Fever Dream

Fever Dream

A review of Larissa Lai’s The Tiger Flu (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2018)

By Derek Newman-Stille

Larissa Lai’s The Tiger Flu is a fever dream on paper, vivid and fantastical, and full of nightmares, which is perfect for a pandemic narrative. It is a surreal story, but it comments on issues of relevance to the real world. Set in a world where a pandemic has affected men more than women, Lai’s narrative explores the power struggles of a population that fears its own erasure, but is also willing to take others along with them as their population dwindles. The Tiger Flu has been brought into the world because of cloning technology which allows extinct animals to be revitalized, primarily for consumptive purposes. It has spread quickly and decimated large parts of the population, leaving people in desperation for resources, for a sense of belonging, for a belief in something that will allow them to last and make an impact on the world. 

The Tiger Flu is a necessary critique on capitalism’s consumptive force and its rendering of everything into resources to be exploited. Even the religion of the people in Lai’s book is based around capitalism, with the population literally worshipping an industrialist and the two constructed satallites that orbit the planet – Chang and Eng (named after the famous conjoined twins from the Freak Shows of the early 1800s). The two satellites represent opposing corporate forces, but also become spaces for downloading the consciousness of individuals from the population. Despite representing opposing companies, the name of the two satellites suggests a conjoined nature, pointing out that underlying these two opposing forces is still one system – in this case capitalist exploitation. 

Even people become resources to be exploited in this world and a small group of people who have created a community living off of the land are seen as consumable resources to be captured and used by the factories they once escaped from. Lai illustrates the dangerous over-consumptive quality of capitalist systems and that every resource, including people in that capitalist system become grist for the mill. In fact, she literally names this community of people living off the land Grist Sisters.

Fearing destruction, people try to hold onto power by creating factions and borders, arming themselves out of fear of others. Lai illustrates the way that people who are accustomed to power fear its loss and make war with each other as a means of externalizing their fear. Her corporate communities arm themselves, ignoring the needs of citizens (like access to food and safety) in their own private war to hold onto a past power structure that can no longer sustain itself. 

Yet Lai also opens up other questions of production beyond capitalism, exploring notions of alternative reproduction. Lai explores queer potentials in a world whose men are dying faster than women. She queers reproduction by having women in the Grist tribes give birth through parthenogenesis (reproduction from an ovum without fertilization by sperm). The Grist sisters give birth by “doubling”, creating duplicates of themselves and birthing groups of identical sisters.

As much as it is an apocalyptic viral narrative, The Tiger Flu is also a narrative captured in the middle. It isn’t an outbreak narrative as many apocalyptic virus stories tend to be, and, as much as it is concerned with the future, it is also about characters uncovering their own past, seeking out the stories about how things came to be the way they are and about the character’s’ own histories. It is a book ultimately about complicating narrative and history because while the two primary characters Kirilow and Kora seek their own pasts, they also encounter other narratives about the past, intersecting and often complicating their own. Characters use memory scales that they plug directly into their brains to gain access to knowledge and constantly find snippets of their world’s history, but these histories conflict with the stories that they have formed their lives around. While corporate characters are trying to hold onto a power they fear losing and their own role in history, characters like Kirilow and Kora are dismantling that history for themselves, seeing different truths that reveal the pettiness of the corporate leaders they have worshipped.

To discover more about The Tiger Flu, go to https://arsenalpulp.com/Books/T/The-Tiger-Flu

To find out more about Larissa Lai, visit https://www.larissalai.com

Advertisements

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

Into the Darkness of Exploitation

Into the Darkness of Exploitation
A review of Premee Mohamed’s “The Adventurer’s Wife” in She Walks in Shadows (ed. Silvia Moreno-Garcia and Paula R. Stiles, Innsmouth Free Press, 2015)

By Derek Newman-Stille

  
Premee Mohamed’s “The Adventurer’s Wife” plays with the traditional images of the adventurer in a strange land. Mohamed plays with the problematic trope of the western adventurer when she explores the traditional features of the adventure story where the adventurer steals from sacred sites of non-Western peoples, exploits the stories of indigenous populations for his own benefit in publications, and falls in love with and brings home a young woman from Africa. Mohamed complicates these tropes by illustrating the repercussions for some of these exploitative colonial actions by having the older adventurer Penhallick have to face some of the ramifications of his actions. When he is told not to remove artifacts from a sacred site and does so anyway, Penhallick experiences a degradation in health and becomes part of something larger than himself, having made an accidental deal by removing artifacts from sacred locations. The much younger woman, Sima, who he takes back home from his adventures abroad ends up illustrating that, rather than the passive subject that most adventure stories construct, she is an active agent of her own desires. 

Exploring the notion of the silencing of colonial subjects, “The Adventurer’s Wife” explores Lovecraftian Silent Ones, old gods from before the gods could speak, playing with the notion that the colonial exercise has been one of silencing the people that it exploited, using them to create adventure stories while ignoring their actual voices and their own stories. Penhallick ignores everything he is told by the indigenous population of the village he explores while seeking out his own stories to tell at home, paying no attention to what he is told by the people who have knowledge of the region because he de-values them outside of the parameter of being characters in his own adventure narratives. 

Premee Mohamed reverses the trope in adventure stories that curiosity is an innocent pursuit by illustrating the damaging nature of colonial ‘curiosity’ and the exploitation that comes along with it. She illustrates that colonial exploration is an activity that is shaped from notions of privilege that allowed western adventurers to take from the Others that they constructed, treating them as resources to be mined for cultural stories and artifacts that could be used to wow people back in the West. 

To discover more about She Walks in Shadows, visit Innsmouth Free Press’ website at http://www.innsmouthfreepress.com/blog/books/she-walks-in-shadows/