These Beans Lost Jack

These Beans Lost Jack

A review of Ace Jordyn’s “The Story of the Three Magic Beans” in Over the Rainbow: Folk and Fairy Tales from the Margins (Exile Editions, 2018)

By Derek Newman-Stille

Do magic beans ever get tired of granting wishes? Do they ever get frustrated with having to fulfill everyone else’s dreams instead of their own? Do they ever crave a normal life without all of that magic where they can just soak up some water, nest in the soil, and get warm in the sun? Ace Jordyn’s “The Story of the Three Magic Beans” answers those questions with a resounding “YES!”. Where Rati Mehrotra’s story took readers into the animal world, Ace Jordyn’s tale brings us into the vegetative world.

Plants and plant products play an important role in fairy tales. They are often catalysts for change and transformation, but they don’t often get the credit they deserve. After all, who would Cinderella be without her pumpkin carriage? Who would Snow White be without the poisoned apple? Who would Jack be without his Beanstalk? Plants are figures of change, which may be why they appear as objects of transformation in fairy tales. They change from seeds, dropping roots into the ground and sending shoots of green up into the air where they feed on sunlight. They change with the seasons, sprouting leaves, bringing them to flower and bloom and sometimes to produce fruit and then letting those leaves change colour, dropping them to decay and becoming bare branches or retreating into the ground in a bulb. The vegetative world winds tendrils through our fairy tales, but often gets ignored. Ace Jordyn centralizes beans – transforming them from passive objects and foods into characters with agency, desires, and figures who go through their own transformations.

The beans of Ace Jordyn’s story not only question ideas about the passivity of plants in fairy tales, they also challenge limited ideas of family by exploring different family structures and ideas for raising young (seedlings). The beans go through their own adventures seeking a place to call home and a sense of belonging while also battling to keep themselves from being eaten, meeting other vegetables, and finding their way through a complicated world.

To find out more about Ace Jordyn, visit http://acejordyn.com

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

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Abuse and Ideas of Home

Abuse and Ideas of Home

A review of Tonya Liburd’s “Superfreak” in Shades Within Us: Tales of Migrations and Fractured Borders Edited by Susan Forest and Lucas K. Law (Laksa Media Group, 2018).

By Derek Newman-Stille

Tonya Liburd’s “Superfreak” is an intensely powerful and intensely painful tale that examines ideas of safety, security, and home. I should start my review by adding a trigger warning that “Superfreak” contains discussions of sexual assault and abuse as does this review.

In a world where people develop Gifts as they age, Danielle is a character who hasn’t developed a gift. She is told that this makes her part of a vulnerable population and she is also teased by other youth about her lack of Gifts. Despite this, when Danielle is called “Superfreak” by other young people, she decides to take on the name, to use the language that was meant to disempower her to instead give her strength. The name allows her to fight back against some of the horrors that she has seen in her life.

Danielle moved from the Caribbean to Canada to escape an uncle who was sexually assaulting her, only to be sexually assaulted by the uncle she was living with in Canada as well. She is able to escape and get to a youth shelter where she is able to start developing a sense of community.

Shades Within Us is a collection of tales about migration and border crossing, and while Liburd does deal with a literal crossing of a border into Canada, her story is more about the philosophical and emotional ideas of “Home”. Liburd explores the unsettled feeling of people in situations of abuse, the total inability to find a sense of safety and security in the notion of “Home” that non-abused people feel. Danielle is a character who is seeking some sort of sense of being free of threat, and Liburd uses the character to explore the idea that a notion of “Home” always takes time for abused people. It is not something that can be secured by a certain place – by four walls. It is something that is constantly being negotiated, something that is constantly sought after and constantly disrupted by past trauma. Liburd examines the complexities of home that non-abused people ignore and highlights the conflicted nature of homes.

“Superfreak” is a story that cuts to the quick, but it also reveals a great deal about the sort of lasting pain that comes from abuse and trauma.

To discover more about Shades Within Us, visit http://laksamedia.com/shades-within-us-an-anthology-for-a-cause/

To find out more about Tonya Liburd, visit https://thespiderlilly.wordpress.com

Border Walls and Barriers

Border Walls and Barriers

A review of Rich Larson’s “Porque El Girasol se Llama El Girasol” in Shades Within Us: Tales of Migration and Fractured Borders Edited by Lucas Law and Susan Forest (Laksa Media Group, 2018)

By Derek Newman-Stille

With “Porque El Girasol se Llama El Girasol”, Rich Larson tells a significant tale for a post-Trump world. Larson’s story is about Latinx people in a post-wall America who need to find a method of passing through a militarized border with a massive wall. Those who are caught in American territory are put to work building the wall further, often dying from unsanitary conditions, and those who are caught in the no man’s land around the wall are allowed to be butchered without remorse.

Larson tells his tale through the perspective of Girasol, a little girl who is trying to escape America with her mother. Although a small child, she is aware of the realities of being captured and killed in the process of escaping, illustrating the loss of childhood that many children have to experience when they are subject to political violence by oppressive regimes.

They are escorted through the wall by a man who functions as a coyote (a person who brings people across borders), but this coyote is quite different from others because he needs to take his passengers through a quantum level of reality in order to get them safely through the highly protected wall. He is called the Cheshire Man, evoking the Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland for his ability to disappear and go where others cannot go.

“Porque El Girasol se Llama El Girasol” is a tale of loss, family sacrifice, and political violence, reminding readers of the violence that can occur in a political regime that casts certain people as unwanted and that justifies violence against them.

To discover more about Shades Within Us, visit http://laksamedia.com/shades-within-us-an-anthology-for-a-cause/

To find out more about Rich Larson, visit https://www.patreon.com/richlarson

Rejected Bodies

Rejected Bodies
A review of Kelly Robson’s “Two Year Man” in Asimov’s Science Fiction, August 2015

By Derek Newman-Stille

Kelly Robson’s “Two Year Man” is a tale that explores the idea of rejection, and, particularly, rejected bodies. Focused on a man named Mikkel, who carries out janitorial duties and partially survives by bringing home the discarded waste of wealthier people, “Two Year Man” examines economic hegemonies, monetary power structures that de-value the lives and existence of other people. Robson points out our own socio-economic issues by abstracting them onto a science fictional world, but the issues she represents are highly relevant for examining and critiquing our own society. This is a world of economic systems of control where survival requires the selling of one’s selfhood and self respect. 

Robson particularly highlights the complexity of issues shaping the experiences of women in poverty, exploring Mikkel’s wife Anna’s sacrifices for survival and the way that these sacrifices tie into notions of family. Anna, like many women, has to negotiate the systems of control projected at her body. In order to help her mother survive medical issues, she has to sell her ovaries. This sacrifice for her family is still critiqued by others however, because, in sacrificing her ovaries, she is then open to critiques from others based on the assumption that her primary role as a woman should be motherhood. No matter which actions she takes, she is viewed as unnatural and unnurturing.

Things are further complicated when Mikkel brings home a baby who was about to be thrown into an incinerator by the scientists in the lab that he cleans. This baby was born with talons, a beak, and challenges breathing due to her different body. She is viewed by the corporation that created her and by Mikkel’s neighbours as a tainted body and the child evokes horror by others, but adoration and love by Mikkel. When he presents the baby to Anna, expecting her to relish in the possibility of motherhood, she reacts with horror, both because of the danger of arrest for having a tainted child and because she does not want to be a mother. Robson uses this interaction to highlight the complexity of issues around motherhood, particularly for those from low income groups. She points out that there is a social assumption of a universal desire for motherhood that is projected to women and that not wanting to be a mother means being subject to assumptions that one is cold and unfeminine.

This is a tale about control – economic control and oppression of the lower classes, the conteol of women’s bodies, the way that social pressures dictate what can and cannot happen for cetain types of people. Robson brings attention to notions of the family, disability and accommodating disabled youth, the culture of rejection and eugenics, a culture of waste and highlights the complex strings that bind these ideas together and reinforce systems of control by depicting certain people as rejected.

To find out more about Kelly Robson, visit her website at http://kellyrobson.com

An Interview with A.C. Wise

By Derek Newman-Stille.

After reading A.C. Wise’s “The Ultra Fabulous Glitter Squadron Saves the World Again”, I could see that she had some great insights that would make for a fascinating interview. I hope that your enjoy our interview and all of A.C. Wise’s brilliant points.

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Spec Can: To begin our interview, could you tell readers a little bit about yourself?

A.C. Wise: Sure! I’m a transplanted Canadian currently living in the Philadelphia area. Among the members of my household are two very adorable corgis (a chaos of corgis) whose pictures frequently grace my twitter stream. I’ve had short stories in Clarkesworld, Apex, Shimmer, and the Year’s Best Dark Fantasy and Horror, among other places. The Ultra Fabulous Glitter Squadron Saves the World Again is my first collection. It was released by Lethe Press in October 2015, and there’s an audiobook version on the way. I also co-edit Unlikely Story, which started life as the Journal of Unlikely Entomology, and has since morphed to include other unlikely themes. Our first print anthology, Clowns: The Unlikely Coulrophobia Remix came out in January 2016. I also write a monthly Women to Read: Where to Start column for SF Signal.

Spec Can: What interested you about pop sci fi for you to play with ideas from pop sci fi and sci fi of the past in your fiction? Why the sea monsters, aliens, and hand-wringing evil scientists?

A.C. Wise: I have great affection for old movies, and movies so bad they’re good. In the ideal world, there would be a movie version of Glitter Squadron with Vincent Price in all his scenery- chewing glory playing Doctor Blood. I also kind of dig the monsters from those old movies, the guys in rubber suits, the Ray Harryheusen creatures. The Glitter Squadron is a little bit camp, so they should be facing off against suitably camp villains, not slick CGI monsters or every day baddies. Nothing less than mythology and evil science will do!

Spec Can: What interested you about writing about drag culture in “The Ultra Fabulous Glitter Squadron Saves the World Again”?

A.C. Wise: Aside from drag being fierce and fabulous and brave in its own right, one of the things I wanted to do with the Glitter Squadron is show different ways of being strong. There’s a certain model of Strong Female Character we see over and over in media. Even though they’re female, they’re ‘just one of the guys’. They’re tough. They wear dark colors. They’re angry. They punch things. If they wear make-up, it tends to be understated. Their hair is artfully messy to show they don’t care about looks. When they get hit, they might get one scratch on the side of their face, or a little bit of blood on their mouth to show they’re not afraid to get dirty. And above all, they are not – god forbid – girly. That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with that kind of character, but it’s not the only way to be strong. I wanted heroines who didn’t have to shed the trappings of femininity to be strong. Most of the Glitter Squadron embrace femininity in the most extreme way possible – big hair, big boots, big makeup, and glitter everywhere. Of course, there are also characters like M, CeCe, and the G-String Men, because there is a spectrum. Strength comes in all shapes and forms, and it was important to me to try to showcase that.

Spec Can: Why is it important to show empowered cis-gendered women as well as empowered trans women?

A.C. Wise: It plays into the idea of showing a spectrum of strength, and a spectrum of femininity. I hate the Lone Woman model. Black Widow is a prime example of that in the Marvel movies. Being the only woman on an all-male team, she has to stand in for every woman (something male characters are very rarely asked to do). She can’t be too strong, too weak, too anything, because when she does, she is, by default, making a statement about all women. It’s impossible for her to win in this scenario. However, if there’s a whole team full of women – and that includes women of various types, cis women, trans women, fat women, black women, Latina women – they can all be variously strong and weak at different times. They can lean on each other, and none of them are asked to speak for all of femininity and carry the entire weight of their gender alone.

Spec Can: Queer people are often portrayed as passive, suffering people in traditional fiction. You have written some very empowered and powerful queer people. What is important about portraying strong queer characters?

A.C. Wise: Well, in real life, queer people do amazing things and there are more stories to tell than just the sad ones. Unfortunately, a lot of media hasn’t caught up with that reality yet. One of the major problems with this is, there are few enough stories putting queer characters front and center, and if all of those stories are queer tragedy, queer abuse, queer death, that’s not only depressing, it’s actively damaging. Those narratives get repeated, and they become the narrative. They become internalized and normalized. Queer people and straight people alike start to expect that tragic stories are what queer stories are supposed to look like. Queer kids looking to find themselves in fiction don’t see hope, they see that they can expect the world to shit on them. At best their suffering will help inspire a straight person and uplift them, but there’s no place for them in the world. That is a truly terrible message to put out in the world. That’s why it’s important to me that the Glitter Squadron are no one’s sidekicks. They are the heroines of their own stories. They face challenges, but most of those challenges aren’t related to their queerness, and regardless of the cause, when they do suffer, they always fight back. They are self-rescuing princesses.

Spec Can: What are some important things to keep in mind when writing about queerness?

A.C. Wise: Like writing about any identity, it’s important to remember there isn’t one single way to express it. There’s no one ‘right’ way to be queer. Related to that, every reader is different, and they bring their own life experience with them when they read. Authors writing about any identity that isn’t their own need to be prepared to listen. This is especially true for traditionally marginalized identities like queer identities. If a queer (or otherwise marginalized) reader points out something you got wrong as an author, listen to them. Don’t immediately get defensive or fall back on, ‘but my queer/black/female/etc.’ friend said it was okay. Your friend’s experience may be very different from the person your work hurt or offended. As I said above, there are few enough stories that put queer folks front and center, which means each one carries extra weight and has extra potential to do damage. It’s the same problem as the Lone Female Character. The solution to these problems is more characters and more stories spreading out the weight each story has to carry, and of course more stories from traditionally marginalized authors. Obviously those stories should also be approached respectfully, and characters should be written first and foremost as human beings.

Spec Can: “The Ultra Fabulous Glitter Squadron Saves the World Again” highlights the importance among the queer community of finding our own family and making our families from those who are important to us. Why was family such a central focus of this narrative and why is it important to show alternative, chosen family structures?

A.C. Wise: A lot of queer kids sadly do face rejection from the families they are born into, and sometimes, as a result of that, homelessness. For some people, the family they make is the only one they have, and I wanted some of the stories in the collection to highlight the idea that there is a community out there where people can be accepted and loved and find a place they can call home. At the same time, I didn’t want all the blood-family relationships to be negative either. Starlight has a fantastic relationship with her mother. Esmeralda’s story is all about reconnecting with the family she was born into. I wanted to show a variety of families, queer families, found families, adoptive families, children being raised by their grandparents. Just like there’s no one right way to be a woman, or no one right way to be queer, there’s no one right way to be a family.

Spec Can: What are some key things that we can be doing in our queer fiction to write narratives that interest and empower queer people?

A.C. Wise: Probably the most important thing is make sure there are spaces for queer people to tell their own stories. Projects like Queers Destroy SF/F/H from Lightspeed, presses like Lethe Press, podcasts like Glittership, and publications like Scigentasy which focuses on stories exploring the gender spectrum are crucial. It’s also important that those spaces aren’t seen as niche or one-off – all publications and publishing houses should strive to showcase a wide variety of voices and make room for stories that reflect the world as it is, not just a narrow segment of it.

Spec Can: What is so fascinating about superhero narratives? Why do we keep returning to them in our cultural interest?

A.C.Wise: Superheroes are like mythology and fairy tales. They are foundational stories upon which we build our culture. They give authors and creators archetypes to play with, reinterpret, re-imagine, and subvert. Many classic super hero stories also give us regular folks a kind of wish fulfillment fantasy. Spider-Man and the latest incarnation of Ms. Marvel are nerdy kids who get amazing super powers and save the world. If it can happen to them, maybe it can happen to us, too.

Spec Can: Why do you feel the secret identity motif is so important in superhero fiction?

A.C. Wise: Superhero secret identities are kind of fascinating. From an author/creator perspective, they allow for the exploration of several themes that are fundamental to the human experience. Trust – who do you let into your inner circle, who do you allow to see you without your mask on? Identity – at the core of your being, who are you, are you the hero, or the mild- mannered person going about their day? How do you protect the ones you love when you take on the responsibility of being a hero, or when you have it thrust upon you? What truths can you speak while wearing a mask that you can’t with your every day face?

Spec Can: One of your interests is in writing Lovecraftian-inspired or Weird fiction. What can Weird fiction do? What is its power as a genre?

A.C. Wise: I’ve always found the cosmic horror aspects of Lovecraftian fiction, or on a more Earth-bound scale, the natural world horror of Blackwood, appealing. Obviously, it’s not a cheerful thought, but the idea that humanity is small, and there are implacable things out there that aren’t out to destroy us because they’re evil, but may accidentally destroy us because they don’t even recognize our existence, is an attractive one in fiction. Stories where humanity meets alien life, and the human way is automatically assumed to be superior have always annoyed me. On the whole, the creeping oddness of Weird fiction is fun to read and to write about – that sense of dread, that something is wrong, but you can’t put your finger on it. Weird fiction has a way of slipping between the cracks, fitting itself into various genres. It’s flexible, and I like that.

Spec Can: What are some of the issues that come up in SF regarding the misogynistic portrayal of women?

A.C. Wise: One of the problems I see is that of the received narrative, or the perpetuated narrative. It’s like what you mentioned earlier about queer tragedy. There’s a danger of negative stories becoming the only stories we tell, and that negativity becoming the message we carry into the future. Raped women. Fridged women. Sidelined women. Erased women. Women who exist only to further the narrative of men, or women who aren’t there at all. This should not be the accepted norm. When we see it in our fiction, we should question it, challenge it, push back. If we don’t, people will continue to write and read these stories and think nothing of it, because that’s the way it’s always been.

Spec Can: What can SF do to promote a feminist message? How can SF empower women?

A.C. Wise: Some of the same things SF can do to empower queer stories – make sure there are spaces for women to tell their own stories. Make sure those stories aren’t separated out as ‘special interest’ or relevant only to women. Women’s stories are as universal as men’s stories. The idea that men and boys can’t/won’t/shouldn’t be asked to identify with female characters is ridiculous, and the marketers and decision makers at major publishers, movie studios, and television networks need to let it go.

Spec Can: Your fiction crosses a lot of genre boundaries. What are some of the challenges of cross-boundary writing?

A.C. Wise: I don’t specifically set out to cross boundaries. The stories I write just seem to turn out that way. One of the challenges, I suppose, can be finding an audience. I think that may be more of a problem when it comes to novels. Editors, publishers, and marketers need to know where a book will sit on the shelves in order help readers find it. Labels are useful for building an audience, but not so useful from the writing side of things. With short stories, there’s a bit more room for things that aren’t as easy to pin down to a single genre. Short fiction readers may follow an author or a publication and find new stories that way, as opposed to going to a specific shelf/category in a bookstore or online retailer.

Spec Can: What are some of the rewards of cross-boundary writing?

A.C. Wise: It’s fun! It doesn’t limit you to one particular sandbox, but lets you play in all of them.

Spec Can: What do you see as some of the social activist potentials of SF? What kinds of things can the speculative genres do to evoke new ways of thinking about the world?

A.C. Wise: Ideally art and literature of any kind can serve as a mirror to show humanity its best self. One argument people make for including rape in fiction is that it’s realistic. To that I say, so is two or more women talking about something other than their relationships with the men in their lives. So are pasts, presents, and futures that include queer people and people of color and people with disabilities. So why not tell those stories? Why not show the positive possibilities rather than perpetuating the same negative stories? That’s what SFF can and should do.

Spec Can: Are there any further ideas you would like to discuss?

A.C. Wise: Oh my. I think I’ve probably rambled on enough, but I sincerely appreciate you giving me the opportunity to do so. You asked wonderful questions, and I love Speculating Canada, so thank you for hosting me!

Spec Can: How can readers find out more about you and the work you are doing?

A.C. Wise: I maintain a sporadic blog at http://www.acwise.net, and tweet as @ac_wise. On the editorial side of things, Unlikely Story can be found at http://www.unlikely-story.com, and as @grumpsjournal on twitter.

Author photo for A.C. Wise

Author photo for A.C. Wise

 

 

I want to thank A.C. Wise for taking the time to do this interview. This has been a wonderful interview full of new and exciting insights.

Timelines

Timelines
A review of Joanne Findon’s When Night Eats The Moon (Red Deer Press, 1999)By Derek Newman-Stille

Time travel is ultimately about responsibility – responsibility to the timeline, to the past, the present, and the future. Perhaps this is why it works so well for a Young Adult novel. In When Night Eats The Moon, Joanne Findon’s narrator, Holly, begins her voyage through time by idealising the past. She sees the past as an idealised place, separate from the issues of modernity and she wants to escape her personal circumstances (the tension between her parents and the shroud of secrets they have woven around her life) to find a reality that resonates with her desires. She has to cope with the clashing of fantasy and reality and the uncertain barrier between them. Rather than her fantasies being eclipsed by reality as occurs in so many coming-of-age narratives, Holly’s reality is expanded by the incorporation of the fantastic into her life and her fantasies are augmented by the infusion of the need for thinking about the real world impact of imagining.

Holly is placed on the edge of family secrets and forbidden knowledge beyond her understanding. Holly discovers a group of vessels filled with time that are able to transport her to the ancient past, letting her meet the builders of Stonehenge. During her voyage, she meets Evaken, a boy who has also discovered forbidden secrets in a Magician’s Apprentice narrative where he takes on magic for which he doesn’t yet have the wisdom to understand. This collision of times and secrets produces a space of healing, an integration of separate narratives, of stories divided by space and time. Holly is able to gain perspective on her own life when she encounters the violent collision of people in the past and is able to bring a perspective from the future to people in the past who need new tales to give them context on their complex world. 

Believing that she is powerless to change the world, Holly learns that she has the power to change the world. She has to come to terms with the responsibilities, challenges, and complexities of realising that she has meaning in her world and that her choices can alter the world. 

Nature or Nurture

A review of Janette Platana’s “Spontaneous Generation” in A Token of my Affliction (Tightrope Books, 2015)

By Derek Newman-Stille

Janette Platana’s macabre tale “Spontaneous Generation” uses the movement of maggots across a floor from a dead bird in the chimney to discourse on notions of life and death, family, and ideas of nurture v nature on personal development. Platana questions and critiques the notion of “family” itself as her main character speculates on what she and her sister have in common, pondering how they relate to each other and the common language that develops among siblings. She questions ideas of resonance and what factors bring two people together despite differences in experience and personality and the power that “change” itself has over lives.

This is a fundamentally philosophical text, using questions about how life develops to explore the minutia of personal interactions. Platana recognizes the power of simple interactions between two people for revealing wider philosophical speculations and questions and the power of watching flies mutate and change from human intervention to reveal something about the process of the development of life itself. Platana questions where choices originate from and what factors make us choose certain paths and not others, interweaving this with questions of evolution and mutation, comparing the biological to the personal.

To discover more about A Token of my Affliction, visit http://tightropebooks.com/a-token-of-my-affliction-janette-platana/