Class Constraints

A review of Rebecca Diem’s “The Stowaway Debutante” (Woolf Like Me Publishing, 2014)
By Derek Newman-Stille

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Rebecca Diem’s “The Stowaway Debutante” is a steampunk story of disruption, shaking up the class divides of the Victorian Era. Diem writes a tale of escape from the boundaries, barriers, and confinements placed on gender and class. This is a tale of change and one of questions.

Clara is a woman from upper class society, confined by assumptions about her gender and by the roles placed on her behaviour by her family. She desires adventure, wants to change, and she is able to stow away on an airship to escape into the sky and away from everything holding her down. When she is discovered by pirates who offer her an opportunity for a new life, she leaves behind her debutante clothes and jumps into new adventures. She believes in the freedom of the sky, yet even in the sky she is underestimated, treated as a delicate flower in need of protection. She has to not only change herself, but also change the perceptions of those around her.

But she is not the only one to change. The pirate captain was formerly a Duke, giving up his role and status to share wealth with the poor. He is a steampunk Robin Hood, and like that other rogue, he has created a family of misfits. Clara is able to find her own family amongst these rogues and they provide the ability for her to choose her own path.

In order to free herself from the constraints placed upon her, Clara must play roles, clothe herself in identity. Rebecca Diem recognizes that clothing provides restraints on identity, shaping the way that we are read by people around us. Clothing wraps us up in assumptions, becoming a costume where others read us.

To find out more about Rebecca Diem, visit http://www.rebeccadiem.com

The Horror of the Sense of Wonder

A review of A.C. Wise’s “The Lion and the Unicorn” in Lackington’s, 2015 (https://lackingtons.com/2015/02/12/the-lion-and-the-unicorn-by-a-c-wise/)

By Derek Newman-Stille

 

Wonder is something that shapes much of speculative fiction, propelling us to imagine new possibilities and new ways of interacting with the world. But, a sense of wonder can also contribute to a constant desire for the new, the unique, the special, and the never-before-seen. A.C. Wise’s “The Lion and the Unicorn” examines the horror of that sense of wonder, that desire for the strange. Wise introduces us to a unicorn boy who is kept as a sexual slave in confinement. The unicorn boy is regularly visited by people who sexually assault him out of their desire to experience something new. They have a compelling need for him and objectify him as a sexual toy to be played with. In their ardour for the new and unique, they have sought out other wonders, disempowering them – chaining them, removing teeth, and otherwise rendering them defenseless – so that they can be used as objects of gratification, figures of desire. Their monstrous desire makes them seek out the figures that myth defies as monsters.

 

Wise tells a sexual assault tale that reverses the narrative that we have been trained to expect within a patriarchal society. Instead of presenting a woman as the object of desire, Wise presents a boy who is sexually assaulted by women. The unicorn boy was born out of a sexual assault by his mother on his father and he, similarly, has led a life of repeated sexual assaults. Wise extends the question of sex and disempowerment by including a new vulnerable figure and one who is subject to horror because of his beauty. As he says in the tale “Beauty can be terrible, too”.

 

“The Lion and the Unicorn” takes us into the realm of wonder and reminds us that wonder has historically been used as exploitation – it has been used as justification for colonialism, scientific experimentation, freak shows, and the control of those with wondrous bodies.

 

To discover more about the work of A.C. Wise, visit her website at http://www.acwise.net/

 

To read this story on Lackington’s visit https://lackingtons.com/2015/02/12/the-lion-and-the-unicorn-by-a-c-wise/

 

A Love Leter to Can Con

A Love Letter to Can ConBy Derek Newman-Stille

One of the things being talked about in academic circles currently is the issue of the “all male panel”, which happens far too often. I often expect academic conferences to be ahead of a lot of public conferences, but was increadibly excited when I heard Can Con planners talking about the issue of the all male panel earlier this year and was even more excited when I arrived and saw that it was already in practice. In all of the panels I attended and presented in there were panelists who identified as male and female. This is yet another reminder of the welcoming environment that Can Con strives each year to create. 
For those of you who don’t know, Can Con is an annual speculative fiction conference held in the Ottawa region with a particular focus on literary SF. I have attended Can Con for a number of years and have seen it grow in numbers. A growth in numbers always evokes an anxious response from me because I worry that the sense of camaraderie and family will be lost as the numbers increase, but Can Con consistently excites me because even as the numbers grow, the welcoming environment grows with those numbers as more people are invited into this familial environment. There is no ubiquity that comes with the growth, but rather Can Con makes sure to invite the individual to express themselves in diverse ways. 
I think part of what makes Can Con so welcoming (especially of diversity) is the excitement by the organizers to create panels that explore the diversity of people creating Canadian Spec Fic, reading it, and being represented in its pages. Can Con organizers make sure to have exciting panels on representations of disability, neurodiversity, sexuality, gender diversity, ethnicity, and a range of identities as part of their planning and they consistently are able to attract exciting panelists who are writing these SF representations of identities, are people who identify with these identities, and people who are invested in exploring what these identities mean. But the really exciting part is the reactions of the audience to the panels on identities because these panels are consistently packed and the audience questions are insightful…. and I think this is part of that culture of diversity inspired by the Can Con organizers. It filters through into the audience and whereas at other conferences where there is the one token “here are the people who aren’t talking about the white, straight, able-bodied, neurotypical, male” panel the audience is often not as geared toward excitement about the exploration of identities, because of the plethora of panels on diverse identities at Can Con and because of the welcoming and encouraging support of the organizers, Can Con tends to have more positive and excited audience responses to diversity. 
Why do I write a love letter to Can Con? Because there is a certain environment to the conference that allows me to feel refreshed, inspired, and excited after every conference. I often throw myself on as many panels as possible because I love to participate in Can Con, but I don’t feel exhausted after the conference as one would expect from all the work put into it. Instead, I feel energized, excited, and inspired to do some writing, reading, and (most importantly) fan boying about Speculative Fiction. I have been watching the various love letters to Can Con come rolling in through Facebook, Twitter, and through my email inbox and I think that I can say that this sense of camaraderie is shared by others who attend the conference and that they are experiencing the bittersweet combination of excitement and mourning that comes with having a great time and realising that we all have to wait another year for this exciting experience.

If you haven’t checked out Can Con, you can find out more about it by visiting http://www.can-con.org and I hope to see you all there.

Transitional Words

A review of Nalo Hopkinson’s Falling in Love With Hominids (Tachyon Publications, 2015)
By Derek Newman-StilleIMG_0213

Falling in Love with Hominids illustrates Nalo Hopkinson’s playfulness with language, her characteristic exploration of the way that language shapes social interactions and develops plot. Hopkinson illustrates her fascination with ideas of sound and the power of mis-hearings, exploring stories that came from her own mis-hearings of things and the point of speculation that occurs when one tries to determine what was actually said. In stories like The Easthound which came from a mis-hearing of “The Eastbound”, Hopkinson examines what an Easthound would be and how this notion can create a figure of terror. In “The Smile on the Face”, she examines the relationship between names and identities, creating a character named Gilla who discovers a resonance to the reptilian (coming from the association with her name) and a connection to mythic stories about other reptiles.

Hopkinson plays with characters who question the way they are written, examining figures (for example) from Shakespearian plays such as Caliban from The Tempest and allowing them a place to resist the texts that have been written about them and providing a space for them to push their own meanings through the text. In Shift, she explores the way that racialised assumptions have been cast onto Caliban and his desire to escape from the narrative that has shaped his life.

Hopkinson enters into shared-world creations and disrupts the idea of a very white, Euro-centric fairy world in the Bordertown series by creating figures who challenge this focus on the European magical world by creating characters who come from non-European mythologies. In “Ours Is The Prettiest”, she asserts the multi-ethnic nature of characters, playing with previous reader assumptions about character ethnicity and examining the intersection of ethnicities and cultural identities.

Hopkinson illustrates her ability to represent the under-represented, bringing attention to those areas that are cast in the shadows of most mainstream ideas of science fiction. She brings attention to those characters who are largely left off from mainstream SF, populating her worlds with characters from an array of sexual and gender identities, challenging the white-centric worlds created by most SF authors, and inserting those presences that are Othered in so many SF narratives.

Falling in Love with Hominids is a text of transitions, examining those times when change is at its peak. She examines transitions between adulthood and youth, portraying the idea that adulthood is not always in a protective role over youth and can, in fact, be damaging to youth because of the excesses of power adults wield over the young. She plays with the transition between life and death, exploring notions of life after death and the way that we tend to be haunted by memory and guilt.

Hopkinson casts the light of speculation onto those ideas that are cast into shadow in everyday reality, those areas that can be seen best by the outsider, the oppressed, the erased. Falling in Love with Hominids represents a text of examining the human experience, an act of recovery of those aspects of humanity that are suppressed or repressed and a re-invigoration at the sense of wonder about human experience.
To read reviews of individual stories in the collection, click on the links below:

https://speculatingcanada.ca/2015/09/16/the-oddity-of-children-2/

https://speculatingcanada.ca/2015/07/28/growing-up-monstrous/

To listen to an Episode of Speculating Canada on Trent Radio about Falling in Love with Hominids visit:

https://speculatingcanada.ca/2015/07/26/speculating-canada-on-trent-radio-episode-45-a-discussion-of-the-work-of-nalo-hopkinson/

To read more about Falling in Love with Hominids, visit Tachyon Publications’ Website at https://tachyonpublications.com/product/falling-love-hominids/

Resistant Strain 

A review of Kelly Robson’s “The Three Resurrections of Jessica Churchill” in Clarkesworld Magazine (February, 2015). Accessible online at http://clarkesworldmagazine.com/robson_02_15/

By Derek Newman-Stille

Jessica’s life had been haunted by the faces of missing and murdered women that dotted the walls of the gas station where she worked, evoking the idea that when one lived on the Highway of Tears, one’s life as a woman was shaped by persistent loss. Jessica learned early on that the system wasn’t made to help, protect, or support her. She had already found that she couldn’t count on the police, medical, or education system for any form of protection, safety, or health. She has learned that her life was shaped by the controls of others and that the only way to be independent was to reject those controls. But, Jessica’s life becomes marked by the omni-presence of health and the threat of death. Her rape and murder are only the first of her body’s violations and infiltrations as her body is resurrected by alien bacteria who claim to want to help her but have invaded her body and modified it. 

Kelly Robson’s “The Three Resurrections of Jessica Churchill” explores the societal violence done against aboriginal women and its multiple manifestations – whether through the prevalence of missing and murdered aboriginal women or the denial of basic services like quality health, protection, and education to women. Robson explores the idea that the violence against women extends beyond sexual assault and murder to the various institutions that divorce women from their own bodies, that deny them access to health, understanding of their bodies, and means of protecting themselves. Robson’s bacterial aliens are only another manifestation of the types of bodily infiltrations and controls that women’s bodies are subjected to. 

“The Three Resurrections of Jessica Churchill” is a chilling tale about the relationship between violence, the body, and the idea that one often falls into trust by necessity because there aren’t other options… but this trust generally comes with an openness to vulnerability as well.

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

To read this story, visit Clarkesworld at http://clarkesworldmagazine.com/robson_02_15/

“To minds that crave binary order, and the simplicity of the male-female dichotomy, the study of gender can lead to despair. They say that women with Y chromosomes and men with two X’s are abnormal. But normal is just a word that gets thrown around when we try to make sense of biology.”

-Scott Fotheringham – The Rest is Silence (Goose Lane Editions, 2012)

Quote – Normal just a word

Women Made of Words

A review of Sean moreland’s Rowena in Lackington’s issue 2 ( http://lackingtons.com/2014/05/13/rowena-by-sean-moreland/ )
By Derek Newman-Stille

Sean Moreland’s Rowena is a tale of names, words, and memory, and how these have been implicated in the creation of women’s identities. Structured as a series of letters from an accused witch to her daughter, Rowena is shaped by the aesthetic of loss. The eponymous protagonist reveals the loss of name and home that occurred for women in history and even after the death of her husband, who she is accused of murdering, she is forced to keep his name, taunted with the constant reminder that the world views her as his property.

Although words form her entrapment with her husband through contracts made between her father and husband, and words further rob her of her name, they are also part of the act of recovery, the means by which she is able to discover herself and her own identity. When she discovers a secret book written by her husband’s first wife, she is instantly attracted to her words. There is a blending of book into body that occurs as she lovingly examines the book’s spine, compares ink to bodily fluids and sexual fluids. The book becomes more than a text, but rather a communication across time and between spirits. There is a beautiful blending of text into identity, a love affair of words and spirits

Moreland reveals that much of what we are is words, that we are texts needing to be read and to express ourselves and that every reading of a book is a form of seance between the author and the reader.

De-voiced by patriarchy, disempowered by the official word, Rowena and her husband’s deceased first wife Ligeia need to voice the depth of their feelings and identity through subversion, through hidden texts, and these secret texts are part of the act of recovery, part of the expression of the self who is perpetually silenced.

Moreland’s Rowena is a beautiful love affair through ink and text, a meeting of pages full of memory and the desire to speak.

To read this and other stories from Lackington’s, visit the Lackington’s website at http://lackingtons.com/ .

You can access Sean Moreland’s story Rowena directly at http://lackingtons.com/2014/05/13/rowena-by-sean-moreland/ .