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/

Speculating Canada on Trent Radio Episode 44: A Discussion of the Work of Matthew Johnson

In this episode of Speculating Canada on Trent Radio, the work of Matthew Johnson is explored. This episode examines Matthew Johnson’s collection Irregular Verbs and Other Stories (ChiZine Publications, 2014), looking at Johnson’s exploration of cultural interactions, language, aging, and other ideas of change.

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 Matthew Johnson’s Irregular Verbs and Other Stories, visit ChiZine Publications’ page at http://chizine.com/books/irregular-verbs

 

 

 

Dangerous Diplomacies

A Review of J.A. McLachlan’s “The Occasional Diamond Thief” (Edge, 2015)

By Derek Newman-Stille

The Occasional Diamond Thief is a tale of things lost and things returned, all within the complex political world of interplanetary trade and cultural conflicts. Kia’s father has been haunted by a past that he has been rapidly forgetting in his dementia. So strongly is his dementia linked to his past that even words spoken in the Malemese language, a language used by a world he visited long ago, can trigger health issues. As his dementia progresses, he lapses into Malemese, unable to speak his own language and only Kia, with her incredible linguistic gifts, is able to speak to him. She does so, at the risk of losing him completely instead of losing him to the slow progression of his disease. Referring to her by a Malemese name she hasn’t heard of before, her father gives her a Malemese diamond, believing he is returning this to its owner and ridding himself of something that has plagued his soul, allowing him to move on. Because she seeks communication with him and speaks Malemese, Kia is rejected from her family, losing all connection to her roots and the system of support she had in place. 

Yet, despite the fact that language is connected to the loss of her father, Kia still sees the potential of language as a place of connection, an opportunity to build bridges between people and develop complex forms of understanding. The only problem is that the language school is expensive, and Kia, believing she is connecting with her father’s secret, criminal profession, a secret suppressed by her family, begins her career as a diamond thief.  

Her career as a diamond thief gets her in trouble with the interplanetary religious authorities, the OUB, who force her to visit the planet that she saw as the catalyst of her father’s destruction and eventual death, Malem.

J.A. McLachlan explores the power of suppression and recovery on an interplanetary scale, a community scale, and on a personal scale for Kia and the people around her. Kia’s linguistic gift is related to the issues of communication that shape the interactions between people in McLachlan’s world, the separations and miscommunications that have meant that planets and people have viewed each other with suspicion and distrust. In Kia’s desire to understand language and its cultural connections, she becomes a figure who collapses distances and allows people to communicate. 

Unlike many intergalactic, interplanetary tales, McLachlan’s story is a highly personal one, shaped fundamentally by character and the character’s exploration of selfhood and interaction on a microcosmic level which has implications for the macrocosmic level. Sometimes even small interactions between people are enough to shape and change universe-spanning political issues. 

Communication means that secrets lose their powers, things lost are returned, and healing happens through the barred gateways opened by the desire to talk and share.

To discover more about The Occasional Diamond Thief, visit Edge’s website at http://edgewebsite.com/books/occasionaldiamonthief/occasionaldiamonthief-catalog.html

To discover more about the work of J.A. McLachlan, visit her website at http://www.janeannmclachlan.com