patton critiques ideas of bodily conformity by pointing out production lines and challenges ideas of standardized testing by pointing out that it can’t encompass the complexity of individual value. Her tale is a challenge to power structures that try to force a singular normative system and fail to recognize the power of complexity.

Although using a robot for her tale, Patton’s tale is wholly folkloric. She evokes the feel and experience of folklore by using repeated phrases and a cyclical story structure. As much as this is a story about a robot’s transformations and learning about themself, it is also a tale of animals and the teachings that they impart on a wayward traveller.

Patton breaks the bounds of simple definitions of folklore or fairy tales by brining her story into the galactic realm and teasing her story out with science fictional elements.

Patton opens up the potential for empowerment through diversity and of power through communal activities and working together toward resolutions that work for a wider number of people. “I Am Not Broken” is a story of resistance and reflection that invites the reader to expand their understanding.

To discover more about Fiona Patton, visit http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/ea.cgi?796

To find out more about Over the Rainbow: Folk and Fairy Tales from the Margins, visit https://overtherainbowfairytale.wordpress.com and Exile Editions at https://www.exileeditions.com

Skin Deep

Skin Deep

A review of Nathan Caro Frechette’s “Skin” in Over the Rainbow: Folk and Fairy Tales from the Margins (2018, Exile)

By Derek Newman-Stille

Selkies are creatures from Scottish folklore (but also noted in the Orkneys and Shetlands) who are capable of transforming from seal to human by shedding their skin. In many selkie tales, female selkies are stolen from their watery home when a man steals their seal skin and then keeps the skin hidden away, forcing his new selkie bride to do his bidding. These are generally coercive tales where women (or their children) have to escape from the control of the skin thief by finding out where the skin is hidden and stealing it back to disappear into the ocean.

Nathan Caro Frechette reshapes the selkie mythos in his story “Skin”, which plays with the idea of skin and identity, turning the tale into a Trans story of self discovery and resistance. Frechette keeps the coercive element of the tale, but instead abstracts it onto the protagonist’s mother, bringing attention to the way that parents of Trans kids frequently try to control their children’s identities and prevent them from expressing their gender identity.

Using the figure of the Selkie, Frechette examines the way that Trans people are often cut off from the history and culture of other Trans people, exploring the idea that the abundance of cis-gendered (non-Trans) culture and the lack of representation of Trans culture has an impact on Trans youth, particularly as they search for a connection to others in their community.

Frechette, himself a Trans man, examines features of Trans identity through Ron that cis-gendered writers would not have the experiential knowledge of. Frechette examines what it is like to explore the world as a Trans person and examine the oppressions (whether intentional or unintentional) a Trans person experiences through things like misgendering, dead-naming, and erasure. Frechette is able to bring his real world experience of chest binding and feelings about bodily identity into the character. But this is not just a tale of gender dysphoria – Frechette examines the gender euphoria that comes when someone genders us by using our pronouns and names and accepts us for who we are.

“Skin” is a powerful story that tells a Trans tale of transformation and examines the power of folklore and fairy tales for expressing identities that have been traditionally underrepresented. Frechette writes his story to speak to a Trans audience, which is powerful since many people write Trans stories with a cis-gendered audience in mind and he proves that tales don’t need to be written for a cis-gendered audience to speak to a wider public because this tale is a tale that can speak to anyone who has examined their identity.

To discover more about Nathan Caro Frechette, check out his page at https://nathancarofrechette.ca

To discover more about Over the Rainbow: Folk and Fairy Tales from the Margins, go to https://overtherainbowfairytale.wordpress.com or check out Exile publishing at https://www.exileeditions.com

The Climate Around Eco-Fiction

A review of Cli Fi: Canadian Tales of Climate Change Edited by Bruce Meyer (Exile Editions, 2017)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Powerful and wealthy people are invested in the idea of constructing climate change as a fiction, projecting the idea that scientists are folk story tellers, inventing tales that don’t stem from observation. Constructing climate change as a fiction allows us to pretend that we don’t need to change anything about our behaviour, to believe that we can allow things to go on as they are without repercussions. Cli Fi: Canadian Tales of Climate Change uses the power of stories to shift the dialogue, to give us possible glimpses into futures that we are creating through our own inaction. Cli Fi like most speculative fiction, is ultimately about the present rather than the future climate issues it presents. This collection reveals the way that we centre human experiences while ignoring the rest of our world, the way that we ignore our problems in order to push them onto the future. As much as being a set of stories, Cli Fi is a call to change, a call to transform ourselves the way our fiction transforms our way of thinking about the world. 

The anthology begins with tales from the perspective of aged protagonists, something that is rare in a society that doesn’t value aged bodies, and yet, the collection prefaces these bodies, positioning them as ones that have witnessed long term changes, long term development. Youth frequently don’t see changes as shockingly because everything is new and because they don’t have years of observation to back their ideas upon. When they see a news report that says that we are experiencing record temperature highs or record temperature lows, they are comforted when the news refers to these temperatures being reached at another time this century. But, they may miss the fact that the last few years have been ones where more records are being established, and where these records are being met or exceeded more often and in closer proximity. Whereas aged people can make observations about the longue duree, making observations over a longer period of time.

I shouldn’t suggest that by having ageing bodies at the outset, that this anthology is all about ageing. In fact, there are a wide variety of ages portrayed to add the perspective of the way that climate changes affect us as we age. Cli Fi provides stories that look at how the environment interweaves with our bodily experiences and existence, the way that we both shape and are shaped by our ecology, altered by and altering our world. These stories remind us that we are participants in creating the world that we want. 

This is not a utopian collection. The stories in these pages invite us to ask some hard questions, and it is hard to read the collection in one sitting, but that time to pause is necessary. It invites us to ponder for long periods between stories, looking deeper into the tales and what they mean for us as people. The authors remind us of our connection to the world around us, pointing out that water makes up most of our bodies, just as it makes up most of our surface world, and water runs through these narratives as much as the ink runs onto paper. It binds us to our environments, a flowing story that speaks of history and change, but also of the danger of contamination and the vulnerability of our world to our pollution. 

This is not just an anthology ABOUT climate change, it is one that invites us into the process of changing our climate. Cli Fi invites us to ask critical questions about the world around us and our relationship to that world, to interrogate the messages we receive from our environment and open critical dialogue about it. Cli Fi is an invitation to do no less than change our world. Although primarily speculative fiction, this collection opens up real world possibilities. 

To explore reviews of individual short stories in this collection, check out:
Rati Mehrotra’s “Children of the Sea”

https://speculatingcanada.ca/2017/05/02/ageing-into-climate-change/
Sean Virgo’s “My Atlantis”

https://speculatingcanada.ca/2017/05/04/a-shattered-touchstone/
Kate Story’s “Animate” 

https://speculatingcanada.ca/2017/05/08/a-magnetic-environment/
Nina Munteanu’s “The Way of Water”

https://speculatingcanada.ca/2017/05/11/water-is-magic/
Wendy Bone’s “Abdul”

https://speculatingcanada.ca/2017/05/13/orangutan-voices/
Phil Dwyer’s “Invasion” 

https://speculatingcanada.ca/2017/05/17/vulnerable/
Holly Schofield’s “Weight of the World”

https://speculatingcanada.ca/2017/05/19/a-call-for-research/
Lynn Hutchinson Lee’s “Night Divers”

https://speculatingcanada.ca/2017/05/20/made-of-water-and-stars/
To discover more about Cli Fi, visit Exile Editions’ website at http://www.exileeditions.com

Made of Water and Stars

A review of Lynn Hutchinson Lee’s “Night Divers” in Cli Fi: Canadian Tales of Climate Change (Exile Editions, 2017)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Like in Nina Munteanu’s “The Way of Water”, Lynn Hutchinson Lee’s “Night Divers” explores the quasi-religious potential of water. Water in “Night Divers” represents the multiplicity of religion, first situating water as something attached to greed and power by creating groups like the Brothers of the Waters of Life and their PrayGuards, who are willing to kill to maintain their control over water, and secondly through the quasi-folk magic involved in submersion in water. Characters under the tutelage of Grace, a former nun for the Brothers of the Waters of Life begin to jump off of cliffs into the small amount of water remaining in a hidden quarry, and through the process experience magical moments of transcendence as they submerge into the water. In beautiful prose, Lynn Hutchinson Lee reveals the ritual magic of submersion in water. “I felt my hands, my palms, nerves, fingertips, really felt them. Something had been moved around. Everything out there, inside me. My lungs, voice, bones, skin, all made of water and stars”.

“Night Divers” brings attention to the way that scarcity invites control and the way that corporate interests in water can reinforce themselves through social practices, policing access to water to unsure that corporation and politics are intertwined.

To discover more about Cli Fi, visit http://www.exileeditions.com

A Call for Research

A review of Holly Schofield’s “Weight of the World” in Cli Fi: Canadian Tales of Climate Change (Exile Editions, 2017)

By Derek Newman-Stille

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Holly Schofield’s “Weight of the World” explores the role of science in humanity’s engagement with our ecology. Schofield brings attention to the way that capitalism is constantly placed ahead of ecological research, pointing out that we endanger the planet further by devoting government resources to areas that we think will be more profitable and provide short term benefits rather than long term research that could develop solutions to ecological problems.

 

Schofield’s tale centres on a scientist named Gurpreet who keeps getting shuffled from department to department while she tries to create solutions for humanity’s current eco crisis and food security issues. Changes in the gulf stream have meant that Canada has become a frozen wasteland where growing seasons are uncertain and always incredibly short. Gurpreet has to deal with misogyny from her male coworkers as well as corruption in funding models that takes money away from viable food production and funnels it into popular, but under-researched methods of producing food, even though these methods will likely have longer term ecological repercussions.

 

Schofield’s tale is timed at a critical moment when we see a conflict between scientists in the United States and a government that doesn’t want to change its ecological policies. Her tale is a reminder to all of us that we need to invest in long term scientific research and stop having stop-gap methods that cause further ecological danger.

 

To find out more about Holly Schofield, visit https://hollyschofield.wordpress.com/

To discover more about Cli Fi and other Exile books, visit http://www.exileeditions.com/