Why should we put aside our childish things? They were our first teachers 

A review of Playground of Lost Toys edited by Ursula Pflug and Colleen Anderson (Exile, 2015)
By Derek Newman-Stille

  

Playground of Lost Toys leads us up those creaking attic stairs to a toy trunk of abandoned memories, lost experiences, and secrets shared in a language we only knew how to speak when we were children. It is an anthology about re-visitings, reimaginings, and explorations into those forgotten worlds that we created so easily when we were young. 

The authors in this collection play with our senses, but, most significantly, with our sense of nostalgia, reminding us of the things we set aside to call ourselves adults and that these objects, these playthings, still have power. Play is the best way to learn and the toys that we have abandoned were some of our first teachers, mentors on the secret pathways to imagination.

Playground of Lost Toys uses these early muses, our toys, to inspire new stories, examine new ideas, and question ideas of memory, play, and identity.

To discover more about Playground of Lost Toys, visit Exile’s website at http://exileeditions.com/singleorders2015/plt.html

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It Doesn’t Have to be ‘The Way it is’

One of the phrases that frustrates me most is “it is what it is”. As a speculative fiction scholar and fan, when I hear these words, I hear the closing down of opportunities and the reifying of the status quo. “It is what it is” tells me that people are frustrated with the existing state of things, but are unwilling or feel unable to make changes. SF is the literature of change, a literature of new potentials and possibilities. That is not to say that it reguarly challenges the way things are because most SF doesn’t imagine new possibilities but only further entrenches existing ideas and the current structures of power, BUT it has the POTENTIAL to imagine changes, to think of new ways of understanding the world and new possibilities that challenge the world as it is. 

Today I listened to a talk by Alyx Dellamonica about environmentalism and SF in which she reminded listeners that one of the most dangerous things we can do is say “there’s nothing we can do”. She pointed out that people will often close down possibilities for imagining new ways of being in the world because we convince ourselves that substantive change is impossible and then we close down our own faculties for thinking of new ideas and new solutions to existing structures. 

I think this illustrates some of the issues I have long had about phrases like “it is what it is”. These phrases serve to support the way things currently are, serve to further entrench them. We tell ourselves that it is impossible to imagine new ideas and to think of fresh ways of understanding the world and so we support the status quo, we don’t challenge the existing authority structures that are unwelcome, unhealthy, and unsafe for so many people. 

I have the same reaction to “what can you do?”, which, despite starting with “what”, a question, has never been about asking a question, but rather providing a nihilistic rhetoric, a closing down of questioning and imagining new possibilities. I would ask us to take that question seriously, to reimagine it as an actual question. When asked “what can you do?” that we operate in the realm of the imaginative, the realm of potentials and we work on thinking about new ways of existing with and within our world. SF has this potential, but that doesn’t mean that this is exclusively the perview of SF authors. As a public, we too can SPECULATE. We can interrogate existing systems and ask what they exist for, whether new and better ideas can rise out of them, how we can substantively change, what posibilities exist, and what we can imagine our way out of and, perahps more importantly, what we can imagine ourselves into.

I am not saying that we should all walk around with utopic visions in our minds, particularly since, for many of us from disempowered groups, we so often have our utopic visions shattered, but that we keep pushing at the fringes of our society to advocate for positive changes. There is still a place for the apocalyptic in our imagination since it often allows us to articulate the way we see our worlds shaped for something other than us, a world that is fundamentally hostile to us (particularly if we are from disenfranchised groups), but it is important to remember that every apocalypse is about change, about a world in flux, and THAT has imaginative potential. Apocalypses are about recognizing that the world is no longer able to support an existing way of being and they call on us to imagine a new possibility, a new method of understanding a changing and changeable world. 
SF can be a way of critiquing the world as well as a way of imagining a new world, new possibilities, and a change to look at our own world from askance to see the things that we ignore, push aside, choose not to contemplate so that we can exist in a world of “it is what it is”. How do we use SF to imagine a world that ISN’T “what it is”? 

Speculating Canada on Trent Radio Episode 56: A Discussion with James Kerr About the Potential of SF

In this episode of Speculating Canada on Trent Radio, my friend and colleague James Kerr and I discuss the complicated potentials of science fiction. We look at the ways that science fiction relates to current issues, can imagine new possibilities, can bring attention to social issues, and, perhaps most importantly, questions the status quo.

You can listen to this episode of Speculating Canada on Trent Radio at the link below.

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This audio file was originally broadcast on Trent Radio, and I would like to thank Trent Radio for their continued support. I would also like to thank Dwayne Collins for his consistent tech support and help with the intricacies of creating audio files.

Make sure to allow a few minutes for the file to buffer since it may take a moment before it begins to play.

 

 

Speculating Canada on Trent Radio Episode 51: An Interview with Ursula Pflug

This week on Speculating Canada on Trent Radio, Ursula Pflug and I talk about the different ways of thinking that Speculative Fiction provides, allowing for nuanced social explorations. We discuss the power of writing as a healing activity, an exploration of identity, and as providing a new way of looking at the world. Ursula Pflug and I co-teach a creative writing course at Trent University, so this was our opportunity to talk a little bit about that experience while also exploring Ursula’s works of fiction. We look at speculative fiction as a location of play – a space where we can play with new ideas and explore new aspects of ourself and our world.

We explore the power of SF to look at the world askance and find new ways of understanding ourselves and others, the ability of SF to challenge entrenched ideas that we take for granted as “normal”, and a space to experi

You can listen to this episode of Speculating Canada on Trent Radio at the link below.

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This audio file was originally broadcast on Trent Radio, and I would like to thank Trent Radio for their continued support. I would also like to thank Dwayne Collins for his consistent tech support and help with the intricacies of creating audio files.

Make sure to allow a few minutes for the file to buffer since it may take a moment before it begins to play.

You can discover more about Ursula Pflug’s work at http://www.ursulapflug.ca/

To explore some of the writing activities Ursula and I discussed in this interview, please visit http://trentspeculativefiction.wordpress.com/

To discover more about the Trent Continuing Education programme, visit http://www.trentu.ca/continuingeducation/

Witching Perceptions

A Review of Helen Marshall’s “Secondhand Magic” in “Gifts for the One Who Comes After” (ChiZine Publications, 2014)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Cover Art for Gifts For the One Who Comes After courtesy of ChiZine Publications

Cover Art for Gifts For the One Who Comes After courtesy of ChiZine Publications

Childhood and the desire for magic are something that we have constructed as intertwined in our Disneyfied society, seeing magic as a manifestation of imagination which we relegate almost exclusively to the realm of children and a few eccentric artists. Yet, Marshall illustrates her ability to play with her reader’s perceptions in “Secondhand Magic”, a tale at first illustrating the vulnerability of youth and the threat of elderly single women… the traditional expected folkloric tale. Sayer, a child with a stutter who just wanted to perform magic steals a hat from an older neighbour’s snowman, and when she comes looking for him, she pulls the hat over him, consuming him and leaving the community in mourning. The tale constructs for us an easy view of vulnerability and exploitation, creating youth as a categorical innocence, a figure to be protected. Fortunately, Marshall shifts this expectation.

The typical caricature of the witch in this narrative is uncontrollably drawn to take the actions to remove Sayer from the world, yet the boy resists any of her attempts to return him. His desire for magic creates a predatory, vampiric quality in the boy, viewing witches as sustenance for his quest for otherworldly power. Marshall inverts the expected fairy tale narrative of youthful innocence threatened by the presence of independent femininity and instead reveals the threat of a child who imagines the possibility of their own power and is willing to feed on powerful women to sustain his perception that he is entitled to power and ability without those being tempered by wisdom and the slow acquisition of skills.

To read more about Helen Marshall’s work, visit her website at http://helen-marshall.com/

To find out more about Gifts for the One Who Comes After, visit ChiZine Publications’ website at http://chizinepub.com/books/gifts-for-the-one-who-comes-after

Speculating Canada on Trent Radio Episode 15: An Author Reading With Kate Story and Suzanne Church

Magic Dwelling on the Edges: An Author Reading by Kate Story and Suzanne Church
Hosted by Derek Newman-Stille

Tune in to “Magic Dwelling on the Edges: An Author Reading by Kate Story and Suzanne Church” broadcast on Trent Radio and preserved here as an audio file.

Edges are interesting places. They define boundaries and barriers. They occupy the fringes, those unventured places that stretch our ideas of the familiar. They are places of adventure, mystery, and secrets to be discovered… but they are also places of abjection, rejection, places that we ignore and pretend don’t exist.

Fascinating things happen at those tucked away little corners, those shadowy hidden places.

Kate Story and Suzanne Church write from and about those places, people, and ideas on the edge. They cast searchlights into the murky areas that we have made murky because we want the comfort of being away from the edge, at the centre of things. They seek what we deny. Perhaps this is why their fiction often encompasses the queer, the fringe, the abject, the marginalised, the ignored.

Their characters are richly complex, their genres difficult to attach a singular ontology to, and their settings beyond, within, above, other than, beneath, adjacent to, and out of this world. And yet, they speak to this world, offer insights, ask questions of it, and challenge it.

This is edgy fiction, powerful in its ability to break down boundaries and glimpse something beyond the mainstream, something that challenges our preconceptions, our entrenched ideas about the world, and maybe even our comforts.

Edges are interesting places, places on the boundaries of the world where things can be hidden or revealed. So, let’s set aside the normal, disrupt the normative, question what we believe is true, and let ourselves touch the edge.

From Shakespeare’s The Tempest re-written into space and the cosmos to a bestiary about Unicorns to addictive music, to love between a human and a storm deity, to a closet filled with amber tears, this reading bridges the genre boundaries between science fiction, fantasy, and horror… and between hilarity and sorrow. Click below to listen to Kate Story and Suzanne Church share stories from the edges of imagination.

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. I would also like to thank Dwayne Collins for his consistent tech support and help with the intricacies of creating audio files.

Make sure to allow a few minutes for the file to buffer since it may take a moment before it begins to play.

Poster from the Author reading "Magic Dwelling on the Edges: An Author Reading by Kate Story and Suzanne Church"

Poster from the Author reading “Magic Dwelling on the Edges: An Author Reading by Kate Story and Suzanne Church”

Instead of Let’s Pretend, Let’s Become

A review of Claire Humphrey’s “Nightfall in the Scent Garden” in Imaginarium 2013: The Best Canadian Speculative Writing (ChiZine Publications, 2013)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Cover image of Imaginarium 2013 courtesy of ChiZine Publications

Cover image of Imaginarium 2013 courtesy of ChiZine Publications. Cover art by GMB Chomichuk

Every day children create worlds, dream up and invent universes separate and different from our own… but what happens when those worlds are invested with so much power that they become real? Claire Humphrey’s “Nightfall in the Scent Garden” is a love note, and a journal of crushing pain from Faustine Fiamma to her one time love Rosa Mundi.

The girls would tell stories together, creating new worlds through their words, giving each other names of power and creating new identities in their new worlds. When Rosa Mundi creates a mother for herself, a wise-woman, the Queen of Air, as a replacement for her real mother who was drunk and neglectful. But, sometimes the fantasy doesn’t match the desire… it isn’t always an escape.  Sometimes our fantasies can be as binding as our realities. The Queen of Air is just as unpleasant as Rosa’s real mother, and she finds herself losing her life to the draining power of the Queen. But, Faustine, like a modern Faust, makes a deal for her love, and Rosa drifts away as her memory of the fantasy world and the significance of Faustine’s sacrifice drains away. With her life restored, but the fantasy world removed, Rosa loses her sense of wonder and exploration and settles into a life of monotonous normalcy. She stops telling stories.

Claire Humphrey reminds us that fantasies can be dangerous, they come with a cost, but life is richer for having them.

To find out more about Imaginarium 2013, visit ChiZine publications’ website at http://chizinepub.com/books/imaginarium/imaginarium_2013.php . You can find out more about Claire Humphrey at her website at http://www.clairehumphrey.ca/