Loa in Dreamland

Loa in Dreamland
A review of Nalo Hopkinson and Neil Gaiman’s House of Whispers Vol 1: The Power Divided (DC Vertigo, 2019) 

By Derek Newman-Stille

For those of you reading Speculating Canada over the past few years, you have probably noticed that I am a huge fan of Nalo Hopkinson’s work. I’m also a huge fan of Neil Gaiman and of comics, so I was extremely excited to find out that the two collaborated on the comic series “House of Whispers vol 1: The Power Divided”, set in the Sandman Universe and to see their voices mingle in an exploration of the potential of that imagined universe. 

Hopkinson and Gaiman have always demonstrated a continuing fascination with border crossing and the implications of the collision of the physical and spiritual world and “House of Whispers” happens at that point of contact when the spiritual realm of the Loa (Afro-Caribbean deities) is partially pulled into the world of dreams and the goddess Erzulie finds herself outside of her space of worship and cut off from the world she knows and her ability to help her worshippers.

At the same time, a spiritual virus is released amongst the human population, making the infected feel as though they are dead, yet alive. Medical practitioners can’t see anything wrong with the infected people, but they are left without feeling or joy or connection to the physical world. Their spirits are sent to the world of dreams and they are left empty, wandering meaninglessly across the world. This virus is spread by words, through a phrase, and this instantly reminds me of the Canadian film Pontypool where a zombie virus is coded in language. It makes me wonder if there is a trend occurring where people are both recognizing the power of language and also questioning what language can do. Hopkinson has always demonstrated a fascination with the power of language in her novels and short fiction, linking words to magic, exploring the way that language shapes us, and playing with the sounds and taste of language. 

The description of the living death that Hopkinson describes not only evokes the idea of the zombie, but also evokes depression. Most of our society looks at depression as a form of sadness, but for those of us who experience clinical depression, we often feel a sense of emptiness, a disconnect, and a hollowness that strongly differentiates depression from sadness. The feelings of the characters in House of Whispers evoked this sense of depression. This depiction is as powerful as it is painful to read. I could feel myself resonating with the sense of loss and pain that the characters were experiencing. Hopkinson’s creative energy wound itself throughout this powerful narrative, giving it life.

As always in her work, Hopkinson highlights diverse bodies and identities. The majority of her characters are BIPOC, which is a fantastic change from the normally excess of white characters in comics. Moreover, her narrative focuses on diverse body sizes and Erzulie, for example, is represented as fat, which is an exciting shift that allows for the recognition that fat is beautiful (especially since Erzulie is the Loa of love, desire, and beauty. Hopkinson also features disabled people and LGBTQ2IA relationships including lesbian couples and nonbinary characters. This is a comic that engages the multiplicity of human experience, and it is so much stronger for that reason. Her characters are highly developed, relatable, and carry so many waiting to be told stories in their every sentence. This is a rich comic that is filled with the potential of narratives yet to come. 

Like most comics, House of Whispers: The Power Divided is a collaborative work, both with other writers such as Gaiman and later with Dan Waters, but also with artist Dominike Stanton, whose artistic talent brings Hopkinson’s words to visual life and adds to the power of the story she tells, particularly by emphasizing bodily diversity and evoking the beauty of the human (and magical) form. Set partially in a dream world, this comic is a form of dreaming given physical form.

To read more about House of Whispers Vol !: The Power Divided, go to https://www.dccomics.com/comics/house-of-whispers-2018/house-of-whispers-1

To find out more about Nalo Hopkinson, go to https://nalohopkinson.com/index.html

Decolonized Space

Decolonized Space

A review of Drew Hayden Taylor’s “Lost in Space” in Take Us To Your Cheif (Douglas & McIntyre, 2016).

By Derek Newman-Stille

In “Lost in Space”, Drew Hayden Taylor explores the first Anishinabe man to travel into space. He is travelling as part of a mining operation set out amongst asteroids. Hayden Taylor uses the imagery of being Lost in Space to explore how an Anishinabe man negotiates his connection to Earth and to the four directions when he is in space, without a reference point. Although he knows exactly where he is in space, he ponders his relationship to his planet and to his people. He explores the sense of disconnection with home.

Hayden Taylor shapes these questions partially through a conversation between Mitchell and his grandfather. His grandfather invites critical questions about what space will mean for Mitchell: “But being Native in space… Now that’s a head-scratcher. Think about it. We sprang from Turtle Island. The earth and water are so tied into who we are. There’s an old saying, ‘the voice of the land is in our language'”. Mitchell seeks to find his own language and his own connection to his culture while away from home, having been denied his hand drum, which scientists said would put too much vibrational pressure on the hull, he needs to find new ways of expressing who he is and expressing his connection to family and home.

To discover more about Take Us To Your Chief, visit http://www.douglas-mcintyre.com/book/take-us-to-your-chief

To find out more about Drew Hayden Taylor, visit https://www.drewhaydentaylor.com

Performing Pontypool?

A review of Tony Burgess’ Pontypool radio drama script (Playwrights Canada Press, 2015).
By Derek Newman-Stille

I should start out by noting that the 2009 film Pontypool by Tony Burgess and Bruce McDonald is one of my favourite films, so I was extremely excited to hear from a colleague, Cat Ashton, that Tony Burgess had written a radio drama version of the story. Admittedly, I didn’t enjoy Tony Burgess’ novel Pontypool Changes Everything upon which both the film and the radio drama were based, but I was impressed by the radio drama and its potential for performance. I have directed and performed radio dramas in the past, and therefore took a look at the script both for its literary quality and its performability. 

The characters in this radio drama were rich and complex, with intentions that could be sketched out through their dialogue, but they also allowed a lot of room for actors to bring out the complexities of these characters and add their own voices and perspectives.

The setting for the play allows a lot of potential for it to be performed. Since all of it takes place in a radio station, and most of it occurs in the sound booth, a lot of the complexities of space and setting changes are unnecessary. 

I should mention that my first day on the air occurred after watching the 2009 Pontypool and it heightened my experience of being in a sound studio, watching the various dials change, my voice oscillating on the screen, and adjusting dials to the performance of sound. I couldn’t help but think of myself as inside of the film. Performing Pontypool on air could increase this potential, letting the radio drama performers feel the setting of the station influence their delivery of their lines. 

Pontypool is a radio drama about the power of language to turn people into zombies. It is an outbreak story, situated in the small Ontario town of Pontypool where certain words in the English language have become contaminated, and where these words are spreading, transforming people into zombies who seek out voices and infect the host. It is a play that is about the power of words and the power of the radio for spreading words like viruses The play makes the reader hyper aware of the way that they are speaking and understanding language, allowing the reader to feel the potential of being infected by the words they are seeing on the page (or, if it is performed, the words they are hearing). There is a sense of danger about reading the script, a feeling that one’s mind, one’s language is potentially dangerous.

It is a play that evokes the concern that even our inquisitive nature is a danger to us because the star of the play, shock jock radio host Grant Mazzy perceives it to be important to investigate and share information about the virus even after he realizes that speaking in any way would allow the virus to spread. He has to balance his need to deliver news… with the fact that the delivery system (him) is contaminated. 

This is an infectious play, one that needles its way into your brain and invites you to keep contemplating it, keep questioning it, even as you realize that the content of the play is telling you that investigating and contemplating can be infectious.

To dicover more about the Pontypool radio drama, visit http://www.playwrightscanada.com/pontypool.html .

Languages Across Generations

Languages Across GenerationsA review of Hiromi Goto’s Chorus of Mushrooms (NeWest Press, 1994)

By Derek Newman-Stille


Chorus of Mushrooms is a beautifully written, poetic book that revels in the wonder and majesty of language while being fundamentally about silences. Hiromi Goto examines the multiplicity of silencings that occur in our world – the racialised, ageist, sexist structures that are created in our society to de-voice certain people. Goto examines the way that language shapes and creates us and the way that it can also be used to contain and control us. 
Chorus of Mushrooms is about an elderly woman who keeps talking while no one listens. She tries to assert her voice into a household that has forgotten how to speak Japanese, trying to teach while being fundamentally ignored. In order to conform, her daughter and son in law began speaking English in the home as much as possible, eventually losing those linguistic roots that tied the family together. When they also have a daughter, she wants to connect to her linguistic heritage but ends up discovering that while she didn’t officially learn Japanese, she and her grandmother speak an unspoken, inter-generational language that allows both to feel connected in a family environment that seems to isolate them. 
Goto expresses the importance of language as a vehicle for story-telling as well as a vehicle for announcing one’s presence. Despite the attempts to ignore the voices of the aged and the culturally marginalised, Obachan, the elderly woman, speaks back, announcing herself to the silence imposed around her. She reminds others of her presence even when they choose not to listen. She creates a world from words.
To discover more about Hiromi Goto, visit her website at http://www.hiromigoto.com 

Transitional Words

A review of Nalo Hopkinson’s Falling in Love With Hominids (Tachyon Publications, 2015)
By Derek Newman-StilleIMG_0213

Falling in Love with Hominids illustrates Nalo Hopkinson’s playfulness with language, her characteristic exploration of the way that language shapes social interactions and develops plot. Hopkinson illustrates her fascination with ideas of sound and the power of mis-hearings, exploring stories that came from her own mis-hearings of things and the point of speculation that occurs when one tries to determine what was actually said. In stories like The Easthound which came from a mis-hearing of “The Eastbound”, Hopkinson examines what an Easthound would be and how this notion can create a figure of terror. In “The Smile on the Face”, she examines the relationship between names and identities, creating a character named Gilla who discovers a resonance to the reptilian (coming from the association with her name) and a connection to mythic stories about other reptiles.

Hopkinson plays with characters who question the way they are written, examining figures (for example) from Shakespearian plays such as Caliban from The Tempest and allowing them a place to resist the texts that have been written about them and providing a space for them to push their own meanings through the text. In Shift, she explores the way that racialised assumptions have been cast onto Caliban and his desire to escape from the narrative that has shaped his life.

Hopkinson enters into shared-world creations and disrupts the idea of a very white, Euro-centric fairy world in the Bordertown series by creating figures who challenge this focus on the European magical world by creating characters who come from non-European mythologies. In “Ours Is The Prettiest”, she asserts the multi-ethnic nature of characters, playing with previous reader assumptions about character ethnicity and examining the intersection of ethnicities and cultural identities.

Hopkinson illustrates her ability to represent the under-represented, bringing attention to those areas that are cast in the shadows of most mainstream ideas of science fiction. She brings attention to those characters who are largely left off from mainstream SF, populating her worlds with characters from an array of sexual and gender identities, challenging the white-centric worlds created by most SF authors, and inserting those presences that are Othered in so many SF narratives.

Falling in Love with Hominids is a text of transitions, examining those times when change is at its peak. She examines transitions between adulthood and youth, portraying the idea that adulthood is not always in a protective role over youth and can, in fact, be damaging to youth because of the excesses of power adults wield over the young. She plays with the transition between life and death, exploring notions of life after death and the way that we tend to be haunted by memory and guilt.

Hopkinson casts the light of speculation onto those ideas that are cast into shadow in everyday reality, those areas that can be seen best by the outsider, the oppressed, the erased. Falling in Love with Hominids represents a text of examining the human experience, an act of recovery of those aspects of humanity that are suppressed or repressed and a re-invigoration at the sense of wonder about human experience.
To read reviews of individual stories in the collection, click on the links below:

https://speculatingcanada.ca/2015/09/16/the-oddity-of-children-2/

https://speculatingcanada.ca/2015/07/28/growing-up-monstrous/

To listen to an Episode of Speculating Canada on Trent Radio about Falling in Love with Hominids visit:

https://speculatingcanada.ca/2015/07/26/speculating-canada-on-trent-radio-episode-45-a-discussion-of-the-work-of-nalo-hopkinson/

To read more about Falling in Love with Hominids, visit Tachyon Publications’ Website at https://tachyonpublications.com/product/falling-love-hominids/

Speculating Canada on Trent Radio Episode 45: A Discussion of the Work of Nalo Hopkinson

In this episode of Speculating Canada on Trent Radio, I explore the work of Caribbean Canadian author Nalo Hopkinson. I explore themes of dual vision, cultural interactions, aging, connections with family, independence, boundary-crossings, and language. I explore Hopkinson’s works Brown Girl in the Ring, Sister Mine, and her short fiction collection Falling in Love with Hominids.

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 the work of Nalo Hopkinson, visit http://nalohopkinson.com/