Who Are You? 

A review of Jerome Stueart’s The Angels of Our Better Beasts (ChiZine, 2016)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Jerome Stueart’s The Angels of Our Better Beasts is a struggle between the multiple aspects of human identity. It’s cover evokes the Governor General award winning Marian Engle’s Bear, a tale about the encounter between human civilization and the wild, and Stueart’s collection is also one about the clashing of different definitions of what it means to be human, including a relationship between a woman and a bear. These are tales that question what it means to be human.

Stueart’s own struggles for self discovery are laced through these tales, rich with questions about religion, queer identity, the search for home, and the desire to find a place in a world that likes to ignore those it oppresses. These are tales about the quest for that ineffable thing that we call “home”, a place of belonging, comfort, and acceptance that is hard to find, and this search drives these stories out into the depths of space, into realms of fantasy, and into the dark depths at the root of the human heart. These are tales of wandering and wanting, questing tales that have uncertain endings, telling readers that stories shouldn’t have easy endings, but should be things open to interpretation, to speculation, and to wonder. 

These tales explore the slipperiness of identity, the fluidity of the human experience and the changes we human beings undergo regularly in our quest to find ourselves. Stueart tells us that our quest to find ourselves will never be complete because what we ARE is always changing, always slipping away and becoming something else. His tales are stories of complexity and uncertainty, things that define the human experience far more than an easy question of “who are you?”. 

Stueart weaves stories ABOUT stories and about art into his narratives because these are the best methods of asking deeper questions. He explores the power of the artistic to push the imagination and open up new questions. Populated with vampires, werewolves, gryphons, gods, and cryptozoological inquiry, these tales are ultimately about the nature of humanity and the way that we all contain little drips of monstrous ichor within us… and maybe those monstrous drops are kinder than our human nature.

To find out more about Jerome Stueart’s work, visit https://jeromestueart.com

To find out more about The Angels of Our Better Beasts and other ChiZine publications, visit http://chizinepub.com

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Godly Love Story

A review of Jerome Stueart’s “Brazos” in The Angels of Our Better Beasts (ChiZine, 2016).
By Derek Newman-Stille

Mythology is filled with love stories between a human being and a god. These stories are generally told from the perspective of the beloved of the god… and generally they don’t turn out well for the human being with mortals transformed into trees, driven mad, or abandoned. Jerome Stueart’s “Brazos” takes a different perspective, providing a meeting of fathers – the father of a god, and a farmer, who is the father of a young woman getting ready to go to college. This is a modern myth playing with ancient traditions, and those traditions are encoded in the way that the fathers speak to each other about the relationship between their children.

Stueart sets his story in a modern American setting, adding a new setting to an old myth and playing with the power of myth to speak to multiple audiences. His farmer is an American self-made man, not trusting anything he didn’t build himself, and this gives him an instant distrust of the easy success of a god. He recognizes the history of gods mistreating their mortal lovers and wants better for his daughter, asking why humans have to make all of the sacrifices for gods and questioning whether this will allow for a deeper relationship if the god gives nothing and the mortal gives everything.

Stueart brings attention to power dynamics in relationships, inviting a questioning of relationships and assumed sacrifices. He uses myth to bring attention to the way that traditions are mythical and need to change under new circumstances, needing to be as transformative as the gods of these myths and their mortal lovers.

To find out more about Jerome Stueart’s work, visit https://jeromestueart.com
To find out more about The Angels of Our Better Beasts and other ChiZine publications, visit http://chizinepub.com

Drawing Attention to Oppression

A review of Jerome Stueart’s “You Will Draw This Life Out to Its End” in The Angels of Our Better Beasts (ChiZine, 2016)
By Derek Newman-Stille

As much as Jerome Stueart’s “You Will Draw This Life Out to Its End” is a love story between an artist and a man involved in the mining union of a distant moon, it is a commentary on the power of art to bring attention to issues of oppression. Renault relies on his celebrity status as an artist to bring issues of oppression of miners to the attention of the solar system, pointing out that they rely on people skilled in mining for their water and air, but don’t guarantee the safety of miners. 

Through painting the lives of everyday people, Renault gains an understanding of the struggles that miners are expected to go through and the lack of support they have to survive in hostile conditions. He refuses to leave their mining colony because he realizes that his celebrity status means that certain protections are provided to the colony that wouldn’t be if he weren’t there. Renault engages in a form of Artivism – art-based activism – to advocate for safer conditions for the miners by first illustrating their everyday lived experience and letting the solar system see the conditions they live under, illustrating their humanity, and by making the miners art themselves, transforming their lives into powerful stories about human ingenuity and survival. 

Stueart brings attention to the role of art in sharing under-represented stories, making marginalized people’s lives noticeable in a world that likes to pretend that oppressions don’t exist, and the transformative power of art.

To find out more about Jerome Stueart’s work, visit https://jeromestueart.com

To find out more about The Angels of Our Better Beasts and other ChiZine publications, visit http://chizinepub.com

Poet Panic!!!

A review of Jerome Stueart’s “Why the Poets were Banned from the City” in The Angels of Our Better Beasts (ChiZine Publications, 2016)By Derek Newman-Stille

Literature has often been regarded as dangerous, perceived as a potential spark for revolution. It is one of the reasons why books have been banned by groups that sought to prevent access to information. 

Jerome Stueart’s “Why the Poets were Banned from the City” explores a society where a conservative group has outlawed literature and any exploration of the imaginative. This society only allows artists to exist for the production of advertisements, the creation of content that drives the economy. Literature unconnected to capitalism, that doesn’t immediately result in the sale of something else is perceived as threatening by this society because it evokes feelings in the audience without giving them a capitalist outlet for them to express their emotions. 

Stueart brings attention to the relationship between consumption and art in a capitalistic society, evoking the dangerous way that we tend to entwine art and product. But, he also brings attention to the way that literature is frequently associated with threat, the attempts by groups in power to silence literature that evokes emotional needs and the desire for change. 

In Stueart’s narrative, imaginative literature has been banned because it is believed to be threatening, causing people to become emotional and act out. Although imaginative art has been banned, a father discovers a fragment of a poem by Emily Dickinson in his daughter’s hands in the tub that she drowned herself in and begins a new vendetta against poets, perceiving them as creating dangerous literature that causes children to feel too much. This father and the society that empowered him to view literature as a threat is reminiscent of the Satanic Panic of the 1980s where conservative groups tried to suggest that creative games like Dungeons and Dragons were causing mayhem and danger amongst young adults. This rhetoric has frequently been trotted out to try to advocate for the banning of books, cancelling of television shows, and censoring of films, so it is still something that regularly surfaces, often accompanied by the rhetoric of “but what about the children”. The banning of creative works tends to come from a perception of children as blank slates waiting to be filled and forever at threat of being contaminated. Stueart’s narrative explores a society in which this rhetoric is pushed to the next level, where all of society is perceived to be at threat from creative works and the only people who are allowed to read them are artists, but only to fuel their imagination for writing advertisements. 

Stueart invites us to consider the ramifications of a society that perceives of art as threat, and reminds us that we are a thin page turn away from that society and should be vigilant of the banning of creative works. This society becomes a people without metaphors, a people who feel a need to act out in some way when experiencing emotion, and a people that have been detached from their history, their stories, their ways of understanding themselves and others.

To discover more about Angels of Our Better Beasts, visit http://chizinepub.com/the-angels-of-our-better-beasts/

To find out more about Jerome Stueart, visit https://jeromestueart.com

Pins and Needles

A review of Jerome Stueart’s “How Magnificent is the Universal Donor” in The Angels of Our Better Beasts (ChiZine Publications, 2016).
By Derek Newman-Stille

Ever since the AIDS crisis, we queer people have had a complex relationship to blood, so we are put in an interesting relationship with the fictional figure of the vampire, a figure who can alter what it penetrates, and who both feeds off of blood and often changes those whose blood it comes in contact with. Jerome Stueart’s How Magnificent is the Universal Donor explores the complexities of Queer relationships with blood without making his narrative an AIDS narrative directly. Instead, he creates a new blood-based pathogen called BBD, which spread through 40% of the population and needs to be treated through blood transfusions. 

Stueart explores the idea of medical control around a blood-based pathogen, illustrating that medical professionals and the World Health Organization are able to exert total control over the lives of those it views as medically threatening. But, disease is frequently a method of Othering certain people, casting them as infectious invaders into a normate body. Frequently diseases are traced back to other countries, particularly those with less political power on the global stage, and, in the case of AIDS, there is a narrative that pushes the disease onto the Queer population, and gay men in particular, casting gay men as an infectious population. At the time I am writing this, Canadian Blood Services still won’t allow gay men or anyone who has had sex with a gay man to donate blood (unless they have been celibate for at least 3 years). This targets a specific population and portrays them as inherently infectious. Although Stueart portrays the disease BBD as not connected to any specific population, his use of two gay male narrators brings the reader’s attention to this parallel, inviting us to question why these two men, in particular, are targeted by a medical system that has absolute control over them. Their own narratives are erased in this society in favour of the narratives put over them by doctors. 

“How Magnificent is the Universal Donor” invites critical questions about power and the relationship between medical power and those who are oppressed. Stueart asks us to question who is benefitting from medical practices and medical power and getting us to look at the way that medical practitioners frequently forget how much social and political power they have… and that their practice still shares the same biases as the rest of society. “How Magnificent is the Universal Donor” is a narrative about reclaiming our stories and using these stories to empower us.

To discover more about Angels of Our Better Beasts, visit http://chizinepub.com/the-angels-of-our-better-beasts/

To find out more about Jerome Stueart, visit https://jeromestueart.com

Speculating Canada on Trent Radio Episode 39: An Interview with Jerome Stueart about Tesseracts 18

On this episode of Speculating Canada on Trent Radio, I interview author and editor Jerome Stueart about the most recent book in the long-lived Tesseracts series Tesseracts Eighteen: Wrestling with Gods. Tesseracts Eighteen is focused on the theme of religion in Canadian speculative fiction and Jerome and I discuss the relationship between religion and SF, myth and storytelling and their ability to shape religious and science fictional worlds, invented religions, new explorations of existing religions, and generally the power of stories as pedagogy, as a teaching and learning medium.

We conducted our interview outside in Toronto, so please excuse the background wind and noise distortions.

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

To find out more about Tesseracts Eighteen, visit Edge’s website at http://www.edgewebsite.com/books/tess18/t18-catalog.html .

A Skeptic’s Guide to Science Fictional Religions

A review of Jerome Stueart and Liana Kerzner’s Tesseracts Eighteen: Wrestling with Gods (Edge, 2015)

By Derek Newman-Stille

I have to admit to a little bit of hesitancy when picking up Tesseracts Eighteen. While I have loved the Tesseracts series since I first discovered it and feel that Canadian Spec Fic owes a lot to this long-standing staple of Canadian SF, I was a bit hesitant about the theme. I had heard early on that Tesseracts Eighteen was going to be about the topic of religion, and my first concern was that authors may use it as a soapbox to push a conversion narrative on readers. I also worried that people might tokenize non-Christian religious systems because of the prevalence of Christian beliefs in Western society and the lack of understanding of other religions that this often creates. Fantasy, as a genre, is particularly prone to this sort of unintentional religious discrimination since it often portrays “bad cultures” and “villains” as having Islamic-like faiths, and I worried about the potential of this collection to become an assortment of cultural stereotypes.

BUT when the title of the collection was released “Wrestling with Gods”, some of my hesitancy dissipated. There was a potential here for looking at the wonder that happens as people try to understand their place in the world and their beliefs. So, I picked up a copy and began reading. Within the pages of this collection, I discovered not people trying to speak their believed TRUTHS, but rather people speaking about their QUESTIONS. This was a speculative volume after all, filled with a sense of wonder and a desire to push the boundaries of our understanding of ourselves and our place in the universe. This collection was more about humans and their obsessions, fears, desires, and discoveries than it was about the gods. These stories presented multiple paths for human exploration, each filled with signposts that were question marks inviting us as readers to reflect on our own position in the world and our thoughts about where we come from and where we are going.

Wrestling with the Gods is a collection that challenges rather than conforms. It asks readers whether at times the opposite of the expected norm may be the best path and invites readers to question what they are told is Truth. It illustrates that the idea of Truth itself is subjective, open to question and interrogation, and ultimately that there will always be a multiplicity of truths rather than a singular Truth. Through the power of stories, with all of their potential to embody multiple truths and interpretation, Tesseracts Eighteen invites us to recognize that the concept of Truth is infinitely more complicated than we can imagine and it is always multiple and contradictory, but that we should keep imagining and through imagination we might discover our own collection of truths.

Stueart and Kerzner collected stories that question hegemonic power and taken-for-granted assumptions, inviting readers to constantly ask questions and discover new ideas and perspectives. Within this collection are vampires questioning their faith (and fear of the cross), priests establishing shrines on Mars, manifestations of the natural world that challenge the idea of human ownership, questions about the connection between religion and mental health, explorations of the relationship between technology and belief systems, speculations about the connection between humanity and the animal world, and the exploration of the way that reading sacred or forbidden books can change us in fundamental ways. Tesseracts Eighteen is a collection about boundaries, and is interested in pushing those boundaries because within stories we discover a multiplicity of adventures, ideas, new philosophies, and new ways of viewing and understanding the world.

To discover more about Tesseracts Eighteen: Wrestling with Gods, visit EDGE’s website at http://www.edgewebsite.com/books/tess18/t18-catalog.html

To read reviews of some of the stories in this collection, check out the links below:

https://speculatingcanada.ca/2015/04/21/robo-religion/

https://speculatingcanada.ca/2015/05/08/cuttlefishy-myths/

https://speculatingcanada.ca/2015/05/10/beauty-myths-and-legends/

https://speculatingcanada.ca/2015/05/04/an-unnecessary-proving-ground/