Quote – Shrinking Envelope of Normal

“Each of us has felt alone, mechanized and constricted by – or forcibly expelled from – the shrinking envelope of normal, the hegemony of real.”

-Greg Bechtel – “Junk Mail” in Boundary Problems (Freehand Books, 2014)

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Speculating Canada on Trent Radio Episode 3: An Interview with Greg Bechtel

As part of the Ontario leg of his tour for the collection Boundary Problems (Freehand Books), Edmonton author Greg Bechtel was able to swing by the Trent Radio studio to discuss his own work and some overall trends in Canadian Speculative Fiction.

In our interview we postulate that reality is a set of social conventions, a creation and that therefore speculative fiction is partaking in an overall realm of fictive subjects. We discuss the way that good realist fiction, like good SF, should complicate notions of reality and estrange us from taken for granted assumptions about “the way things are”.

Bechtel’s work blends and mixes the speculative and the realist in his collection Boundary Problems and this contributes to his overall sense that reality is a blend of experience and fiction.

Greg Bechtel brings attention to the short story as a focus of interest, not as a stepping stone to the novel. He discusses the potential of the short story as a place for experimentation since readers are more willing to take short ventures into experimental media.

Bechtel is interested in stories and letting stories tell themselves. He reminds listeners that the world and the self are both collections of stories. We discuss memories as stories –  flexible, changeable, and suspect. In our overall discussion of memory as it appears in his stories, Bechtel brings attention to the notion of trauma and the idea that trauma is a place where stories can be pulled into a black hole, a place from which nothing escapes. But, telling these stories of trauma, sharing them,  means that they are no longer black holes because the story escapes and proves that things can escape.

In our conversation, Greg Bechtel directly faces a challenge many authors who are also academics have – analyzing his own work.

Check out our radio interview by clicking on the link below.

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.

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/.

Sexy Shiftings and Stirrings

A review of Greg Bechtel’s “The Smut Story (III)” in Boundary Problems (Freehand Books, 2014)

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

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

By Derek Newman-Stille

We are made up of stories. We are created from sex. In “The Smut Story (III)” Greg Bechtel interweaves the sexual with notions of the construction of self through narrative. After an erotica reading series at a bookstore on Mother’s Day, the media is driven wild with interest in a situation that seems to defy explanation. It has all of the earmarks of a good media story – sex, scandal, confusion, and hype from right wing pundits…. the only problem is that none of the narratives about the events from this particular night align.

Tales of the night are slippery (and not just with lube). Each participant describes a person named T. Boop differently – man, woman, trans, androgynous… but all agree that T. Boop is the most beautiful person they have ever seen. His/Her/Their appearance shifts depending on the teller, and the story T. Boop tells changes with the re-telling.  The story told is intensely sexual, and incredibly personal to the listener. Starting in the second person, each reader hears a story that speaks directly to them, evoking their deepest sexual fantasies… even ones they don’t care to admit to themselves or others. The stories and T. Boop’s appearance shift with the sexual preferences of the listener, slide with the performance of erotica.

This narrative and identity slippage points to the power of stories to shift in the act of perception, to become more than a single narrative, a unitary utterance.

Bechtel illustrates the power of the re-telling of fantasies to draw the listener in, constitute them, but also to challenge them, particularly those who fear the revelation of their sexual fantasies, the desires that they hide from themselves and others.

Character Peter Smith launches a media campaign against the events of that Mother’s Day and the sexual excesses he believes occurred (because he likely participated in them). His retreat into hate doctrine and intolerance comes from his insecurity about the slippage that occurs when he confronts something about his own psycho-sexual identity.

Bechtel draws gender categories into his work, using the body of T. Boop to illustrate the permeability of sexual identities, the ability for narrative and individuality to challenge traditional assumptions about gender binaries, and the perception that sexualities are fixed and unchanging. T. Boop evokes the power of a shifting voice, literally because each audience member hears a different tone, and socially because each telling of a singular story is different, shifting with the diverse perceptions, the different ears, of the audience. Narratives shift because each sexual telling is both intensely personal and private, but also collective and public since sexuality is something that is socially created and shaped by social mores. This slippery story is one that invites the reader to play with notions of gendered identities, question the social messages that have been projected upon our society, and challenge any identity of fixity.

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

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