Blind Vision Quest

A Review of Douglas Smith’s The Wolf at the End of the World (Forthcoming)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Cover photo for The Wolf at the End of the World courtesy of Douglas Smith

Cover photo for The Wolf at the End of the World courtesy of Douglas Smith

The Wolf at the End of the World is a tale that would resonate with the spirit of any environmentalist – the struggle of diverse species to survive, the conflict with human greed and capitalism, the invasiveness of the human presence on animal life, and also the potential for a shift in human consciousness toward a connection with the animal world, an acknowledgement of our dependency on our environment and eco diversity. As he often does, Douglas wields myth as a tool for pedagogy, much like myth-tellers have been doing throughout history. He taps into that vital essence of the story to reveal truths that we ignore in our mundane world and teaches complexity through the poetics of language and potentials of symbols.

Smith’s work, as always, is full of potent ambiguities, the moral questions that fill us with the potential to interrogate our world and challenge the assumptions that have become part of living our lives. He does this through beautiful prose and an exciting and powerful story. Smith tackles issues of huge importance for our understanding of modernity such as the relationship of the human to our environment, the power of greed, the emptiness that comes from loneliness, the danger of secrecy (particularly government initiated secrets), ideas of ability and disability, the relationship of indigenous people to the state, and the general issue of bodily and identity difference. He recognises that accepting difference is a complex process, even for the person who is fundamentally ostracised and cast socially as different.

The Wolf at the End of the World is a text of loss and hunger, the pining for that which is missing, absent, taken away, or desired, and Smith embodies this in the figure of the Windigo, a being from Indigenous cosmologies that is the embodiment of hunger with a heart of ice, an insatiable appetite. It is the perfect symbol of modernity, with all of our greed, our loneliness, our desire for something we have lost or not yet obtained… it reminds us of our absences. The Windigo, despite being the villain in this novel, becomes a form of teacher, espousing a pedagogy about the dangers of desire, the dangers of creating a heart of ice and always wanting and losing ourselves to greed as a way of trying to fill the spot in ourselves that has become empty (or icy) because of our feeling of loss. The Windigo is a great expression of the modern condition.

In contrast to the Windigo are the Heroka, figures who are shape-shifters, able to speak to and connect on a spiritual level to animals, and a boy, Zach, who is sorting through his difference – as a blind person, as someone who is half Cree and who does not know about his father. His mother, who is Cree, has been running from her heritage, trying to ignore her past, and she fears her son’s difference, and also the secrets that she has kept from him about his father’s heritage and the potential differences that are inherent in it. But, Zach’s differences are his strengths, things that have shaped him and he is put into the position of accepting his differences and becoming even further different from the socially-defined norms or of passing as “normal” and missing something of himself.

Ancient gods reenact mythic roles, renewing and changing the world around them to play out what it means to be human and what it means to be spirit and animal. Trickster spirits play with human lives, challenging them to change, learn, and grow, and to question everything they have been taught and the world that has shaped them. The reader is carried along on this mythic tale, taught the potential of stories to challenge us and make us more aware.

To find out more about Douglas Smith and The Wolf at the End of the World, visit his website at http://www.smithwriter.com/the_wolf_at_the_end_of_the_world . This novel will be coming out soon and you can link through the website above to pre-order a copy.

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“The pro-survival pleasure stimuli are wired so that a dangerous overload produces the maximum pleasure. On a purely biological level man is programmed to strive hugely for more than he needs, more than he can profitably use.”

– Spider Robinson – God is an Iron (Tesseracts)

Quote- Humans Programmed For Dangerous Overload

Big Red Suit Scare – A Midwinter Cold War

A review of The Claus Effect by David Nickle and Karl Schroeder (Tesseract Books, 1997)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Cover photo courtesy of the authors

Cover photo courtesy of the authors

Every child wishes they could go to the North Pole to become one of Santa’s elves. What child wouldn’t want to get everything that they want? David Nickle and Karl Schroeder take on the spirit of the holidays in The Claus Effect and explore what the personification of the holidays would be like. They cast a critical eye at the materialism of modernity and the overwhelming impulse of desire in Western society, and its particular expression of indulgence around the holiday season.

Santa Claus becomes the personification of capitalist desire – the manifestation of the idea that everyone should get what they want rather than what they need even when what they want is destructive to the society around them. Nickle and Shroeder’s Santa becomes a figure that seeks overall destruction by giving children access to weapons that would do harm to them and others, gleefully indulging in the destructive impulse of desire.

The Claus Effect begins with the short story “The Toy Mill” (originally published in Tesseracts 4) in which a young girl named Emily, obsessed with the mythology of Christmas and the desire for belonging asks Santa Claus if she can become an elf. Santa is wordsmithed with a predatory quality, described as having “an endless quest for girls and boys”, and licking his lips when he encounters them. His desire is for workers for the mill, children transformed into elves to work in his industrialist nightmare – a factory with huge smokestakes and enslaved workers. The factory itself is described with a predatory, consumptive quality – drooling cables and iron spiderwebs.

Emily struggles to find out why Santa doesn’t always give children what they desire, not reading their requests in his letters and points out to him the horrifying possibility that he may benefit from reading the words of children. Santa has become embittered from not receiving the thanks he feels he deserves for giving children what he thinks they should want. Santa lives in ignorance, believing he is above hearing the requests of children in letters, above the need to learn anything new. But when taught about the opportunity presented in this letters, when told that it could be research on giving children the very items that would allow for the full manifestation of their self-destructive consumptive impulse, he pays attention to this “market research”. He finds letters from children who wish their whole town would catch syphilis, who wish they owned M-16s, AKMs, and other munitions, and thousands of requests for their parents to die.

Emily begins to realise the horror of giving The Claus access to the full extent of children’s wishes and empowering the maliciousness that gave manifestation to him. Mrs. Claus has been preventing Santa’s wrath by telling him that letters were complaints from children about his gifts, indicating their displeasure.

Wishes and desire become the means for The Claus to manifest his love of destruction. He realises that the most harm he can do to the world is to give people what they want. He realises that consumption is consumptive, that over consumption and desire is destructive.

Despite her realisation that giving people what they want can be destructive, and her attempt to end Santa’s destructive regime, over-consumption is something that has become too enmeshed in our society. Santa can’t be destroyed, and Shroeder and Nickle re-visit Santa in The Claus Effect, which examines a clash of ideologies as over-consumptive capitalism meets communism.

Neil Nyman views war as a means of expressing American Western ideals of “the right way” and as the ultimate expression of ideas of masculinity and concepts of honour, particularly when that violence is directed toward a perceived communist threat. His uncle, a soldier teaches him at a young age that vengeance and violence are expressions of patriotism and that Christmas can be a time of vengeance.

After becoming a soldier himself, Nyman discovers some of the horror that militarism can wreak when he realises that Santa is in a conspiratorial relationship with the U.S. government: a weaponry wishlist delivered by the military to Santa each year. Santa has become a manifestation of the capitalist industrialist-military complex.

In order to keep his secrets, Santa targets Emily, now a grown woman who remembers his weaknesses. Emily is continually reminded of the horrors of working for Santa while she works for ValueLand, another commercial empire profiting from greed and, particularly, seasonal greed.

Neil and Emily eventually meet each other, both suspicious and questioning of the status quo and both having discovered secrets surrounding Santa Claus and his relationship to the American government. The two of them come into contact with another figure from Christmas mythology, Krampus, a figure that mythologically existed in contrast to Santa Claus in Germanic countries and was responsible for capturing and punishing children who were naughty. Krampus is an ideological figure, one who believes that human beings shouldn’t get everything that they want, but rather should be focused on their needs. Krampus had once discovered a copy of Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto and saw in it a potential for the balance between punishment and reward, a way to balance the greed embodied by Santa Claus. He travelled to Russia and joined the Russian revolution.

In The Claus Effect, the extremes of capitalism and communism come into ideological conflict, embodied by mythic figures surrounding the Christmas as an ideological time that focuses both on the extremes of capitalist greed and also ideas of community and working toward a common good. Christmas for Schroeder and Nickle is a time of contradictory impulses, a battle of extremes of ideology – a winter cold war of conflicting messages.

You can discover more about Karl Schroeder at his website at http://www.kschroeder.com/ and you can discover more about Dave Nickle at his website at http://davidnickle.blogspot.ca/ . To explore The Claus Effect for yourself, visit the Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing site at http://www.edgewebsite.com/books/clauseffect/ce-catalog.html

Interview with Jerome Stueart

An interview with Jerome Stueart by Derek Newman-Stille

Author photo courtesy of Jerome Stueart

Author photo courtesy of Jerome Stueart

There is nothing quite as fantastic as an interview that begins by thanking reviewers! It was truely a pleasure to talk to Jerome Stueart and I hope that all of you enjoy his insights as much as I did. I will let him introduce himself to you.

Spec Can: To begin this interview, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Jerome Stueart:  Sure, Derek.  First, thanks for interviewing me, and taking an interest in my work.  Reviewers mean the world to writers!

I’m the son of a Texas Baptist preacher who grew up in a lot of small towns in the Midwest and Southwest US.  My mom read me and my brother and sister myths, fairy tales, and the Chronicles of Narnia in our hallway between our bedrooms.  I grew up loving Bradbury, Clarke, King, and Piers Anthony, and studying animals and science.  I took a left turn away from science and into writing when I was a junior in the smallest high school in Texas because a teacher said she would mentor me.  (Teachers make a difference).  I went to college for literature and writing, attended Clarion in 2007 in San Diego, and then immigrated to the Yukon to write about science research here.  Stayed because the people were awesome.  I started out an English and Writing teacher, and became a marketer for an arts centre.

Spec Can: As an author from the Yukon, do you find that the environment of the Yukon influences your SF writing?

Jerome Stueart:  You can’t help but see the Yukon’s exotic environment—light all day in the summer, darkness in the winter, extreme temps, strange wildlife, and a plethora of scientist all trying to find treasure up here. Geoscientists after marketable minerals; biologists after wilderness preservation.  Passions run high here.  I think I was surprised at how much my relationships, and the way the Yukon changes people quickly have both found their way into my writing.  As I was working on my immigration in Texas, after having visited the Yukon for three years, I was yearning to come back to the Yukon—and now I find I have a lot of characters outside the Yukon yearning to get back in.

Spec Can: What is the SF community like in the Yukon? Has it been easy to create a community of authors and SF aficionados?

Jerome Stueart: There’s a healthy readership up here for scifi and fantasy, and there are several writers too—about 8 or 9.  We formed a small group of SF/Fantasy writing adults, and then I started teaching a small group of high school students, and they stayed together for four years.  Two of them are part of our adult group now.  It’s not been easy to form the groups—as the Yukon is a very busy place, and writing is sometimes a very solitary profession—but we get together as often as we can.

Spec Can: Your short story One Nation Under Gods (from Tesseracts 14) speaks to your birthplace in the United States. What was the inspiration for this short story?

Cover photo of Tesseracts 14 courtesy of Jerome Stueart

Cover photo of Tesseracts 14 courtesy of Jerome Stueart

Jerome Stueart:  My stories tend to be a hodgepodge of different things.  Jeff VanderMeer at Clarion gave us an exercise that sparked the idea of imagining an alternate world.  The young boy’s voice came out of that exercise.  Two questions helped developed the story while I was at Clarion.  I remembered some teen asked me while I was subbing a high school class, “Why do I need to know about history?”—hehe.  Trying to convince her why history was important wasn’t easy.  I found the answers too pat.  The other question that helped develop the story was a question that many religious faiths grapple with: Why can’t God be more real?  And what would that mean if we could actually see and touch our gods?  My relationship with my younger sister and her dyslexia formed the emotional core of the story, and my feelings against a one-style fits all teaching method that favors memorization.  I watched her struggle with a feeling of inadequacy because school didn’t “find” where she was brilliant.

Spec Can: One Nation Under Gods has a lot to say about the education system and its focus on memorization instead of developing a good questioning mindset. What could help to improve the education system? How important is speculation and the question ‘why’ to a healthy education system?

Jerome Stueart: It’s funny—I became a teacher—writing and literature—so I found myself having to deal with both sides of the issue.  I had students who were not going to learn in the classic memorization way. I made my classes entertaining and engaging.  But I still had to have standards of learning—and that’s where it broke down.

Everyone’s concerned with their grades.  Students determine what they need to do to balance their lives and get just the grades they need to pass—or to get scholarships.  It’s hard to generate an interest or love of reading if you are worried about your future.  When it’s your Beowulf or their biology exam, biology wins.

Now, with the American government grading schools, schools have the same mindset.  Schools want to pass—so out goes anything that’s not going to help them pass.  Students are even more focused in high school on memorization to pass state exams to help the school out.  We’ve turned schools into manufacturing plants with a QC officer standing at the door of the school waiting to lock it up if the “plant” doesn’t produce good enough product.

Society doesn’t back up any need to think as teachers might want their students to.  Society wants skilled workers and consumers, not skilled thinkers and changers.  We are a consumer culture.  The most important day is not Election Day, but Black Friday.

Colleges have begun enhancing only programs that are funded by big business, and charging students a lot of money for tuition.  [My student loans are crushing.] We’ve become training facilities for those businesses.  Who’s gonna directly fund liberal arts courses—or provide jobs for thinkers?  Imaginative students?  We need them, but we don’t know where to put them in society.  And burdening students with debt in college means that they only go into practical professions afterwards.

I think the current problems with getting the world to understand climate change is directly related to an inability to speculate—or see the future from the evidence you have.  Society has equipped scientists to extrapolate from their research, but we don’t take their recommendations because we don’t trust science anymore, or intelligence.  Unless the majority of the population respects knowledge, has a healthy speculative mind, they can’t see consequences.

I think this contributes to a rise in crime, a rise in mindless consent to whoever speaks the loudest, a rise in selfish individualism (rather than community), and a rise in a consumer culture.

Spec Can: What can speculative fiction do to help readers to question things and advocate for change?

Jerome Stueart:   Speculation is about seeing natural consequences, about thinking about choices and figuring out where they will lead, and about large-scale societal consequences.  I think speculative fiction is the reason we don’t condone cloning, or have nuclear war—science fiction showed us that there are no good ways of having those, and we believed them.  Silent Spring is a “speculative novel” written as nonfiction by Rachel Carson with such an apocalyptic vision of the dangers of DDT and other chemicals we were putting on crops and in the air—with real evidence– that it scared people into regulation.  Carson used speculative tools to give reason to turn the boat around.

Unfortunately, speculation in the wrong hands can just be fear-mongering.  Recent commercials against Obama speculated a world four years from now full of apocalypse!  Without any evidence.  It was cheap scare tactics, but they worked on some people who couldn’t extrapolate from evidence, or who couldn’t question the premises or the evidence.  I saw that in both political parties.  If we don’t “produce” thinking minds—in every place in society—fear mongering will work, evidence won’t count.  That scares me.

Climate Change has to find a way to alert people to change without becoming alarmist—but we have a society less-inclined to think for themselves now, and less-inclined to value knowledge and preventative measures.  We’re all about reacting now.  We’re all about consuming.  We’re living like it’s the last days on Earth and we want our feast.  Anyone who says we have to “cut back” which is the message of climate change—restraint—is taking away “our fun.”  We are such a Mine Culture, not a Mind Culture.  We may live together, but we don’t think together.

I would put MORE speculative literature in the classroom starting with Kim Stanley Robinson’s climate change series, Science in the Capital—or his Three Californias. I would teach kids to imagine their own futures—what will they be doing 20 years from now, and what will society be like.  What do they WANT society to be like?  And where do they see the forces in control trying to lead us?  Kids can be taught to think speculatively and use it wisely.

Spec Can: In One Nation Under Gods you propose images of what American gods would be like if the United States were pantheistic. What gods would Canada have?

Jerome Stueart:   Haha.  I’m not going to tell you that!  I really do want to do a sequel in Canada.  But I’ll tell you this much—as an American living in Canada—it seems that Canadians think of themselves more regionally than Americans do.  With larger “states”/provinces and territories, there’s more a chance for people to think regionally: Maritimers think of themselves very differently than Ontarians or Albertans, and I think their gods would have to reflect that.  I think Canadian gods, too, would have less power over their people than what I’ve set up for the US.  My point with One Nation is to say that the US has given too much power to their gods.  I still treat the States as a “great experiment”, though, so the gods there did something very different than any other country’s gods.

Spec Can: Your story Lemmings in the Third Year (from Tesseracts Nine) deals with a group of researchers who are able to speak to animals – almost combining the fields of biology and anthropology. How would giving animals voice change the role of science and particularly the way biology sees the world?

Jerome Stueart:  Wow.  In the same way any culture changes outside perception of that culture when they start having their own “voice.”  I did take a very anthropological angle with that story to explore how closely related those two sciences are—one is missing the voice.  Anthropology realized that at the turn of the last century when they realized that the indigenous people—all over the world—had rights and had voices and couldn’t just be curiosities to be reported on.  We’re only just starting, too, to accept those indigenous ideas and ways of seeing as just as valid as Western ideas of civilization, and we have a long to go before they are seen as equally valid ways of life.

Animal communication is being studied right now to determine what animals are communicating to each other.  But I would think that biology would be turned on its head if animals ever started really talking.  Apes using signs and symbol keyboards are just a first step—and really they can only communicate about their lab environment, not their philosophy of the jungle.  But if we had insight into what animals are thinking about their environment—well, we’d have to start granting their wishes, thinking of their rights, their opinions, about the encroachment of humankind.  Sometimes I wish the animals would speak to say “you can do so much to prevent some of the consequences of climate change.”

But, to paraphrase what God said to the rich man who wanted to go back and warn his brothers of the coming doom, “If I sent a talking polar bear to you to warn you, you still wouldn’t listen.”

Spec Can: You have a passion and interest in the voice of animals in Speculative Fiction. What important things can animals in SF give voice to?

Jerome Stueart:  My real interest in animals in fiction is asking how we’re using them in speculative fiction.  Often times, I see authors going to animals to use them a bit as puppets to be the “truth” the author has.  Putting it in an animal gives the author innocence and credibility, because there’s no sin in animals, no nuance.  Their representation, as far as I can tell—and I’ve read a lot of talking animals in fiction—doesn’t have the character nuance that humans do, or the baggage.  So they can get away with being wiser than the rest of us: ala Ishmael (via Daniel Quinn) or all of Rudyard Kipling’s animals (who are characterized more by their species than their particular character) or even Rafi Zabor’s Bear in The Bear Comes Home [which is the author in disguise and is a character more pure than the others in the novel].  More interesting characterizations are being done by Jonathan Lethem in his novel, Gun with Occasional Music, where he gives his animal characters the chance to make life choices with consequences.  Joey, the Kangaroo in the Mafia, I think, is a brilliant character.  Others have thought about dogs having their own culture.

I don’t think that animals should just give voice to “our wisdom” and become Animal Masks for us the author.  We can’t hope readers will take our wisdom better from a non-human.  We make them all into Shamans, and I don’t think that’s as interesting.

Instead, I look forward to more nuanced character in the animals you see in SF—animals with choices, pasts, agendas, and cultures that are wildly different than our own, languages and ways of seeing that are entirely new.  I think they might be able to give us insight into a world of animals, so we can live like weasels as Annie Dillard talks about in her Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.  They have the possibility of teaching us how to live more in harmony with the environment—or not.  An overpopulation of any animal is bad for the environment.  Check out the overpopulation of deer and elk in Yellowstone.  So our being able to live in harmony may have more to do with our numbers than the way we treat it.  Still, I think we’re smart animals.  We can figure this out.

I do think we’ll always be fascinated by the mystery of animals speaking to us—because it’s the closest we get to something alien and new, and, in our minds, divine.

Spec Can: Speculative Fiction is often described as the “literature of change”. What important questions around transformation can SF raise for readers?

Author photo courtesy of Jerome Stueart

Author photo courtesy of Jerome Stueart

Jerome Stueart:  I think SF can help us get ready for change, and see change as positive and desirable.  We get in our ruts.  If we want the Star Trek universe—we’re gonna have to work for it.  LOL.  But I think it can examine multiple paths for us—examining all possible scenarios and showing us a positive path.

The danger of SF, though, is that it inherently likes NOT so positive paths.  They present more of what readers desire: conflict, danger, suspense.  So we get much more apocalyptic SF which shows us what NOT to do, but rarely shows us HOW to get to the change.

The challenge for SF writers is to imagine us a path to get to the change and show it as a positive one.  And that I think is the most fun.  Star Trek cheated a bit by shooting so far in the future that all those things like poverty, greed, violence, were all gone by the 24th century.  We’ve been spending the last 45 years trying to figure out how Gene thought that might happen!  But at least it modeled diversity for us.  I recall Nichelle Nichols’ wonderful story of her encounter with Martin Luther King, Jr. just before she was about to quit the show.  He encourages her to stay on because he too believes that SF is the literature of change.  He saw her presence on the bridge as a model for behavior and hope for a positive future beyond Race.  So in this way, SF is a model for change—it models good behavior, even if it doesn’t have all the answers.

Spec Can: What do you see as a distinctive feature of Canadian SF? Has your work changed in a Canadian context?

Jerome Stueart:    I think Canadian SF is darker and more experimental than mainstream American SF.  I think the publishing industry allows for more kinds of individual author development—we have smaller publishers with greater weight in Canada.  In the States, where every microgenre gets codified and calcified, I see a lot more of the same stuff coming out for consumers.  I see a lot more undefinable genre in Canadian SF.  A freedom because, partly, there’s not a lot of fame on the table, but also because there’s a desire to create a Canadian SF.  It looks like we’re nowhere near nailing a specific kind of SF, though, more inviting people to play.  Look at Evolve from Edge—the SF future of vampires; look at anything Chizine is doing, which is so out there!  It massacres genre-expectations.  It also gives authors so much freedom.

Canada has the opportunity to show what the future of Canada will be through SF, and use our regional identities as a way to forge a truly unique version of Canadian SF.

Spec Can: Your short story How Magnificent is the Universal Donor (from Evolve) features an LGBTQ2or queer-oriented protagonist. Could you talk a bit about the representation of LGBTQ2 characters in SF?

Jerome Stueart:  Right now, there’s not a lot of queer characters in mainstream SF, and that’s sad.  Writing about gay characters seem to relegate your fiction to only specialty bookstores and markets.  I can see some of the reason why: When the LGBT community is looking at a permanent minority (at 10%), a marketer/publisher looks at this and says, wow, if gay characters are the main, or only, characters, then we have a small audience.   Therefore, heterosexual main characters would “appeal” to more people—it’s “straight marketing math”.  Even when a gay male main character is going to have a gay male love interest, you can’t even get half the LGBT community to read it—no female interest, or vice versa.  I don’t read any lesbian SF.   But I do read SF that happens to have lesbian characters in it if it’s good story.  I don’t read for the LGBT.  I read for the plot and interesting characters.

So there’s no reason to NOT write gay characters.  If the plot is more than a romance novel, queer characters are just as valid and interesting for their choices, their agendas, their characters beyond their sexuality.

I grew up with strong male and female characters, and I identified with the men as men, and with the women emotionally, perhaps, and certainly on who they were in love with, so I found multiple ways of enjoying SF.  But then I didn’t know I was gay till much, much later in life (lots of religious reasons why gay feelings go unrecognized).

But as I write now, I want to include more queer characters because if I’d had more of those characters present in literature I might have a) figured out who I was earlier, and b) found more role models in the literature I read.  I write for me, and hope that having positive queer role models for younger queer men helps them too.  The models of queer SF protagonists: Samual Delany, David Gerrold and Geoff Ryman—I want to read more of their work.

However, mainstream SF publishers and some editors are still not comfortable with queer characters.  Star Trek, which I love, and would love to one day write for, needs queer characters, instead of relegating them to the Mirror Universe where every body is omnisexual and perverse.  TV and movies still haven’t caught up, and that’s a shame.  Granted, I still find strong male characters in SF, and those traits are universal for me.

I thank JK Rowling for giving us Dumbledore, a flawed, beautiful man that kids will hopefully be able to identify with whether they are straight or gay.

I’m working on stories with gay and straight characters right now, so, hey, I’ll do my part!

Spec Can: How Magnificent is the Universal Donor deals with the conflict of medical technology and the mixed blessing/danger of the medical world, particularly focusing on ideas of medical control of the body. What are some of the things SF can do to raise questions about the use of medical technologies, the medicalised treatment of the body and the health-crisis fear that is repeatedly raised by medical professionals?

Jerome Stueart:  More stories and novels that take the medical profession to task.  Not create a fear, but certainly raise a concern.  I wrote How Magnificent after the Flu scare and what I noticed was that getting a flu shot was starting to be cast in a moral argument—you had a duty to others to get the shot.  You were putting lives at risk.  That’s when I said—that’s too far.  1) if YOU get the flu shot, me getting the flu isn’t going to affect you, and 2) it’s my body.  I get to decide what goes in it.  And guilt only makes the medical establishment sound like the Church.

We also need to see alternate medical technologies and treatments.  Love to see more SF explore the medical treatment of terminal illness and of the way our society can’t look at death.  Saw a beautiful documentary on the last rites/rights, palliative care requested by terminally ill patients.  SF is the kind of literature that can tackle a societal issue.

Spec Can: What can Speculative Fiction do that realist fiction can’t?

Jerome Stueart:  Maybe that’s the greatest strength of SF—it has a wide angled lens.  SF is about commenting on societal problems more than character problems.  Maybe that’s why the characters can be more universal, and sometimes flatter, because SF is interested in the “what if” of the story—the what if of the society.  It can handle a universal character because the society is what we want to examine in SF, and the choices a society makes.

But again, it also has a chance to be more society-scaled prescriptive—and model societal behavior and model change that realistic fiction can’t.  SF is the quantum reality of realistic fiction.  While realistic fiction might concentrate on individuals and their changes, SF goes wide to take the choices and changes of a large group.

Spec Can: What projects are you currently working on?

Jerome Stueart:  I’m finishing up a novella about a gay park ranger working at Sagamore Hill National Historic Site and trying to pick up tips on how to live right from Teddy Roosevelt.  I’m turning One Nation into a novel, which is darn hard.  I’m also working on other SF and fantasy short stories, trying to get some things finished by Christmas.

Spec Can: Is there anything further you would like to add to our interview?

Jerome Stueart:  The importance of reviewers cannot be overstated.  With the amount of novels and short fiction out there, just having one review increases your chances of being read, and that’s very important.  Thank you for reviewing authors, especially short fiction, and taking the time to come up with good interview questions too!

I want to thank Jerome Stueart for this fantastic interview and all of his brilliant insights, and, selfishly, for his comments about reviewers – thanks Jerome!!

You can explore Jerome’s website at http://jeromestueart.com/ to find out more about his current projects and where to find his novels and short stories.  

Upcoming Interview with Jerome Stueart on Tuesday December 18th, 2012

Jerome Stueart is the most Northern of the authors I have interviewed, hailing from the Yukon. An American ex-pat, he was able to look at Canadian SF both from an outsider AND an insider perspective. Check out our interview on Tuesday December 18th.

Author photo courtesy of Jerome Stueart

Author photo courtesy of Jerome Stueart

I hope that you enjoy his insights on SF in the Yukon, teaching and the education system, the links between science and SF, the ability of SF to evoke changes, climate and environmental issues, the importance of animal voices, and issues with our culture of greed.

Here are a few teasers from the interview for you to check out:

Jerome Stueart: “You can’t help but see the Yukon’s exotic environment—light all day in the summer, darkness in the winter, extreme temps, strange wildlife, and a plethora of scientist all trying to find treasure up here… Passions run high here.  I think I was surprised at how much my relationships, and the way the Yukon changes people quickly have both found their way into my writing.”

Jerome Stueart: “My relationship with my younger sister and her dyslexia formed the emotional core of the story, and my feelings against a one-style fits all teaching method that favors memorization.  I watched her struggle with a feeling of inadequacy because school didn’t ‘find’ where she was brilliant.”

Jerome Stueart: “Schools want to pass—so out goes anything that’s not going to help them pass.  Students are even more focused in high school on memorization to pass state exams to help the school out.  We’ve turned schools into manufacturing plants with a QC officer standing at the door of the school waiting to lock it up if the “plant” doesn’t produce good enough product.”

Jerome Stueart: “Society doesn’t back up any need to think as teachers might want their students to.  Society wants skilled workers and consumers, not skilled thinkers and changers.  We are a consumer culture.”

Jerome Stueart: “I think the current problems with getting the world to understand climate change is directly related to an inability to speculate—or see the future from the evidence you have…  Unless the majority of the population respects knowledge, has a healthy speculative mind, they can’t see consequences.”

Jerome Stueart: “If we don’t “produce” thinking minds—in every place in society—fear mongering will work, evidence won’t count.  That scares me.”

Jerome Stueart: “We’re all about reacting now.  We’re all about consuming.  We’re living like it’s the last days on Earth and we want our feast.  Anyone who says we have to ‘cut back’ which is the message of climate change—restraint—is taking away ‘our fun.’”

Jerome Stueart: “We are such a Mine Culture, not a Mind Culture.  We may live together, but we don’t think together.”

Jerome Stueart: “If we had insight into what animals are thinking about their environment—well, we’d have to start granting their wishes, thinking of their rights, their opinions, about the encroachment of humankind.”

Jerome Stueart: “I think SF can help us get ready for change, and see change as positive and desirable.  We get in our ruts.  If we want the Star Trek universe—we’re gonna have to work for it. But I think it can examine multiple paths for us—examining all possible scenarios and showing us a positive path.”

Jerome Stueart: “We get much more apocalyptic SF which shows us what NOT to do, but rarely shows us HOW to get to the change.”

Jerome Stueart: “Mainstream SF publishers and some editors are still not comfortable with queer characters.  Star Trek, which I love, and would love to one day write for, needs queer characters, instead of relegating them to the Mirror Universe where every body is omnisexual and perverse.”

Jerome Stueart: “SF is about commenting on societal problems more than character problems.”

You can check out my review of Jerome Stueart’s “One Nation Under Gods” that was posted on Speculating Canada on November 22, 2012 by clicking here https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2012/11/22/american-expat-explores-the-american-myth/ . Explore Jerome Stueart’s website at http://jeromestueart.com/

Make sure to check in with Speculating Canada to read the full interview with Jerome Stueart on December 18th

Doomed to Repeat

A Review of Camille Alexa’s Children of the Device (In Here Be Monsters: Tongues and Teeth: Issue Seven, 2012)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Cover photo of Here Be Monsters courtesy of the publisher.

Since the world is supposed to end at the end of this month according to the Mayan Calendar, I thought I would begin the month with an apocalyptic story by Camille Alexa. Nothing better prepares us for the holidays than a reminder of the dangers of human greed.

Only one ship carrying thousands escaped the destruction of the Earth in Camille Alexa’s Children of the Device and five generations into the ship’s voyage, Earth’s traditions linger – from New Year’s resolutions to our perpensity for overpopulation and selfish greed.

Plagues have spread through the colony ship, erasing much of the access to historical records, and, Alexa gives the reader a reminder that those who forget history are doomed to repeat it as humanity cycles through the destructive behaviours that led to the destruction of their own world.  Instead of learning from each previous generation, the human colonists repeat the horrors of human history, desiring more for themselves than their fellow human beings, privileging present desires over the needs of future generations, and solving debates with deadly battles. The pervasive attitudes that lead to Earth’s destruction continue to surface as the fundamental selfishness of the human animal surfaces even far from home.

A lot of space narratives begin with the image of escaping a destroyed Earth and see this as a moment of freeing ourselves from our past and from the gravitational shackles of home that kept us back from the universe, but Camille Alexa reminds us that a change in environment does not facilitate a change in attitude and escaping from our roots does not prevent us from growing back like weeds to infect new environments with our selfish intentions. Alexa warns readers about the dangers of  presentist thinking, and the belief that an accumulation of more things now wards off the dangers of loneliness and sorrow.

Explore more about this volume at http://herebemonstersanthology.blogspot.ca/ and find out more about Camille Alexa and her current projects on her website at http://camillealexa.com/