Poor Monster

Check out my review of a Frankenstein story by Charles de Lint, set in his created city Newford. “Pity The Monsters” is a story that is as much about poverty, institutionalization, and family violence as it is about monsters.

We Shall Be Monsters

Poor Monster

A review of Charles de Lint’s “Pity The Monsters” in The Ultimate Frankenstein (Simon & Schuster Inc., 1991)

By Derek Newman-Stille

I was surprised to see that Charles de Lint set his Frankenstein tale Pity The Monsters in the city he invented – Newford – a city that he generally sets tales of fairies and fantasy in, but in doing so, he illustrated the fantasy quality of Frankenstein tales, and he stuck to areas that he has often evoked in his Newford-centred stories. De Lint used a Frankenstein tale to explore ideas of poverty and homelessness, setting his tale in the impoverished part of Newford generally called The Tombs, an area of abandoned buildings that house squatters of the human and supernatural variety. De Lint explores the interweaving of normal city life with the uncanny, as he generally does in his Newford tales, having characters pulled out of…

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UNsettling Homelife

A review of They Have to Take You In edited by Ursula Pflug (Hidden Brook Press, 2014).

By Derek Newman-Stille

Home is a complicated concept, but one that we often pretend is easy. We project “home” as a place of belonging, of comfort, of ownership, and an extended form of selfhood, and we connect ideas to home like family, security, safety…. But these concepts are always open to challenge, to question, particularly by those whose home lives don’t match the assumed standard. Ursula Pflug’s edited collection They Have to Take You In blends the speculative and realist literature that borders on auto-ethnographic in cases to explore this multiplicity of “homes” and to challenge the safe, secure image of “home” that society prefers to construct to the exclusion of other options. 

As much as They Have to Take You In is about home, it is more about exile: the experience of being Othered, of not being able to find that place of comfort and security that is promised through the notion of “home”. The authors in this collection remind readers of the unsettling power of home, its ability to make people feel excluded because it focuses so strongly on the promise of belonging, and that sense of belonging only works for people in positions of privilege. The characters in these stories are Othered from a sense of home through poverty, homelessness, alcoholism, dementia, the need to escape from abusive homes, as well as a sense of wanderlust. The authors explore the possibility that sometimes you have to leave the place where you have settled in order to find home… and sometimes you can’t ever find home, can’t discover a place of belonging. The multiplicity of these narratives provides a space for exploring  home as a place of security… and simultaneously suggests that, for some, ESCAPE from home is a place of safety.

Connected to home is the notion of family, an idea that has been shaped by historical circumstances (industrial systems, labour, political and religious ideologies), but that has pretended to be natural and enduring. They Have to Take You In complicates family as a natural category. In addition to showing assumptions about traditional family structures, these stories complicate these structures, invite speculation and open them up to question the ways in which “family” as a category can be exclusionary, delimiting possibilities for other interactions. 

Many of the endings in these stories are open, uncertain things because the reality of home life is that nothing ever really ends and everything is always open to change and reassessment. Homes are places that are always complicated and always haunted by the potential failing of the home as a place of belonging, security, and safety. Deep down, we, as readers, know that while we feel safe in our homes, there are those who are homeless, those whose homelife is marked by domestic violence and who need to escape, those whose housing is precarious because of poverty, and so all houses are haunted places… haunted by the myths of belonging, security, and safety that are not as ubiquitous as they pretend to be. 

To discover more about They Have to Take You In, visit Hidden Brook Press at http://www.HiddenBrookPress.com

To discover more about the work of Ursula Pflug, visit her website at http://ursulapflug.ca 

Feeding the Homeless

A review of Trevor Shikaze’s “The Harbour Bears” in Lackington’s issue 4 ( http://lackingtons.com/2014/10/28/the-harbour-bears-by-trevor-shikaze/ )
By Derek Newman-Stille
Homeless people are treated as human refuse, ignored when possible, and when not possible, treated as a social problem that requires police intervention and forced removal. Homeless people evoke a sense of horror partially because they remind society that the price for our own economic success is the exploitation of others. Trevor Shikaze’s “The Harbour Bears” magnifies this exploration of the dislike of the homeless and the disconnect that exists between seeing the homeless as a problem TO society rather than a problem CREATED BY society.
The narrator refers to individual homeless people as “a homeless”, making their identity solely about their living situation and de-humanizing them, almost using “homeless” as a species indicator. When homeless people turn up ripped to pieces, no one is moved or upset by this and the narrator’s first concern is about whether this will jeopardize tourism, placing the economic before the human.
The narrator, Luke, lives in a comfortable economic situation without a job that he is aware of and ignorant of where his pay check comes from. He is disconnected from the economy and unaware of how it relates to the homeless population and makes these populations vulnerable and under threat. He is the epitome of the modern capitalist subject, able to be totally unaware of the impact of his actions as long as he is perpetually entertained. In fact, when he starts to ponder where his money comes from, he quickly tells himself that “it is better not to ask”, mirroring the wider issue in our society of the dissociation from the labour process and our population not wanting to really look into how money does harm in the process of coming to us. He is fundamentally disconnected from suffering, able to distance himself by viewing the homeless as almost a different order of being.
But, things become complicated when Luke stops medicating himself at night and realizes that the homeless population may be literal prey for a government that wants to get rid of them in the most expedient way possible. Luke is forced to see the direct impact of the system on the population it feeds on.
To read this story online, visit Lackington’s at http://lackingtons.com/2014/10/28/the-harbour-bears-by-trevor-shikaze/

Sharing Darkness

A review of Marie Bilodeau’s Destiny’s Blood (Dragon Moon Press, 2010)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Cover for Marie Bilodeau's Destiny's Blood courtesy of http://mariebilodeau.blogspot.ca/p/destinys-blood.html

Cover for Marie Bilodeau’s Destiny’s Blood courtesy of http://mariebilodeau.blogspot.ca/p/destinys-blood.html

The motivation to find home, to create a sense of belonging shapes much of our experiences. We are tied to ideas of family, place, and community. Marie Bilodeau’s Destiny’s Blood is an exploration of home from the perspective of loss, need, warring desires, and conflict. Even when venturing through the dark depths of space… we still keep getting called home, returning to a place of memories and we are always searching for a selfhood that is attached to the notion of connection.

Layela and her twin sister Yoma have been on the streets since youth, surviving through theft and constant movement to avoid any legal troubles, but after Layela was assaulted by a Kilita who ripped into her thoughts to see her visions, Layela’s life has been shaped by trauma. Seeing the future in her visions, she is nonetheless constantly mentally returning to the past, to that moment of pain and horror that has shaped her. Seeking to create a future for herself that is calm, that contrasts with the horrors she sees in her visions at night, she decides to create a flower shop, to settle down amid the relaxing scent of vegetation and create a sense of belonging, a place to be home.

But the future persists and Layela is ripped again from the calm she attempts to forge around her pained heart when her sister disappears, she is arrested without warrant, and the police destroy the home she tried to create for herself. She is uprooted, pulled from the planet that she hoped to turn into her home and is once again tossed into the abyss of space and a future that is not as uncertain as it should be.

Destiny’s Blood asks whether home can be a place one has no memory of, whether a distant star can call to one’s blood and stir up a restlessness that can’t find a home no matter how much one tries to create one. Layela is being called by the star around which she was born, a star that is linked to myth… and more personally to her own origins and sense of belonging and it is a star that feeds the universe with ether, a substance that several alien races depend on and that has dwindled in recent years, leaving many of them all but extinct.

Marie Bilodeau’s space fantasy maps out ideas of destiny and the longing for home that shapes people, propels them into the void, searching for something constantly and unable to settle. She charts the way that that need to belong lets people react with extremes: willing to sacrifice the present for a past that lingers, willing to kill to create home. Longing is like pain, like the emptiness of space waiting to be filled by a sense of the familiar, a place of belonging. Her characters are motivated by a persistent sense of loss, and yet they experience it in unique and nuanced ways, illustrating the complexity of loss: urged toward a desire to escape, to forget, to hold on to anything possible, to protect, or even to hate, to delve into the seemingly endless pit of vengeance that the persistence of loss can create.

Destiny’s Blood conveys a transient aesthetic, a constant searching that would be evoked by being tossed out across a cosmic void.

To find out more about Marie Bilodeau’s work, visit her website at http://mariebilodeau.blogspot.ca/ .

To discover more about Destiny’s Blood and other books in the destiny series, visit http://mariebilodeau.blogspot.ca/p/destinys-blood.html .

If you want to hear Marie Bilodeau do a short reading from the Destiny series, visit her author reading at https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2014/06/24/speculating-canada-on-trent-radio-episode-9-a-mythic-night-an-author-reading-by-marie-bilodeau-and-karen-dudley/

Marie Bilodeau and Derek Newman-Stille at Sadleir House for the author reading A Mythic Night

Marie Bilodeau and Derek Newman-Stille at Sadleir House for the author reading A Mythic Night

 

Draconic Intersections

A review of Charles de Lint’s Berlin (in Wings of Fire Ed. Jonathan Strahan and marianne S. Jablon, Night Shade Books, 2010)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Worlds collide in Charles de Lint’s Berlin. De Lint explores the borderland between the human world and Elfland, a place called Bordertown where things mix and mingle and where magic and reality overlap with one another. Things that are generally ignored in our world are noticed here, and not just magical things – in a world where poverty is generally ignored and the homeless are rendered voiceless, a place can be found for them in Bordertown.

Like any town, it has problems, and gossip and misunderstandings feature strongly in those problems. Berlin, a woman who is primarily interested in defending the poor and finding a place for people living in poverty, is trapped in a conspiracy of lies that implicate her as a trouble-maker in a city that likes to avoid notice and attention. She becomes a pawn in a war of reputation.

De Lint doesn’t avoid the tough topics. He approaches issues of homelessness, drug abuse, gang violence, and, like many of his works, he uses art forms as a means of dealing with and coping with issues. In Berlin, de Lint explores the lingering presence of past traumas and how these traumas can continue to haunt us and influence us in conscious and unconscious ways, but it is through artistic performance, through acting out scenes that reflect on the past that characters are able to explore their trauma, feel it, and cathartically deal with the lingering essence of the past, and, in particular, past pains.

The realms of Elfland and the ‘real world’ are not the only things that collide in Bordertown – it is also a place where memory meets the present, where gang violence meets people trying to survive, where pain meets healing, and where dragon meets human. Berlin, like her community, is hybridised – she is human and dragon, and aspects of both bleed over into the other, much as the past bleeds into the present and violence spills over into places of community. De Lint reminds readers that every space is hybridised, made up of a running together of multiple pasts, multiple people, and multiple ideologies.

You can explore more about Charles de Lint and his work at his website http://www.sfsite.com/charlesdelint/ .