Spectres of Homophobia

Review of Michael Rowe’s Ghosts (Postscripts to Darkness 2014, http://pstdarkness.com/2014/08/08/ghosts-by-michael-rowe/ )

Photo of the painting that was used for the cover for Michael Rowe's "Ghosts", courtesy of Postscripts to Darkness. Painting by Derek Newman-Stille

Photo of the painting that was used for the cover for Michael Rowe’s “Ghosts”, courtesy of Postscripts to Darkness. Painting by Derek Newman-Stille

LGBTQ2 populations are haunted by the spectre of violence. Our lives are inscribed with threat and many of us have been victims of multiple violent attacks. Stories like that of Matthew Shepard who was beaten and left to die in a field by homophobic groups haunt queer experience, even, in that case, entering into the artistic world and songs like Melissa Etheridge’s “Scarecrow”.

This experience of feeling haunted by the spectre of violence, of having one’s life marked by the potential of being the victim of homophobic attack marks the lives of LGBTQ2 people. Perhaps that is why it is so refreshing to see Michael Rowe’s story “Ghosts”, where in addition to queer populations being haunted by the spectre of violence, those who have allowed that violence and created a culture of permitting it are haunted by the ghosts of loss and regret.

“Ghosts” is a tale about a brother who hated his younger brother for being gay, seeing his brother’s homosexuality as a threat to his own masculinity and reputation. When friends of Robert, spurred on by his own homophobia beat his little brother Scott to death, Robert comes to realize the loss he has experienced and the absence left in his life at the loss of his brother. The pain is his to experience as someone who permitted anti-gay violence to occur. Robert sees the spectral presence of his younger brother everywhere, his life marked perpetually by what he allowed to occur.

Rowe’s story is so refreshing because it facilitates the idea that a life lost through homophobic violence is a loss for all of society, not just for the LGBTQ2 population and the loss should be sharpest and most haunting for those who let that violence occur, who stand by and do nothing, or who spur on that violence even if they are not directly perpetrating it.

Rowe reminds us that we, as a society, are haunted by the spectre of homophobic violence and that it should not be just LGBTQ2 populations that feel this loss and feel the presence of those killed or harmed by violence, but rather all of us as a society.

This is a painfully beautiful story about family, homophonic violence, and loss.

You can read this story online on Postscripts to Darkness’s website at http://pstdarkness.com/2014/08/08/ghosts-by-michael-rowe/

To find out more about the work of Michael Rowe, you can visit his website at http://www.michaelrowe.com

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Speculating Canada on Trent Radio Episode 14: An Interview with Suzanne Church

In this episode of Speculating Canada on Trent Radio, Waterloo author Suzanne Church swings by the studio as part of her book tour for her new collection Elements: A Collection of Speculative Fiction (Edge, 2014). Suzanne Church’s work stretches across genre boundaries between Horror, Science Fiction, and Fantasy. She has published in several of the Tesseracts anthologies, in collections like When the Hero Comes Home 2, Urban Green Man, and Dance Macabre. She has also published in speculative magazines like Clarksworld, OnSpec, and Doorways Magazine. Suzanne is an Aurora Award winning author and her short story “Living Bargains” is currently up for this year’s Aurora Award.

Suzanne Church and I talk about fiction’s role in bringing attention to domestic violence, pushing genre boundaries, the stretches of human relationships, ideas of displacement and home, and the power of short fiction as a medium. Prepare to hear about aliens, fuzzy green monsters, sentient coffee cups, androids, ghosts… and so many other otherworldly beings that tell us more about what it is to be human. Take a listen and I hope you enjoy our chat.

Explore Trent Radio at www.trentradio.ca

Explore Trent Radio at http://www.trentradio.ca

 

This audio file was originally broadcast on Trent Radio, and I would like to thank Trent Radio for their continued support. I would also like to thank Dwayne Collins for his consistent tech support and help with the intricacies of creating audio files.

Make sure to allow a few minutes for the file to buffer since it may take a moment before it begins to play.

 

Blurring the Boundaries

A review of Greg Bechtel’s Boundary Problems (Freehand Books, 2014)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Cover photo from Boundary Problems from http://gregbechtel.ca/

Cover photo from Boundary Problems from http://gregbechtel.ca/

We tend to think of boundaries as stable, fixed, unchangeable, but boundaries are inherently permeable, and any boundary that is created is created because someone or something is able to slip trough it. Greg Bechtel writes on these borderlands whether they be of genre (realism, science fiction, fantasy), gender (male, female, intersexed, trans, genderqueer) temporal (past, present, future), he shows a fascination with those luminal spaces and situations, heightened periods of intensity when things are shifting, because the reality is that everything is constantly in flux and stability is a fiction. And fiction, the stories that create us, constitute us, and shape our experience of the world, can be very much real.

Boundary Problems delves into a polyphonic mix of characters speaking themselves into the world from the margins, announcing their complexity and unwillingness to be captured in a single voice. Bechtel recognizes the inherent slipperiness of stories, the sense that writing a story down attempts to, but will never succeed in, fixing a story in one voice. Every reader will inherently read a story with their own voice, their own set of expectations and symbolic understandings. His characters fluctuate throughout the story, in some cases fluidly moving between gendered, racial, and sexual identities. He recognizes the permeability of story and personhood – that each filters into the other and that we are constituted by stories, tales that shape our identities. The uncertainty of his story endings speaks to this idea that he is only capturing a snapshot of a wider story and that the character has an existence separate from and larger than the story. He speaks to the continuity of all stories and that the stories that we write are fragments building a feeling, a state of being and an aesthetic for the reader but that no story is ever complete or done, but perpetually in progress. He reminds readers that writing endings is an artificial process, and that it limits the complexity of the notion of The Story itself.

Boundary Problems provides snapshots of the human experience, moments of people trying to make sense of the world around them. Bechtel shows an interest in going voice to people who have been expelled from the hegemony of “The Normal”, inserting those pushed to the fringes into a position of centrality. He reminds readers that those stories pushed to the fringes and devoiced are often the most complex, fascinating, and thought-provoking.

Bechtel’s collection explores that permeable place between speculative fiction and realist fiction, not shying away from either, but interweaving them – because reality IS speculative, and good speculative fiction should evoke questions and speculations about reality. Bechtel deals with real world issues like violence against women, place and selfhood, the policing and control of sexuality, surveillance and losses of freedoms, and the danger of hegemonic power structures silencing the voices of dissent, the voices who speak up against systemic violence and the erasure of their stories, their histories. Boundary Problems delves equally into quantum physics, magic, and the everyday experience of a coffee shop book reading… but all of these stories evoke something of the human experience, tell us about our relationships to each other, to our perceptions of ourselves, and to the world around us.

To read some reviews of individual short stories in this collection, see:

https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2014/03/27/sexy-shiftings-and-stirrings/

and

https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2014/04/02/interweaving-worlds-of-possibility/

To discover more about the work of Greg Bechtel, visit his website athttp://gregbechtel.ca/ .

To read more about Boundary Problems, visit Freehand Books athttp://www.freehand-books.com/authors/greg-bechtel

Interweaving Worlds of Possibility

A Review of Greg Bechtel’s “The Everett-Wheeler Hypothesis (Or, the Many-Worlds Interpretation)” from Boundary Problems (Freehand Books, 2014)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Cover photo from Boundary Problems from http://gregbechtel.ca/

Cover photo from Boundary Problems from http://gregbechtel.ca/

We all have a desire to figure out the world around us and our place in it. In Greg Bechtel’s “The Everett-Wheeler Hypothesis (Or, the Many-Worlds Interpretation)”, Matthew keeps finding himself in positions where he is near to uncovering the patterns of the world, the hidden aspects of reality. He desires a deeper understanding of the world, a form of belief, but is kept back from his desire by his own doubt. Matthew is attracted to women whose occult engagements give them insights into the secrets behind reality, but he feels withdrawn from their ability to see beyond through his own desire to EXPLAIN, to put knowledge into boxes that he can understand.

Matthew is haunted by his disbelief, by his withdrawal from the magical world around him that keeps speaking to him through the women who find him. But, more than the unusual and strange, he is haunted by the spectre of violence that his partners experience, haunted by their memories of the violence they have experienced and how that violence shapes their relationship with him: their fears, discomforts, and inability to trust yet another man who could bring violence into their lives. The past keeps intruding into the present of his relationships, shaping his understanding and experience of the world around him. The world is shaped by convergences of different pasts, different stories and ways of articulating experiences and, as Matthew is told by Freya “I love the past. It’s the only thing we can change” (223). Reality is a series of permeable worlds, a series of stories extending into the past and the future, constituting our experience in the moment as one that is made up of our accumulated past stories and our accumulated imaginings about the present. Bechtel invites readers into this space of flexible reality, a place of pondering the intersection of possibilities and a place where stories construct US.

Like Matthew, we want a way to explain the world, especially when haunted by the ever-present spectre of violence.

To read more about Greg Becthel’s work, visit his website at gregbechtel.ca

To check out Boundary Problems and other Freehand Books publications, visit their website at http://www.freehand-books.com/.

Ticks of a Deathwatch Beetle

A review of Postscripts to Darkness 3, Edited by Sean Moreland and Aalya Ahmad (Ex Hubris Imprints, 2013)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Cover for Postscripts to Darkness 3 courtesy of the editors

Cover for Postscripts to Darkness 3 courtesy of the editors

This will be the third Postscripts to Darkness volume that I have reviewed, and it is the best so far. The quality of the writing and artwork is even more impressive than the first two volumes. The stories in Postscripts continue to show their willingness to interrogate the dark, to go to places where other narratives shy away from. Along with monsters, conjurings, altered perceptions, gruesome creations, and horrifying deaths, Postscripts is willing to cast its dark light upon issues like alcoholism, drug addiction, family violence, incest, the death penalty, and other areas that are relegated to the dark or ignored because mainstream society doesn’t want to deal with them or finds them unsavory. Postscripts casts a particularly enlightening form of darkness upon the vision of those who seek to avoid the realities that serve as an undercurrent to their reality, and this particular flavour of horror is well suited for casting readers into a darkness they resist dealing with in their everyday lives.

It plays with conflicted spaces, situating stories like Michael Kelly’s “Absolution”, where loneliness is motivation and a fear that inspires acts to get rid of the feeling of being alone, beside stories like Alyssa Cooper’s “The Drawer” where the protagonist will go to great lengths to ensure her loneliness, to hold onto her own space and protect it from intrusion and violation. Narratives play and war with each other, pushing the reader into deeper and more provocative questions, calling for them to quickly shift perspectives and occupy a different mental space from one story to the next. The shortness of these stories, and the close proximity of diverse and conflicting narratives contributes to the sense of dislocation that good horror should inspire.

Postscritpts to Darkness 3 brings together a collection of short stories that act like ticks of a Deathwatch Beetle, tiny moments of horrification that pull us out from the comforts of reality and one step closer to the darkness of oblivion where we can really ponder our complacency and complicate it.

To find out more about Postscripts to Darkness 3, visit their website at http://pstdarkness.com/ . If you missed my review of Postscripts to Darkness 1 and 2, you can see them here:

https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2012/10/28/macabre-marginalia/

https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2012/12/12/little-tremours-of-the-weird-to-shake-up-the-mundane/