O, wonder! How many goodly creatures are there here!

O, wonder! How many goodly creatures are there here!

A review of Kate Story’s This Insubstantial Pageant (ChiZine Publications, 2017)

By Derek Newman-Stille

A fan of both Shakespeare and science fiction, Kate Story remaps the Bard’s play The Tempest onto the stars, exploring the otherworldly potential of the tale by placing it on another planet in a distant future. Frequently, Shakespearian adaptations situate the Bard’s tales in the past or in a slightly altered present, but Story imagines the potential for Shakespeare’s works to take to the stars, exploring the adaptability of his plays and their ability to speak to a fundamental human nature.

The Tempest is a tale set on an island and the stars represent a powerful space for imagining isolation and insularity. This Insubstantial Pageant is able to examine a fundamentally alien environment by setting the tale on a distant planet and therefore captures the sense of alienness that Shakespeare’s island narrative was able to do – exploring a space where there are different customs, different bodies, and experiences that challenge human centrality. Kate Story’s planet is one that is primarily filled with plant life and occupied by a group of sentient plants.

This Insubstantial Pageant reimagines the themes of Shakespeare’s play to explore modern issues that are linked to notions of futurity, shifting family and political alliances to corporate ones, exploring a world of corporate power. Instead of magic as the Pandora’s box that Prospero opens, Prosperina opens the doors of genetic experimentation, altering genomes and biologically changing the inhabitants of this distant planet so that they can interact with humanity. Rather than monsters being created through an otherworldly magic, in This Insubstantial Pageant, monsters are created through contamination by human genetic material, revealing that (unlike in Shakespeare’s story) it is not the Other that we should fear… but, rather, the human. We are the ones that contaminate. She expands on the alien quality of Caliban by transforming him into an actual alien Kaleeban… but his aggression, his ‘savageness’ is not through his lack of Western cultural influences as in Shakespeare’s tale, but rather it is because of his human elements, because he has been made to be more like us.

Kate Story disrupts some of the colonial qualities of Shakespeare’s tale by not creating a meeting of civilization and barbarity, but instead noting that humans carry both with them and observing the damage that our colonization can do. It is Prosperina’s genetic altering of the planet she occupies, an act done to reshape a world to fit her needs, that is ultimately her downfall.

To discover more about the work of Kate Story, visit http://www.katestory.com

To discover more about This Insubstantial Pageant, visit ChiZine Publications’ website at https://chizinepub.com/this-insubstantial-pageant/

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Adrift

A review of A.M. Dellamonica’s Child of a Hidden Sea (TOR, 2014)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Home is a complicated, multi-faceted, problematic notion, and A.M. Dellamonica captures this complexity in Child of a Hidden Sea. She begins her novel seemingly mid narrative, with her protagonist floating in the sea, facilitating the sense of dislocation for the reader that would shape Sophie’s experience of her new/old world. The reader is swept up by a whirlwind of prose and submerged in an unfamiliar realm, just as Sophie, in her quest to find her birth family, has been placed in a confusing muddle of conflicting stories, feelings of rejection, and torn obligations.

Sophie finds herself in a different world, one that is largely made up of islands located distantly from one another, and yet there is something familiar about this place. The stars are the same as on Earth, but the cultures and languages are entirely different… and there are species of animals that she as a scholar has never seen before on our Earth.

Sophie, motivated by a desire to discover, a desire to understand the unusual or unfamiliar is placed in a scholar’s dream – an entire world that is new and exciting… and yet her curiosity isolates her here. She is viewed with suspicion when she asks questions, interrogating things that those around her treat as taken-for-granted truths. This is a world of magic, which differs greatly from the comfortable world of home, governed by rules that she understands – physics, mechanical properties, and simple rules of causation. She treats this whole world as an object of inquiry. Her curiosity is seen as a threat and it only furthers her persistent feeling of rejection which has shaped her life but gained sharper focus when she finally met her birth mother, who rejected her and reacted with horror at her return.

She is filled with wonder at Stormwrack, a world which she discovers she has familial connections to. She alternates from feelings of belonging, finally finding a place of “home” and discomfort, particularly when she discovers a religious cult whose approach to the world is homophobic and sexist. When she brings her adopted brother Bram with her to Stormwrack, he encounters homophobic violence at the hands of this religious group as part of their general attempt to annex an entire island that is based on polyamorous notions of diverse sexual and love relationships.

Dellamonica explores the isolating power of homophobia and its ability to displace LGBTQ populations in her general narrative of displacement. Child of a Hidden Sea is powerful as a narrative because it embodies both curiosity and the desire to find a sense of home and place to belong as well as its ability to point out that displacement is still a persistant feature in our world, one that is further sharpened by economic inequalities, sexism, homophobia, and general power structures that serve to elevate certain groups of people over others.

You can discover more about the work of A.M. Dellamonica at http://alyxdellamonica.com/ .

To read more about Child of the Hidden Sea visit http://www.tor.com/stories/2014/05/child-of-a-hidden-sea-am-dellamonica-excerpt