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

Why should we put aside our childish things? They were our first teachers 

A review of Playground of Lost Toys edited by Ursula Pflug and Colleen Anderson (Exile, 2015)
By Derek Newman-Stille

  

Playground of Lost Toys leads us up those creaking attic stairs to a toy trunk of abandoned memories, lost experiences, and secrets shared in a language we only knew how to speak when we were children. It is an anthology about re-visitings, reimaginings, and explorations into those forgotten worlds that we created so easily when we were young. 

The authors in this collection play with our senses, but, most significantly, with our sense of nostalgia, reminding us of the things we set aside to call ourselves adults and that these objects, these playthings, still have power. Play is the best way to learn and the toys that we have abandoned were some of our first teachers, mentors on the secret pathways to imagination.

Playground of Lost Toys uses these early muses, our toys, to inspire new stories, examine new ideas, and question ideas of memory, play, and identity.

To discover more about Playground of Lost Toys, visit Exile’s website at http://exileeditions.com/singleorders2015/plt.html

Unsettled in Utopia

Unsettled in Utopia

A review of Nalo Hopkinson’s “Midnight Robber” (Warner, 2000).

By Derek Newman-Stille

Nalo Hopkinson’s “Midnight Robber” is a narrative about home, memory, and communication. The planet Toussaint is settled by Caribbean people from earth who honour their history through events like Carnival and who remember the history of slavery in their tales. The travel to Toussaint is celebrated as a different type of crossing – crossing the stars by choice instead of being forced to cross the ocean by slavery and the tales of the people of Toussaint explore the interconnections between these two types of travel that brought them to where they are now. Nalo Hopkinson explores the dangers of travel and the issues that travel creates regarding ideas of home and belonging. She intwines ideas of exile and colonialism, exploring the way that these ideas can intertwine – being removed from one place without choice and displacing people from another. The people of Toussaint send those they view as criminals through a gateway to another world called New Half-Way Tree where their exiled lives interfere with the indigenous population of the planet and displace them. Most of the exiles arrive onto New Half-Way Tree with an assumption that they are better than the indigenous inhabitants, treating them as people who are in the way at best or wanting to eliminate them. When Tan Tan arrives from Toussaint to New Half-Way Tree, she wants to treat the indigenous inhabitants of the planet with respect since Toussaint culture is focused on the idea that there should be no masters and everyone should be treated with respect. Yet, her attempts to interact with the indigenous population mark her as an outsider to both populations.

Although Hopkinson situates Toussaint as a Utopia in many ways, creating a society that is based on notions of equality, that is open to different types of relationships, and is a place where people are not subjected to back-breaking labour, she creatively questions the utopia she writes. In order to make way for the human inhabitants of Toussaint, the nanite system the planet uses eliminated indigenous fauna that it viewed as threats to the new inhabitants, causing mass extinctions. Although the nanite system allows people to communicate more readily and have access to information, it also interferes with ideas of privacy and everything on Toussaint is surveilled. Further, when the society views someone as subversive or dangerous, they are sent to New Half-Way Tree, where the egalitarian notions of Toussaint only apply to human beings, not the indigenous population, the Douen and the Hinte.

Hopkinson illustrates that the notion of home – especially the notion of home for people in exile – is always complicated.

Midnight Robber is a tale about tales, delving into the fuzzy border between reality and myth and the way that memory and who we are always becomes partially mythologized. TanTan becomes partially mythologized as stories about her circulate amongst the populations of New Half-Way Tree and she is integrated with the tale of the Midnight Robber. She hears tales about her that have been turned into myth and story and she both finds herself in these tales and simultaneously discovers that she is uncertain who she is. As people stop believing that she is real, something about her sense of selfhood is also made etherial and unclear. TanTan, like the community of New Half-Way Tree, is unsettled.

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

To find out more about Midnight Robber, visit http://nalohopkinson.com/writing/fiction/books/midnight_robber

Multiple Faces of Identity

A Review of Kate Story’s “Show and Tell” In Playground of Lost Toys (Exile Editions, 2015)by Derek Newman-Stille

School can be a horror story. It is a space where identity is controlled and regulated and where normalcy and conformity rein. Anyone who doesn’t belong is firmly aware that they are the school’s monster and those who enforce that normalcy treat those who don’t belong monstrously. In “Show and Tell”, Kate Story’s narrator was punished constantly as a child for daydreaming and was treated regularly as a social outsider. She was subjected to gendered expectations for women about “attractiveness”, having her facial features policed and told that certain facial features were unattractive and therefore inappropriate. 

When Story’s narrator has to return to her school as an adult before the building is demolished, she collides with her own identity and the multiplicity of options her life could have taken. She finds her old school cubby hole still intact with her old Saucy Doll shoved away at the back of the cubby. The doll has the capacity to shift through different expressions as her arm is pumped and as the narrator takes the doll through the different facial features, she sees a world of different possibilities, underlying the different masks that people wear at different times of their lives. The Saucy Doll underscores the idea of roads not taken, possibilities missed, and opportunities taken differently by the narrator – the different worlds that she could have inhabited if she had made different choices. 

Story’s use of the multi-faced Saucy doll underscores the social perception of childhood as a time of multiple potentials, a world open to possibilities and choices and the idea of adulthood as an experience of choices already taken and options limited. “Show and Tell” is a narrative about memory and the discovery of different aspects of selfhood. In the multiple faces of the doll, we can see the multiple masks that we, ourselves, wear throughout our lives, shifting expressions to express different aspects of ourselves. 

Story plays with the notion of the uncanny valley, the idea that as something approaches looking human it looks cute until it gets too close to human appearance and then it causes discomfort. In this case, the Saucy Doll embodies ideas of attractiveness and prescriptive femininity, attempting to shape the way that women are allowed to BE in this world. The Saucy Doll and its presence in the school embodies ideas of memory, trauma, and the passage of time. The narrator finds herself mimicking the expressions of her doll, shaped by her doll, illustrating the way that dolls shape the identities of young girls and the expectations about how they are able to present themselves in the world. Dolls are normally things that mirror us as we project on them, instead she is mirroring her doll and being projected upon by the doll. 

To find out more about the work of Kate Story, visit her website at http://www.katestory.com

To discover more about Playground of Lost Toys visit Exile’s website at http://www.theexilewriters.com 

Creating Community in Isolation

A Review of Julie Czerneda’s Riders of the Storm (Daw, 2008)
By Derek Newman-Stille riderss

Displacement is a factor that is prevalent in the lives of many people who have had to leave home for whatever reason. The finding of “home” is a nebulous, complex, and constantly changeable phenomena. Julie Czerneda explores the search for home in a foreign and confusing space in Riders of the Storm. On a planet with three self-aware and hugely biologically different species (the Om’ray, Oud, and Tikitik), agreements exist to keep the balance between these three peoples from shifting. Czerneda focusses on one group, a small band of travellers from the Om’ray who defy social customs by their biological differences. They threaten the balance that the Om’ray seek to maintain by the fact that they are different, that they represent change in a society that resists change and prefers to conceive of existance only in the form of living people (ignoring notions of the past). This small group of travellers are manifesting new abilities beyond the natural abilities of the Om’ray, which include telepathy, healing, collective dreaming.

The telepathy of the Om’ray has created a notion of fundamental racism. Since they are only able to telepathically sense each other, they cast all other non-Om’ray groups as “not real”. They see themselves as the centre of the world and believe that the world only exists where they are. They have created an isolated society both from other races, but also from other periods of time. They see their society as always having been the same, that history does not exist and isn’t worth exploring because it would suggest that things were capable of changing.

Aryl Sarc has been forced to become the leader for her small band of Om’ray, leading them on a journey that they believe to be impossible because it represents the possibility of change, something her society resists, and the necessity of shifting the status quo. Aryl doesn’t seek leadership, but she is a figure who represents change by her very body – she has abilities that are far beyond other Om’ray and the uncertainty within her body makes her more willing to accept uncertainties and therefore willing to confront challenges.

In a society that focusses on static notions of culture (the idea that things don’t change) and has an interest in keeping secrets, Aryl tries to make everything open to her people. She is interested in opening questions in a society that largely accepts things unquestioningly. She and her group of exiles finds an abandoned Om’ray village, one that presents the inevitability that things do, in fact, change. It represents a place for a new start and one that embodies history, opened secrets, and the challenge and potentialities of a new future that is different from the now. The uncertainty of this village, Sona, makes it an ideal place for a changeable people.

The group of exiles have to create a new sense of home in a place that is embodied by history, a history that speaks to them (literally through dreams about the past and figuratively through their need to interpret objects that have remained). Those who have been exiled out of a fear of change, now have to live with change and the flexibility, fluidity, and the general flux that is represented by an uncertain future. They seek to create an idea of belonging in a place that is different, that has history, and that keeps reminding them that things can and do change. They are haunted by the reminder that the land they are on predates them.

Aryl becomes more comfortable with ideas of change and with notions that would have been considered threats to her society. She is able to help her society to accept and be comfortable with ideas of chance. Aryl’s comfort with change makes her an ideal person to speak to people of other races – she is willing to speak to the Oud, the Tikitik, and even a human visitor to her planet. She is not restrained to notions of the Om’ray’s singularity and superior significance. She learns to be willing to accept that those who are “not real”, may in fact just be different and that intercultural communication, although uncertain and potentially confusing, is worth approaching. When trying to approach the Oud and Tikitik, she learns from the human visitor to her world, Marcus, that she will need to take into account both cultural differences and also biological differences since what is biologically normal for the Oud would be threatening for the more vulnerable Om’ray.

As outsiders wherever they end up going, Aryl’s group of exiles create community through their willingness to accept change, to create community through difference and to cooperate with others who their society traditionally resists or views as insignificant.

You can explore Riders of the Storm and other books of the Clan Chronicles series through Julie Czerneda’s website at http://www.czerneda.com/sf/clan.html .