Ageing Into The Future

A review of Lazarus Risen edited by Hayden Trenholm and Michael Rimar (Bundoran, 2016)

By Derek Newman-Stille

Hayden Trenholm and Michael Rimar’s collection of fiction Lazarus Risen constructs itself as a collection of stories about the biological singularity, exploring “dreams of immortality and eternal youth”, yet most of the stories in the collection bring attention to that spectre that always haunts ideas of youth – old age. This is an anthology that is well-timed and extremely important as ageing gets codified in political policies and ideologies that largely examine ageing as a social burden. These stories provide a challenge to easy ascriptions of ageing and interrogate assumptions about ‘old age’. They provide a foundation for a genre of Ageing Futurisms, which is a genre we desperately need as our societal views of old age continue to be narrow. Lazarus Risen explores the complexities of ageing and the potentials that exist within ageing bodies and identities. 

Most of the tales that we encounter, whether through speculative fictional lenses or through realist genres, tend to focus on youth, constructing 20-somethings as the harbingers of “relateable experiences”. Our social favouritism toward youth feeds our social obsession with staying young, holding all of the negative implications for those who don’t fit this social mould of youth. Ageing people tend to be constructed as, at best, inconveniences, and at worst, are erased because they are seen as being non-contributors. We create social ideas that the aged have been erased from our society by virtue of not contributing in the economic ways that we construct as normative, ignoring all of the ways that ageing people contribute to society and add to our social growth.

It is fascinating that so many speculative fiction texts erase ageing people from their narratives (or cast them in stereotypical roles such as the role of the mentor or the burden to the narrator) because age is something that is fundamentally connected to a major theme in speculative fiction – change… and age is powerfully connected to the idea of the future and the passage of time, which SF frequently interacts with.

We pretend in our society that “coming of age” happens only once – in the transition between childhood and adulthood, yet we are ALWAYS coming of age, always moving from one age category to the other and shifting and changing to accommodate those movements. Lazarus Risen provides a space for examining the way that we keep coming of age, that people keep shifting and changing over the course of their lifespan. 

Like any SF collection, Lazarus Risen deals with the social changes that come with technological changes, but the tales in this collection centre the human (or inhuman) experiences that come with these changes, exploring how “what it means to be human” is something that always has to run after our technological imagination, constantly redefining itself. It is the focus on the human experience that makes this collection a powerful one, and it is the focus on age that makes it one that is both timely and necessary. Lazarus Risen makes readers confront their insecurities about the spectre of ageing, makes us examine that biological clock that keeps ticking away, reminding us that change is inevitable and that change comes with constant new wonders, excitements, and, yes, challenges.

To read reviews of some of the short stories in this collection, visit:
https://speculatingcanada.ca/2017/03/19/a-plague-of-immortality/
https://speculatingcanada.ca/2017/03/16/mecha-care/
https://speculatingcanada.ca/2017/03/07/ageing-usefully/
https://speculatingcanada.ca/2017/03/02/a-wilde-ride-through-time/
https://speculatingcanada.ca/2017/02/27/split-apart-for-new-perspectives/

To find out more about Lazarus Risen, visit Bundoran Press’ page at http://www.bundoranpress.com/product/1/Lazarus-Risen

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Only Work is Perpetual

A review of Suzanne Church’s “Lost Flesh” in Lazarus Risen (Bundoran, 2016)
By Derek Newman-Stille

The right to die is a complicated issue that brings with it questions of whether people want to die because our society makes it impossible for a disabled person or an aged person to survive comfortably in our society. With the right to die, people in the disabled community have asked “Is it really a right to die when our society provides no ability for disabled people to live within it?”. Suzanne Church takes on the complicated issue of the right to die in “Lost Flesh”, a tale about immortality and the desire by immortal characters to die once their lives become monotonous and unstimulating.

Church brings up an issue that people often ignore in tales of immortality: what does it mean to be immortal in a capitalist society. She explores the idea that every extension of life brings with it a contract for prolonged work, highlighting the issues of ageing in a capitalist society. As characters age endlessly, the only constant in their lives is work and the monotony that comes with perpetual work means that life quickly loses its joie, its vigour, its value. Characters lose their sense of wonder and life begins to feel like an eternity of repetition. 

“Lost Flesh” is a story that explores the horrors of immortality within a capitalist system, where unageing bodies become only vessels of labour, machines of production. Church asks what the right to die means in a society where living means exploitation. 
To discover more about the work of Suzanne Church, visit her website at http://suzannechurch.com/wordpress/
To find out more about Lazarus Risen, visit Bundoran’s website at http://www.bundoranpress.com/product/1/Lazarus-Risen 

A Plague of Immortality

A review of Matt Moore’s “Innocence Prolonged, and Overcome” in Lazarus Risen (Bundoran, 2016)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Contagion narratives have been increasingly popular in our fiction, exploring the human fear of the microorganism, a tiny predator that can consume us without being seen. However, what happens when a virus gives us what we think we want? We are also a society who fears ageing, so what if a virus can end ageing? 

In Matt Moore’s “Innocence Prolonged, and Overcome”, a contagion named the Grail Virus has spread,, killing the vast majority of people that come into contact with it, but granting immortality to a select few people. Because the virus is deadly to most people, this select group of immortals, frozen at the age of infection, have been cut off from the rest of society, quarantined in a small town. 

Moore explores the image that is often projected onto small towns – a timeless space where nothing changes – by introducing a town that is literally frozen in time, unageing… and yet this town is not one that is quant or traditional – this is a town that has systemic violence and a space where people fight against the isolation and agelessness that is often viewed by urban people as the idealized space of the small town. 

Moore’s tale examines the discomfort that comes with agelessness, and the reminder that small towns are places of memory where people can carry on feuds for generations… and in this town, where no one ages, no one needs to rely on stories about slights of family members – these townsfolk remember every slight that has happened to them because they have lived through it all. 

Moore uses the subject of immortality to explore ideas of change and to examine whether people are actually capable of change, interrogating that idea that an “old dog can’t learn new tricks” by giving them an eternity to try to learn new tricks. Moore invites the question of whether people are stuck unchanging because society casts them in that role, always assuming that they are the same person who everyone remembers them being. He asks whether it is possible for people to change if no one will let them and everyone refuses to remember them any other way.

To discover more about Matt Moore’s work, visit https://mattmoorewrites.com/

To find out more about Lazarus Risen, visit Bundoran Press at http://www.bundoranpress.com/product/1/Lazarus-Risen 

A Wilde Ride Through Time

A Review of Sean McMullen’s “The Life and Soul of the Party” in Lazarus Risen (Bundoran Press, 2016)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Sean McMullen’s steampunk tale “The Life and Soul of the Party” imagines a world where the dead can be brought back to life through the use of atomata, letting their spirits inhabit the bodies of machines. McMullen plays with that classic philosophical question – who deserves immortality. 
“The Life and Soul of the Party” focusses on two spirits brought back from the grave – Oscar Wilde and the Lady Avondale, two people whose lives were shaped by social censoring and gossip. These are two people whose lives have been challenged and changed by their peers ultimately are given the experience of separation from the human experience of death. 

McMullen explores why Wilde and Avondale would be chosen for immortality, examining questions of science and what it means to be human while also reflecting on the potential losses to humanity that occur with extreme age in a non-human body. 

To discover more about Lazarus Risen, visit Bundoran Press’ website at http://www.bundoranpress.com/product/1/Lazarus-Risen

Inevitability

Inevitability
A review of “Expiration Date” Edited by Nancy Kilpatrick (Edge, 2015).

By Derek Newman-Stille

  

Nancy Kilpatrick’s “Expiration Date” is a collection of stories that investigate one of our closest companions, an ever-present voyager on our path through life: Death. From Vampires to Banshee to the Grim Reaper him/herself, “Expiration Date” is an exploration of that inevitable force that shapes mortal life. The tales in this collection draw on folklore and modern speculations about death to create a complex tapestry of jagged life-threads, strings of tales cut off by the Morae (the Fates) and strung together into a death shroud of imagination and speculation. 
These aren’t just morbid tales about the ends of lives, but speculations about this inevitable force that all of us have to eventually face. These are thought-provoking imaginings about issues of mortality, immortality, the fear of the unknown, grief, and fate. These tales explore the power of loss when someone dies, but they also explore the loss that immortality entails, the accumulation of losses over the course of years that make up the lives of the eternal. 
“Expiration Date” is an interview with Death, an interrogation of those mysteries, and, like Death itself, these stories open up more questions than they answer. This is speculative fiction at its most powerful, speculating the greatest mystery and the final frontier. 
To discover more about Expiration Date, visit Edge’s website at http://edgewebsite.com/books/expirationdate/expirationdate-catalog.html