A Magnetic Environment

A review of Kate Story’s “Animate” in Cli Fi: Canadian Tales of Climate Change (Exile, 2017)
By Derek Newman-Stille

People and our landscapes are in a complicated relationship with each other, altering one another through our interactions. Our landscapes shape us as much as we shape them. In “Animate”, Kate Story explores a toxic landscape, yet one that is also full of mystery. Story sets her tale in Newfoundland’s Tableland, a strange red-orange scar in an otherwise green and verdant landscape where the rocks are magnetic and their toxicity prevents plant growth. Yet it exerts a pull on the bodies of her characters, literally pulling on their facial features

Story examines the strangeness of Newfoundland – its ability to represent so many unique geological features in one island and the potential of the landscape to imprint itself on our memories and our bodies. She explores the possibility of a psycho-geographic effect, a strange link between people and the landscapes that they occupy, each reflecting each other. Story examines the complexity of ideas of home by exploring a space other than the house, but rather the way that a larger environment imprints on us. We often think about our landscapes in terms of human change, but rarely examine the way that we are, in turn, shaped by our spaces of home, the landscapes that we occupy. 

To discover more about the work of Kate Story, visit http://www.katestory.com
To discover more about Exile Editions, visit http://exileeditions.com

A Shattered Touchstone

A review of Sean Virgo’s “My Atlantis” in Cli Fi: Canadian Tales of Climate Change (Exile, 2017).By Derek Newman-Stille

Sean Virgo’s “My Atlantis” is a tale about the return to a changed land. Like Rati Mehrotra’s tale in Cli Fi, this tale features an older person, but unlike Mehrotra’s tale, where the protagonist is stationary in a changing land, this aged character is returning to a place that has become his touchstone over the years, associated with memory, and able to remind him who he is. The problem is that his touchstone has changed, deteriorated by the impact of environmental destruction. Although wildlife is returning to this landscape as human beings move into the cities, that wildlife is struggling to stay healthy and survive in the damaged environment that remains. 

The protagonist works in mental health and frequently works with people who are experiencing memory loss, and that notion of memory is a significant one in this narrative as it shifts through different periods of time while memories arise one after the next inspired by glimpses of familiar scenes altered by time and the human desire to change our environment. 

Age is a significant factor in this tale as the protagonist is able to draw on a lifetime of memories of a place to reflect on its changes and highlight the way that the world has shifted. North American society is relatively short sighted about our impact on the environment, so it is significant that Virgo chooses a long duree approach to the environment, observing it over the course of a lifetime to see the impact of change. 

To discover more about Cli Fi, visit Exile’s website at http://www.exileeditions.com

Ageing into Climate Change

A review of Rati Mehrotra’s “Children of the Sea” in Cli Fi: Canadian Tales of Climate Change (Exile, 2017)

By Derek Newman-Stille

In “Children of the Sea”, Rati Mehrotra links the changes that come with ageing to the changes that come from environmental damage. In Mehrotra’s tale, age becomes a subject of stability in a changing world and an older woman lives through massive climate change while constantly revisiting memories of a time before global environmental catastrophe. 

Auntie Benita is the stable figure as her world changes, watching it shift from her African home. The tides encroach on her home like the memory of all of the destruction and damage that has come from other places through the impact of colonialism and industry. Even the “solutions” to the ecological issues disempower her, located elsewhere and often exploitatively taking advantage of her. Benita watches as an ark ship leaves her planet to seek out another one, trying to bring humanity to another planet and colonize and terraform it since human impact on our own planet has terraformed it into something no longer inhabitable. She has observed failed attempts at reversing global warming as the water from melting icebergs gradually encroached on her home, and finally even saw the bodies of her family members altered and changed to adapt to aquatic life that would become a reality on our world. 

Landscape and memory intersect in this tale, entwined through Benita’s experience, but also through loss as Benita’s memories retreat from her and the tides gobble up the land. Yet, Benita is also able to be a gage for change, observing how her world shifted throughout the years of her life and serving as a witness for readers to remind us to notice how our landscapes change and make alterations to our lifestyle to prevent the kind of crises she experiences.

To discover more about Rati Mehrotra, visit her website at https://ratiwrites.com
To discover more about Cli Fi, visit Exile’s website at http://exileeditions.com

A Seance Evoking Future Horrors

A Seance Evoking Future Horrors

A review of Tony Pi’s “Our Chymical Seance” in Clockwork Canada: Steampunk Fiction edited by Dominik Parisien (Exile Editions, 2016)

By Derek Newman-Stille

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With “Our Chymical Seance”, Tony Pi plunges us into a world of Victorian spiritualism, a world filled with mediums, ectoplasm, haunting devices, and complete with the obligatory skeptic who brings a rational lens to the experience and seeks to understand the deeper meaning of the experience rather than to surrender himself to the etheric.

 

Pi explores the relationship between mourning and an interest in spiritualism, bringing us into the world of the De Bruins who are grieving the suicide death of their son. Pi explores the power that guilt has for those who grieve for a person who has committed suicide – the self blame, the belief that they should have seen the signs, and above all the question of ‘why?’. In seeking an answer to the question, the DeBruins have employed a medium who promises to connect them to the otherworldly and allow them to ask the questions that are occupying their grieving minds.

 

Yet, it isn’t fraud that Tremaine, our skeptic, uncovers, but something far more horrifying, the lack of critical thought that goes into building new technology in our desire to explore the unexplorable, to examine the unimaginable. Tremaine is faced with the speedy progression of technology and the notion that technological development will continue even when there has been proof of the horrors that certain inventions can evoke. He explores the power of the rhetoric of progress and the threat that unchecked technology can unleash on the world and the technology explored by the medium, Madame Skilling, threatens not just the status quo but the nature of the human experience and the human spirit.

 

Toni Pi invites us into a darkened room filled with strange vapours and the magic of transformation where we can imagine our own futures and the potential repercussions of our desire to change without investigation.

 

To discover more about the work of Tony Pi, visit his website at https://tonypi.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

 

 

 

 

Disability and Immigration

Disability and ImmigrationA review of “Crew 255” by Claire Humphrey in Clockwork Canada: Steampunk Fiction, edited by Dominik Parisien (Exile Editions, 2016).

By Derek Newman-Stille

In “Crew 255”, Claire Humphrey uses steampunk to comment on the interrelationship between immigration, disability, and ethnicity. After an explosion of an airship in Toronto, people are brought into the city from other countries to clear the rubble and begin the rebuilding process. Emiliana is brought in along with immigrating populations from an Azorean village. The villagers are all men and Emiliana feels as though she is an outsider amongst the men not only because of her gendered difference but also because she is the only one among them with a disability. Emiliana has had prosthetic arms called “graspers” for over a decade before coming to Toronto. The graspers are made of brass, and they provide extra strength for lifting, allowing her to be a strong worker, but she needs to deal with the process of being ‘Othered’ by the able-bodied, male crew. 

Like many people with disabilities, Emiliana is faced with the challenge of staring, being constantly looked at for her physical difference. Staring is more than a passive act of looking, but is, instead, an act of treating someone as an outsider and treating their body as something that can be viewed and treated as a specimen. The act of staring tries to render the disabled body as something that is passively looked at. At times, Emiliana finds herself gazing at others who use prostheses, but when they react as though they are being stared at, she shows her own prostheses to convey the idea that she is looking at them to create a sense of community rather than staring at them. 

Unlike some narratives of steampunk prostheses, “Crew 255” is not about the prosthetic creating a superhuman. Rather, Claire Humphrey illustrates the extra time and effort Emiliana has to go through to maintain her prosthetic arms – having to regularly clean the rubble out of them, polish them, prevent them from freezing by using mittens, and keeping the joints nimble. Despite their fictional nature, her graspers convey some of the complexity of prosthetic use.

By exploring the role of Emiliana as a worker who is female and disabled, Humphrey brings attention to the current issues facing people with disabilities seeking to immigrate to Canada. Many people with disabilities have historically – and continue to be – considered to be undesirable immigrants to Canada. Tied up in this un-preferential treatment of people with disabilities are assumptions that the disabled are unable to contribute meaningfully to the Canadian economy. Governmental bodies assume that the disabled represent a potential economic drain rather than economic assets and a large part of this assumption is related to the belief that people with disabilities can’t work at the same levels as the able-bodied and therefore can’t contribute to the economy of the country. “Crew 255” resists this portrayal by instead presenting a person with disabilities working hard and organizing the labour of her colleagues. Emiliana is portrayed as a person who not only contributes to her new country, but also works in the jobs that other Canadians consider undesirable. In doing so, Humphrey points out that when people immigrate to Canada (especially when they are people with disabilities), they are often underemployed and only given jobs that are un-preferred. Emiliana and the rest of Crew 255 are working to rebuild Canada and reconstruct it, re-shaping a decimated Toronto to create a space where they can live alongside other Canadians. 

To discover more about the work of Claire Humphrey, visit her website at http://www.clairehumphrey.ca
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

Working in the Industrial Revolution

Working in the Industrial RevolutionA review of Brent Nichols’ “The Harpoonist” in Clockwork Canada: Steampunk Fiction edited by Dominik Parisien (Exile Editions, 2016)

By Derek Newman-Stille


Despite the disabling effects of the Industrial Revolution and the number of limbs lost in the desire to mechanise, most steampunk doesn’t examine the relationship of disability to the technological gadgetry that is employed in the genre. Brent Nichols’ “The Harpoonist” looks at the intersection between disability, the drive to mechanise, and labour movements. 

Alice O’Reilly has been working to change the way that labour is conceptualised in Gastown. As a woman who has been dismissed from numerous jobs due to her desire to unionise, she is aware of the impact that factories have on worker bodies, observing the repeated way that the Industrial Revolution has consumed worker bodies in the capitalist desire to produce and make as much wealth as possible. O’Reilly and other workers gathered funds together to try to create a factory that would be without bosses, totally geared toward ensuring an equal distribution of wealth in addition to safe working conditions. 

When she meets Henry McClane, she assumes that he is another person who has been disabled by unsafe working conditions and a lack of protection for workers. She assumes that his hand was damaged in a workplace accident and that he was dismissed after he was no longer able to operate the machinery, and he allows her to believe this in order to keep his past a secret. 

Brent Nichols creates a group of people who have gathered together in support of a common, community good in defence of powerful, mob-run groups that seek to maintain the wealth of the community in the hands of a few people and employ gangs to take down any competition for their own wealth. O’Reilly’s factory workers are one group of defenders of the common good, seeking to build safe working conditions and illustrate that a factory for the mutual benefit of the workers can work out. The other group of community defenders are a superhero group that employs technology to accommodate their disabilities and also to fight crime. Rather than allowing themselves to be hurt and controlled by the machinery around them, both groups seek to harness technology for their own purposes, using machinery either as a means to better support workers or as an accommodation for disability that has the added benefit of augmenting the human body. Nichols brings attention to the duality of technology – it’s ability to either work toward control and support the groups in power, or its ability to imagine new ways for oppressed people to create conditions of mutual support. 

To discover more about the work of Brent Nichols, visit his website at http://steampunch.com/index.html

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

Steampunk Multiculturalism

Steampunk MulticulturalismA review of Holly Schofield’s “The East Wing in Carall Street” in Clockwork Canada; Steampunk Fiction Edited by Dominik Parisien (Exile Editions, 2016).

  

Canada’s late 1800s were an era of exploitation of Chinese-Canadian workers. With head-taxes on immigrants from China and the exploitation of Chinese labourers for widescale production, Canadian interactions with their Chinese-originating populations in the 1800s was fraught with oppression. In particular, during the period of technological nationalism, when Canada sought to use technological innovations like the railway to bring Canadians together over a vast geography, Chinese labourers were exploited for construction and a large number of Chinese-Canadians died in the building of the Canadian Pacific Railway. In Canada’s attempt to bring people together, the country reified who it thought could belong and be called “Canadian” by constructing certain populations (such as the Chinese-Canadian population) as disposable and therefore as non-Canadian. 

It is therefore extremely exciting to see a steampunk narrative that explores the experience of Chinese Canadians. In Holly Schofield’s “East Wind in Carrall Street”, the complicated link between Chinese-Canadian interactions with non-Chinese Canadians and the notion of technology are explored. Schofield explores a friendship between Wong Shin, the son of a man who runs a grocery store, and Margie, an aspiring astronomer who lives in a Vancouver prostitution house with her family. Shin and Margie’s families both disapprove of their friendship, each considering the other to be from an abhorrent family. Each family expresses disgust for the other even on the basis of the foods that they eat. Yet, Shin and Margie are able to get rid of some of their familial discrimination to forge a friendship that both find useful and supportive, educating each other and providing emotional support for each other. 

Shin’s father begins to delve into self hatred because of the trick he is pulling on the Chinese-Canadian community of Victoria because he has claimed that he has created a fully automated clockwork lion to dance blessings in front of a store that is about to open. But, he is unable to create a fully automated clockwork lion, therefore having to ask Wong to get inside of the automation and run it through a series of levers. Shin bears the full brunt of his father’s self-loathing. However, through his friendship with Margie, Shin is able to look for opportunities for collaboration and unity that offer possibilities that cultural separation doesn’t. 

Schofield explores the complicated history of Chinese-Canadian and non-Chinese Canadian interactions in “East Wind in Carrall Street”, acknowledging both the Canadian history of racism and simultaneously suggesting the power that cultural collaboration holds.

To discover more about the work of Holly Schofield, visit her site at https://hollyschofield.wordpress.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