What About The Ageing Vampire?

What About The Ageing Vampire?

A review of Carolyn Charron’s “Knit One, Purl Two” in Nothing Without Us edited by Cait Gordon and Talia C. Johnson (Renaissance, 2019).

By Derek Newman-Stille

There’s nothing that says ageing like a vampire, yet vampires are often a personification of eternal youth, so they present a conflicted image of age… and simultaneous youth. For some reason, most vampires in our fiction tend to be involved in relationships with young people. This suggests the idea that the physicality of age and the appearance of age are more important in our society than the experiential knowledge of age. Vampires are rarely in relationships with older adults in the stories told about them, yet they should have more in common with an older adult, having collected many years of experience and knowledge.

In “Knit One, Purl Two” Carolyn Charron writes a tale of an older woman who is in a relationship with a vampire, shifting the trope of the vampire story to one that makes more sense – a relationship based on the common experience of age. Along with adorable scenes of Edmund flinching away from the narrator’s wooden knitting needles, Charron writes a tale of a sexually empowered older woman. Older adults, and older women in particular tend to be de-sexualised as they age. Their sexuality is viewed as transgressive. Disabled ageing women are particularly de-sexualised in our culture. Yet, women tend to hit their sexual peak at around age 40, which, although not very aged, is far later than most popular culture represents. Charron’s protagonist is a grandmother, and is sexually active and sexually empowered in her relationship.

Charron brings attention to the way that disabled sex is often different than able bodied sex, requiring a lot more conversation about what works, what doesn’t, what hurts, and what feels right. She needs position her hip in just the right way to make sure that she enjoys sex and that she doesn’t do damage to her body. Charron tells the reader “He always seemed to know when her pain needed quiet and when to end the silence with a dirty joke, making her groan even while she laughed.” Edmund is portrayed as someone who navigates his lover’s body, checking in with her to ensure that he is pleasing.

Charron challenges dominant images of sexuality that associate it with youth and uses the figure of the vampire to critically question the relationship between ageing and sexuality. Vampires are symbols associated with eternal youth, yet Charron’s vampire is grey haired. He reveals that if he doesn’t bite two or three people per month, he ages. Indeed, her protagonist notes “bent and frail-appearing, she’d thought he was a decade older, but now she had no idea. Vampires were supposed to be young, powerful” and by doing so, she brings attention to the way that her narrative challenges dominant notions of age and youth in the vampire narrative, making room for new possibilities that embrace the sexually charged image of the vampire along with its age.

To find out more about Carolyn Charron, visit http://carolyncharron.blogspot.com

To discover more about Nothing Without Us, visit https://nothingwithoutusanthology.wordpress.com and to buy your own copy, go to Renaissance Press’ website at https://renaissance-107765.square.site/product/nothing-without-us/117?cp=true&sbp=false

Valuing Care

A review of Susan Forest and Lucas K. Law’s The Sum of Us: Tales of the Bonded and Bound (Laksa Media Group, 2017)
By Derek Newman-Stille

As a society, we undervalue care and undervalue care workers. We tend to assume that people who do care work are doing it because they like helping people and we assume that the job is compensation enough. Even in the home, we de-value family members who provide care, viewing their care work as something that doesn’t need compensation. Care work is consistently treated as though it is not real labour and isn’t valued or compensated for. 

Part of this lack of value for care work stems from patriarchal beliefs that position care work as a feminine labour and therefore de-value it the same way that patriarchy de-values anything viewed as feminine. 

Care work has been in need to reimagining for some time. It has needed a fundamental disruption of social assumptions and a re-evaluating of the meaning of this labour. Using the medium of speculative fiction, a genre devoted to asking questions, Susan Forest and Lucas K. Law’s The Sum of Us: Tales of the Bonded and Bound brings together stories that critically interrogate the way that we imagine care and care-giving. These stories take a broad exploration of what care can mean, looking at parental care, long term care homes, social responsibilities for care, foster care, maternal care, elder care, medical care by doctors and nurses, the care relationships of pets, and even the care roles of insectile species’ (since care isn’t just a human trait). These stories examine complexities of care that are critical to this culture moment such as what is the value of care?, what difference does quality care make?, what is quality of life?, is care the role of home or the state?, what are the gendered dynamics of care-giving?, why do we de-value care-givers?, how much responsibility should parents have in the care of their children?, and what is the role of robotics in care? These are all critical questions that are in need of complex and creative answers and The Sum of Us invites readers to think critically about them. It doesn’t introduce easy answers about care-giving, but instead invites readers to explore often contrary ideas about care, asking readers to come up with their own critical questions and creative answers to the meaning of care.

These are tales of robots, aliens, insects, future wars, supervillains, nanites, other worlds, plagues, and mutants, but at their core, these are all tales about what caring means, and these are real, human questions. They may be explored through the lens of the alien, but they are fundamentally about human values and what care means to us. Sometimes the only way to get us to ask critical questions about the way that we value (or de-value) caring labour is to project our modes of care onto another, onto the future, onto another society, onto the inhuman so that we ask ourselves “if this makes us upset when we see an alien doing it, what does it mean that we are doing the same thing?”

To read some of the reviews of individual stories in this collection, see my review of:

Claire Humphrey’s “Number One Draft Pick”

https://speculatingcanada.ca/2017/07/25/skating-on-the-thin-ice-of-sports-masculinity/

Juliet Marillier’s “The Gatekeeper”

https://disabledembodiment.wordpress.com/2017/06/09/the-reaper-cat/

Edward Willett’s “The Mother’s Keeper”

https://speculatingcanada.ca/2017/07/08/insectile-intimacies/

Sandra Kasturi’s “The Beautiful Gears of Dying”

https://speculatingcanada.ca/2017/07/06/exposing-the-caregiver-within-the-human-suit/

A.M. Dellamonica’s “Bottleneck” 

https://speculatingcanada.ca/2017/06/10/caregiving-at-war/

Caroline M. Yoachim’s “Dreams as Fragile as Glass” 

https://disabledembodiment.wordpress.com/2017/07/27/breakable/ 

Kate Story’s “Am I Not A Proud Outlier”

https://speculatingcanada.ca/2017/07/28/what-is-means-to-be-an-outsider/
To find out more about The Sum of Us: Tales of the Bonded and Bound, visit http://laksamedia.com/the-sum-of-us-an-anthology-for-a-cause-2/ 

Speculating Canada on Trent Radio Episode 13: An Interview with Sean Moreland

In this episode of Speculating Canada on Trent Radio, I interview Ottawa author, editor, and academic Dr. Sean Moreland. Dr. Moreland teaches various courses at Ottawa University, including courses on horror. He is also one of the co-editors of Postscripts to Darkness (which you can explore at http://pstdarkness.com/). He has published short fiction in several collections of speculative fiction such as Pavor Nocturnus: Dark Fiction Anthology, and Allusions of Innocence.

Dr. Moreland and I discuss teaching speculative fiction, illustrating horror, notions of the “literary” and exclusions of genre fiction from the literary, the ability for horror to push boundaries, horror as a mechanism for exploring and experimenting with identity, epics and nation building… and in addition to the more intellectual materials, we also talk about heavy metal themed spec fic, Kaiju and other giant monsters, revisiting horrific themes from youth and youth as a formative theme for ideas of horror… Needless to say, there is at least a week worth of conversation built into this one, short programme.

For this, the thirteenth episode, things get spooky.

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.

Make sure to allow a few minutes for the file to buffer since it may take a moment before it begins to play.

Is it Literary if it has Social Commentary?

A review of OnSpec #95 vol 25 no 4 Edited by Diane L. Walton
By Derek Newman-Stille

Cover photo from OnSpec  # 95, courtesy of http://www.onspec.ca

Cover photo from OnSpec # 95, courtesy of http://www.onspec.ca

 

This review is well- timed since I recently posted something about ableism, sexism, homophobia, and racism at fan conventions and have been thinking about ways to make SF fandom more inclusive. When reading OnSpec #95 vol 25 no 4, it occurred to me that the OnSpec editors are definitely doing their part to be inclusive by featuring stories that engage with a variety of different bodies and identities. One way that we can open fans to new ways of including diversity is to make sure that diversity is reflected in the SF works that we produce. OnSpec’s recently produced winter issue features works that engage with aging characters, LGBTQ2 or QUILTBAG populations, people in poverty, physical and psychological disability, and they do so in a way that raises questions about ableism, classism, and homophobia by giving the reader the opportunity to enter into the headspace of people who are often treated as abject by a society that discriminates against them.

Fiction provides us with an opportunity to exercise our skills in empathy, flowing in to the minds and experiences of characters as we read about them. Empathy is something that we all need to develop further and SF has the ability to let us venture into a variety of highly diverse minds and experiences.

Susan MacGregor begins this OnSpec with a discussion of the notion of “literary merit” and a reminder that a lot of the people who defend the notion that there is a “high literature” and that science fiction, fantasy, and horror cannot be it will often say that SF doesn’t make social contributions. Susan reminds the reader of the kinds of contributions that SF makes and mirrors some of the perspectives I have often espoused here on Speculating Canada that speculative fiction by its very nature opens things up to speculation, to question, and that by venturing into the weird realms of other worlds, other realities, and strange places, we can come back to our own world with questions, pondering the things we take for granted. It is very appropriate that this volume follows from her editorial with stories that feature characters who are often socially ostracized and exploring ideas about people in our own society who are treated like aliens and monsters. This exploration of those who are so often treated as ABnormal in situations that are abnormal (because they are set in the future or on other worlds or alternative histories) lets us question the idea of “normal” and come back to our own reality with a question about why so many people want to maintain a “normal” that excludes so many others. OnSpec 95, like other good works of SF opens OUR world to questions and lets us reassess it.

In addition to the -isms, OnSpec 95 invites readers to think about the damage caused by war whether it is physical injury to the body, environmental damage, psychological trauma, or damage to the community and notions of trust. The reader is encouraged to question our relationship to technology, deal with issues of addiction, plague, family violence, community secrets, memory, and the loss of selfhood itself. The fact that it does this social interrogation in a plague city of the future, in an alternative past full of necromantic powers and political intrigue, a future of prosthetic limbs and VR technology for coping with PTSD, a future of resource scarcity following international war, and a small town with a man who can sense truth makes it both incredibly entertaining and engaging.

OnSpec 95 binds narratives of loss together, creating a space for the interaction of future and past to talk about things that have become memory, things that we pine for, and things that we will feel the loss of in the future…. but these stories are ultimately about the present, about where and how we live NOW… and the authors ask us to question The Now to gain new insights about ourselves and the human experience.

We talk a lot about fantasy, science fiction, and horror as escapes, but I think that good speculative fiction is not an escape, but a temporary abstraction from reality that lets us come back to our own world with new insights, new ideas, and new ways of questioning the “norms” that we take for granted. Send me to an alien world any day if I can come back from it with a spaceship full of questions for this world!!

To read reviews of some of the individual stories in OnSpec 95, see:

https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2014/04/23/performing-reality-living-fiction

https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2014/04/27/between-coping-and-addiction

https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2014/04/30/a-necromantic-disregard

You can discover more about OnSpec at onspec.ca .

Blurring the Boundaries

A review of Greg Bechtel’s Boundary Problems (Freehand Books, 2014)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Cover photo from Boundary Problems from http://gregbechtel.ca/

Cover photo from Boundary Problems from http://gregbechtel.ca/

We tend to think of boundaries as stable, fixed, unchangeable, but boundaries are inherently permeable, and any boundary that is created is created because someone or something is able to slip trough it. Greg Bechtel writes on these borderlands whether they be of genre (realism, science fiction, fantasy), gender (male, female, intersexed, trans, genderqueer) temporal (past, present, future), he shows a fascination with those luminal spaces and situations, heightened periods of intensity when things are shifting, because the reality is that everything is constantly in flux and stability is a fiction. And fiction, the stories that create us, constitute us, and shape our experience of the world, can be very much real.

Boundary Problems delves into a polyphonic mix of characters speaking themselves into the world from the margins, announcing their complexity and unwillingness to be captured in a single voice. Bechtel recognizes the inherent slipperiness of stories, the sense that writing a story down attempts to, but will never succeed in, fixing a story in one voice. Every reader will inherently read a story with their own voice, their own set of expectations and symbolic understandings. His characters fluctuate throughout the story, in some cases fluidly moving between gendered, racial, and sexual identities. He recognizes the permeability of story and personhood – that each filters into the other and that we are constituted by stories, tales that shape our identities. The uncertainty of his story endings speaks to this idea that he is only capturing a snapshot of a wider story and that the character has an existence separate from and larger than the story. He speaks to the continuity of all stories and that the stories that we write are fragments building a feeling, a state of being and an aesthetic for the reader but that no story is ever complete or done, but perpetually in progress. He reminds readers that writing endings is an artificial process, and that it limits the complexity of the notion of The Story itself.

Boundary Problems provides snapshots of the human experience, moments of people trying to make sense of the world around them. Bechtel shows an interest in going voice to people who have been expelled from the hegemony of “The Normal”, inserting those pushed to the fringes into a position of centrality. He reminds readers that those stories pushed to the fringes and devoiced are often the most complex, fascinating, and thought-provoking.

Bechtel’s collection explores that permeable place between speculative fiction and realist fiction, not shying away from either, but interweaving them – because reality IS speculative, and good speculative fiction should evoke questions and speculations about reality. Bechtel deals with real world issues like violence against women, place and selfhood, the policing and control of sexuality, surveillance and losses of freedoms, and the danger of hegemonic power structures silencing the voices of dissent, the voices who speak up against systemic violence and the erasure of their stories, their histories. Boundary Problems delves equally into quantum physics, magic, and the everyday experience of a coffee shop book reading… but all of these stories evoke something of the human experience, tell us about our relationships to each other, to our perceptions of ourselves, and to the world around us.

To read some reviews of individual short stories in this collection, see:

https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2014/03/27/sexy-shiftings-and-stirrings/

and

https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2014/04/02/interweaving-worlds-of-possibility/

To discover more about the work of Greg Bechtel, visit his website athttp://gregbechtel.ca/ .

To read more about Boundary Problems, visit Freehand Books athttp://www.freehand-books.com/authors/greg-bechtel

Interview with Ada Hoffmann

An interview with Ada Hoffmann
by Derek Newman-Stille

Ada Hoffman describes herself as a queer-oriented, autistic author of Canadian Speculative Fiction. She has an interest in portrayals of autism in SF, and does critical readings of these portrayals on her website http://ada-hoffmann.com/autistic-book-party/ .

I am very excited that Ada is willing to do an interview since I am interested in both portrayals of queerness and disability in Canadian SF, and Ada is a wonderful author.

Spec Can: To begin our interview, could you tell us a bit about yourself?

Ada Hoffmann: Oh no, the dreaded open-ended question! Well, I’m twenty-six years old, I’m studying for my PhD in computer science, and I live in Ontario. I made my first four professional fiction sales in 2013, though I’ve been writing for pay since 2010 and writing in general since I was five. I love cats, roleplaying games, and music. Most other facts about me are either incredibly boring or classified.

Spec Can: What first inspired your passion for Speculative Fiction?

Ada Hoffmann: I grew up around speculative fiction. My parents were both huge nerds who taught computer science for a living, and the house was full of bookshelves, many of which were solely devoted to science fiction and fantasy. As a child I started with the usual fairy tale picture books and graduated to Narnia, Tolkein, Star Wars, Susan Cooper, Heinlein juveniles, and stealing my dad’s issues of Analog every month (which, in retrospect, were not always appropriate for children). I got into fantasy roleplaying games pretty early in life, too, mostly because my dad had giant boxes of them under his desk and I was curious. (Also, there were So Many Interesting Tables to roll dice on! You can’t go wrong with dice. I got fascinated by using the random tables long before I started to actually play.) When I hit my teens, it was like, “yay, you’re old enough for Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Babylon 5 now!” It was how we entertained ourselves and bonded as a family. I hear stories of people who “discovered” speculative fiction and had to hide it from their parents, or got shamed for not reading “real” literature, and I’m just baffled. It was never anything like that for me.

Spec Can: What, if anything, is different about Canadian speculative fiction?

Ada Hoffmann: I don’t think we can really pin down Canada that way. It’s a big place. Lots of room for contradictions. I’ve heard that the Canadian SF community is different from the American one, but I’m too much of a social hermit to really comment on that one way or the other.

Spec Can: You have a strong interest in representations of autism in speculative fiction. What first got you interested in representations of autism in SF?

Ada Hoffmann: Just seeing the same kind of fail repeated multiple times. I didn’t set out to be The Autism Lady, but when I found autism stuff that frustrated me, I blogged about it, because I was frustrated. Then I realized no one else was blogging about it this way. It was a side note in social justice discussions, if it was mentioned at all. Which makes sense – there are fewer of us than there are of, say, women, or POC, plus it’s not always safe to be “out”, so the discussion space is going to be smaller – but it is frustrating. So I kept going. Eventually I had so much to blog about that it had to be organized, and I started doing an official book review feature, etc. I’m not sure if this is an abiding interest, or if I’m just going to keep going until I run out of new things to say and then stop.

Spec Can: What was the first SF work that you encountered that dealt with the topic of autism or featured an autistic character? What was the portrayal like?

Ada Hoffmann: Oh, gee, I can’t even remember. Maybe Robert Charles Wilson’s Blind Lake, which is actually pretty good. It’s hard to say because I didn’t have the vocabulary to articulate these problems until a few years ago, when I started publishing short fiction and a social justice-minded editor took me under their wing. I didn’t connect with the autistic self-advocacy community until even more recently, and to some extent I still feel like an outsider to that community. I’m still learning a lot.

The first portrayal that really frustrated me in a way I could articulate was Nancy Fulda’s short story “Movement”, which was nominated for a Nebula Award. And it was so bad on multiple levels. I think what frustrates me most is when an NT (neurotypical) writer produces something which is nothing like autism, or which is insulting, but NTs who don’t know any better think it is a good portrayal and therefore it gets lots of attention and praise – even in the face of actual autistic people trying to point out why there are problems.

Spec Can: What are some common errors or misconceptions that authors make when portraying characters with autism?

Ada Hoffmann: Not doing the research. (You have to look at what’s being said by autistic people, not just our doctors and caregivers; otherwise you’ll miss a lot.) Not giving an autistic character feelings and concerns of their own, or only giving them feelings when it relates to a special interest, cure decision, or other stereotype. Over-focusing on the odd behaviors that are most visible to neurotypical people and under-focusing on cognitive and sensory differences, especially when trying to write from the autistic character’s point of view. Trying to draw some sort of moral conclusion from autism, like by using a character with autistic traits to teach NT characters about the dangers of social withdrawal, and not noticing that this implicitly demonizes the autistic person. Forgetting that most of us work very hard to look “normal”, and that many of us succeed – but at a cost.

Spec Can: What can speculative fiction do to shift the way readers think about the world around them? How can SF encourage readers to question their assumptions?

Ada Hoffmann: I am struggling to come up with a good answer for this question. It seems to me that there are as many answers as there are potential stories. Also, not every shift in thinking or questioned assumption works the same way, nor is every shift in thinking equally valuable, though to some extent the ability to question one’s thinking is always valuable.

It also isn’t as simple as setting out to shift assumptions and thought patterns with a single story. We are made of the stories we tell about ourselves and the world, and the commonalities between stories form larger structures. Tropes, worldviews, cultures, archetypes. A single story might explicitly question or subvert an aspect of a worldview but with enough of these questions and subversions, a new substructure with its own rules and tropes forms. It’s not possible to do away with the structure as a whole, because this would take us to a place with no comprehensible narratives and no thought. We can’t dispense with all assumptions, but we need to replace some of our current ones with broader assumptions which help us understand and care for each other.

Spec Can: What do you hope readers will take away from reading your SF?

Ada Hoffmann: Oh, that depends on the story. It would be super boring if I was trying to make the same point with all of them! My goals are a little bit different every time.

Spec Can: You tend to write a lot of short stories. What are some benefits of the short story medium?

Ada Hoffmann: It’s short! Which makes it a wonderful place to learn and experiment. It’s short to write, which means you can try all sorts of risky things without such a steep penalty for failure. You can switch settings, genres, characters, themes, or anything else about your writing whenever you want to. And it’s short to read, which means it’s easy to get feedback and figure out where your weaknesses lie. Maybe I’m just a really impatient person, though?

There are benefits to longer forms too. With something like a novel (or a long-running RPG campaign), it’s easier for me to really get into the characters’ heads and fall in love with them all. But it’s a different process and a different way of constructing a plot, and I’m still figuring out how to make that work for me.

Spec Can: On your website, you mention that you are both queer and autistic. As a queer, autistic author, what can you suggest to encourage other queer authors or authors with disabilities to write further?

Ada Hoffmann: I’m not sure if this is specific to queerness or disability, but one of the most important things is to find beta readers who “get it”. Not just people who are good at dissecting a story (though these are valuable, and rarer than you would think). But people who understand the way your individual creative mind works, who are excited to see the things that you are excited to create, and who understand your goals well enough to help you figure out what’s gone wrong when you’re stuck. Everybody who’s good at something gets impostor syndrome, but marginalized people get it worse. To survive as a writer, you need people who will help you bounce back from the bad times, people who will keep believing in you and your work even when you don’t, and who are smart enough about it that you’ll take their opinion seriously. Doesn’t matter if they are fellow writers, fans, family – just find those people and cling to them, because their support makes you strong.

My other advice would be learn to trust your own voice. If your own underrepresentation pisses you off, great! It’s worthwhile to talk about that, and to talk about what other writers are doing wrong. But don’t stop there. You are a writer yourself (if you aren’t a writer, this advice is not for you). You have the power to make books of your own, to your own specifications, so do it.

(I can say this as forcefully as I do only because it is a lesson I have had to teach myself, time and time again.)

But also remember that you are more than the sum of your identity labels. Being queer and a writer doesn’t mean you have to write a specific amount of queer fiction to someone else’s specifications (or queer fiction at all). Likewise with disability. There’s a lot to do in these fields. Chances are that some of the required tasks will set your imagination on fire and some won’t. This is okay. There’s far too much of this for one person anyway. Do the tasks that speak to you, and don’t feel guilty if you want to write stories that aren’t about your identity labels, too. Your voice matters, even when you aren’t talking about those. Don’t stop educating yourself, because there is intersection and variety within your own labels that you probably don’t know about. (This was certainly the case for me!) But don’t let anyone in your group make you feel guilty for writing from your own lived experience, your own fascinations, your own deeply held beliefs, and not theirs.

If you’re asking for advice for others in the community, and not just advice to disabled/queer writers themselves, then I have some other suggestions. Explicitly welcoming diverse submissions in your submission guidelines, if you’re an editor, is a wonderful thing. It’s easy to do and it really helps with the impostor syndrome, and the feeling of “no one wants to hear my story anyway,” which can be pervasive. Making sure that conventions and other science fiction spaces are accessible and that accommodations can be made – I can’t stress this enough. (This conversation often focuses on wheelchair access, which is important. But for autism specifically, having a quiet room to retreat to is often VERY helpful. There are certain conventions I will never, ever attend, because I would not be able to bear the crowds long enough to do anything useful or enjoyable there. I’m thinking especially of the very large, commercially-oriented ones.) And making sure that there is an actual policy to prevent and investigate harassment, which disproportionately targets all sorts of marginalized people, not only women.

Spec Can: Can you talk a bit about the under-representation of queer characters in SF?

Ada Hoffmann: Maybe! I feel like I’m the wrong person to talk about this in depth, because I’m dating a man. (Bisexuality is a thing, yay.) That doesn’t make me straight, and the emotions and experiences that make me different from a straight person are important to me. But it does mean that there are very wide swathes of queer experience which are not actually my experience at this point in my life, and I have to respect that.

What I’m finding these days is that there are a fair number of queer characters around if you know where to look, especially in short fiction. But it’s still hard to find queer characters who turn out happy with each other the way the straight characters do, as opposed to dying, or having a crush on a straight character who dies, or getting into an abusive relationship and turning evil, etc. Which is ironic, because hope is a thing that real queer people badly need.

I also have an absurd amount of difficulty finding depictions of polyamory that don’t suck. (Even Stranger in a Strange Land doesn’t do it right, IMO.) Same with power exchange, and with trans* and nonbinary characters (although Crossed Genres at least has a fair number of those lately), and also asexuality. All of which are important parts of what sexual diversity means. I’m realizing as I type this that I haven’t done enough of this in my own fiction, either.

Spec Can: What can SF do to give voice to people who are traditionally under-represented in society and in fiction?

Ada Hoffmann: First, we can imagine futures (or magical, alternate pasts and presents) in which under-represented people actually exist. This step is more of a mandatory basic minimum, but it’s neglected too often. Second, we can actively look for under-represented authors and find the SF they are already producing.

Going further than this, of course, we can naturally use SF for subversive purposes. We can imagine worlds in which we overcome oppression in new ways, or in which people flourish in new ways because oppression does not exist as it does here. Or we can build worlds in dystopian and satirical modes in order to point out the workings of oppressive systems in the real world.

But it doesn’t all have to be overtly political. There’s nothing wrong with SF serving more individual purposes: wish-fulfilment, catharsis, escape, validation, emotional regulation, education (in many senses), or just being a heck of a lot of fun to read. In a perfect world it would serve these purposes both for the majority and for the marginalized. Which means that as well as political stories we simply need a larger amount of awesome fiction which happens to be inclusive, and which doesn’t scare all the marginalized people away through casual prejudice and erasure.

Spec Can: You are able to write both science fiction and fantasy – in what ways do these two genres support each other and in what way do they challenge each other?

Ada Hoffmann: I’m not sure I even believe in a distinction between science fiction and fantasy. There’s just so much good stuff in the gray area in between. I like SF with magic-y bits and fantasy with science-y bits, and stuff like a China Miéville novel that doesn’t fit neatly into either category because it’s its own thing.

I think the idea of a clear distinction between science fiction and fantasy comes from the very 20th century idea that “science” and “magic” are incompatible. Modern people think this rule is so obvious that it has to apply even in imaginary worlds. And that’s so incredibly boring to me. It’s not even consistent with the way most people intuitively classify the genres. Most science fiction uses handwavey technology that isn’t plausible to modern scientists anyway, and series like Star Wars are full of outright mysticism.

I should note here that I don’t think mysticism is a bad thing. Or even an “unscientific” thing. It’s complicated.

But basically, rather than drawing lines telling people where science ends and magic begins, I’d rather look at the whole thing as one big umbrella genre where the imagination has free rein to do whatever it likes.

Spec Can: Magic and the mythical frequently shows up in your short stories and poetry. What continues to be powerful about magic and the mythical for readers?

Ada Hoffmann: For this sort of question I have to refer back to Carl Jung. The mythical will always be a part of the human mind at some level. “Realism” implies a certain set of rules for what is real, what it means for a thing to be real, and how the world works. But huge swathes of human experience, particularly the unconscious, do not conform to these rules. There are some truths that we can only tell through symbols, and through magical and mythical thinking. This is difficult for some people in mainstream Western culture to accept, but it will continue to be the case no matter how many shiny computers we have.

Spec Can: What do you do differently when you write poetry instead of short stories?

Ada Hoffmann: Poetry is a very different beast from short fiction. It’s not only structured differently, but it feels like it comes from a different place for me. With a short story I have to lay out exactly what is happening, where are we, who is in this place, what are they trying to do, how is this resolved, why should we care. Poetry is not laid out in this way. It can purport to tell a story (or not), but the story doesn’t need the same kind of scaffolding. Things sometimes come out of the depths of my brain and demand to be written as poems, whether I like it or not: there’s no use in laboring to contrive a full setting and plot to support them when they’re already strong enough to stand on their own. But in exchange for this kind of independence, poems have a desperate need for attention to imagery, rhythm, the impact of individual words. It’s detail work in a way that is often superfluous to short stories. Without this kind of attention a poem is just a splat of words on a page, or at best an anecdote or thought experiment, and it can’t survive.

Spec Can: What can poetry add to speculative fiction?

Ada Hoffmann: I’m having trouble answering this question. I assume you don’t mean literally putting poems in the middle of fiction. I’m in a bit of a bind here, because if a device from poetry can be used to good effect in fiction, it’s probably already been used in this way, and we can just continue to use it in fiction with no further recourse to poetry. And if it can’t be used in fiction, then by definition it’s not a useful addition to fiction. So there’s never a need for poetry in fiction, per se. But reading and writing good poetry brings our attention to imagery, to the details of how words are used, to beauty and other spectacular uses of the senses, to structures other than the typical linear narrative, and to the kind of ephemeral truths that fit best into these alternate structures. These are all things that I’m happy to see in fiction, too.

Spec Can: Is there anything further you would like to add to this interview?

Ada Hoffmann: No, I think I’ve talked your ear off already! But thanks for having me, and thanks for asking such interesting questions. I’ve enjoyed this.

I want to thank Ada Hoffmann for all of her insights and thoughts and for her work advocating for traditionally under-represented groups in Speculative Fiction. I hope that you have enjoyed her insights and thoughts as much as I have.

To find out more about Ada Hoffmann and her work, check out her website at http://ada-hoffmann.com/

A Face of Shifting Leaves

A review of Urban Green Man Edited by Adria Laycraft and Janice Blaine (Edge, 2013)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Cover Art Courtesy of Edge Publications

Cover Art Courtesy of Edge Publications

Have you ever looked into the woods and seen a face looking back at you made up of branches and leaves? These are the moments that can’t be caught on film but can be evoked through tales, through our own folklore.

Turning the pages of the Urban Green Man collection is like opening a window from a stagnant urban environment into a verdant treescape filled with life, reflection, and the potential for change. These are transformative tales, tales of growth that evoke fertile thoughts and development in the reader as she or he touches these pages that used to be trees themselves. These pages are trees with stories written upon them, inked with potential. Each page sings its papery roots.

Like growing things, like the forest itself, characters in these tales change and reach toward illumination, shifting with new potential. The stories in this collection explore the lighter and darker shades of green, bringing the reader both into the dark places of the forest where fear and danger evoke speculation and to the treetops where flights of fancy free him or her from their bounds. The authors explore the complexity of human interactions with the natural world and the interconnectedness of humanity and our green spaces.

Urban Green Man writes a mythic modernity, a set of tales to help us explore the world around us and our own impact on that world. It is a reminder of the hollowness of human nature without… well, nature. The Green Man’s face is so reminiscent of our own and yet so different, evoking our connection to the world and our simultaneous estrangement from it. His face is uncovered through the leaves of these pages.

To read reviews of some of the short stories in this collection, see:

https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2013/10/19/clear-cut-future/

https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2013/11/03/rabbi-sherlock-holmes-and-the-case-of-the-excessive-greenery/

https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2013/11/06/tweets-in-the-woods-that-arent-from-birds/

https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2013/11/11/post-apocalyptic-green/

To find out more about the Urban Green Man collection, visit their website at http://www.urbangreenman.com/

Interview with Lydia Peever

An interview with Lydia Peever
By Derek Newman-Stille

Author photo of Lydia Peever

Author photo of Lydia Peever

I recently had the opportunity to hear Lydia Peever speak at Ottawa’s author reading event “A Midsummer Night’s Scream” hosted by Postscripts to Darkness, and the passion in her voice and her ability to bring critical attention to issues that are often ignored by society prompted me to ask her to do an interview here on Speculating Canada.

Lydia Peever is the author of the novel Nightface and the collection Pray Lied Eve. She is also a photographer and web designer with a particular interest in photographing road kill. You can find out more about Ms. Peever and her work at  http://nightface.ca.

Spec Can: Could you tell us a little bit about yourself to begin this interview?

Lydia Peever: Sure. I grew up in Northern Ontario. At one point I would be best described as an artsy yet anti-social high-school dropout that messed up at college too. My focus has been split between writing and photography since I was at least ten years old, so art always seemed more important than school. Over the last five years, I became serious about my career as a writer, published, and moved to Ottawa to obtain my diploma in Journalism with honours from Algonquin College. I try to balance the amount of fiction and non-fiction I write since I enjoy both, but right now fiction is winning.

Spec Can: Is there a sense of community among Ottawa authors? What is it like?

Lydia Peever: Yes, but from where I sit it appears fractured. There are very active open groups for general fiction, genre-specific writing circles, and a few seemingly impenetrable covens. It really depends on what you look to get from this ‘community’ as a writer. We have The Writers Festival, which is very rich in content though very narrow in scope. The independent bookstores are amazingly supportive of local authors, though as anyone knows they have their own trouble and seem to be an endangered species. Horror and dark fantasy authors, being the least social creatures in this genus, are harder to find. We seem to be slowly coagulating due to the efforts of Ottawa Horror profiling authors, Postscripts to Darkness publishing many of us and holding events, and the Chiaroscuro Reading Series which launched in Ottawa this year.

Spec Can: Is there a distinctive “Ottawa style” of writing? What do many Ottawa-based authors have in common and what connects them?

Lydia Peever: I would have to say no. Each author brings their own style of writing for certain. Regardless of genre, demographic or particular biography, Ottawa authors could be from anywhere in the world. Like any author anywhere in the world, we sometimes write what we know so stories can be set within the city or fashioned out of a similar looking lump of clay. That isn’t really peculiar to Ottawa authors though. When I talk to authors on behalf of Ottawa Horror, I ask similar questions and get very different answers.

Spec Can: Is there a distinctive Canadian style of horror? What is different or unique about it?

Lydia Peever: Somewhat. I have tried over the last two decades to read as much Canadian horror as I can. For a time I was seeking Canadian female horror authors. There are not many to choose from! I stand to be corrected, but I find we are far less brutal than our fellow North American or British counterparts. I can’t name a Canadian splatter-punk hero nor can I name a Canadian horror author that is a household name here and abroad. We have carved a niche in cinema – a quiet subtle brooding horror – but not yet in print.

Spec Can: Several of your short stories deal with the topic of drug addiction. What inspired you to write about drug addiction?

Lydia Peever: Drugs are mentioned here and there in my stories as a colour to paint a character with. Usually a dark colour as drug abuse is basically a dark thing. In Crocodile Rot, where the sun shines bright on intravenous drug use, I talk about it like it’s happening on our front porch, because it probably is regardless of where you live. Many authors tend to draw as much on life experience as they do on what they see or imagine others experiencing around them. I have seen a lot of drug abuse around me in high school and beyond, sometimes with scarring or deadly affects. My long-term ex was a hard drug user and eventually succumbed to an overdose. Several people I know have entered a methadone management program, and a few have successfully stopped taking drugs. A lot of people I know will never stop. I can’t turn a blind eye to the dark alleys around me since I’ve walked down them. People I knew since childhood have walked down them. I’ve lost people down dark alleys. Stigma and fear surrounding drug abuse and its affects are far more damaging than communication, education and true understanding. I write just as often about mental health issues, which I know just as well and can at times be related.

Spec Can: What can horror and Weird fiction authors be doing to bring social issues and critiques to the attention of their audiences?

Cover image from Pray Lied Eve courtesy of Lydia Peever

Cover image from Pray Lied Eve courtesy of Lydia Peever

Lydia Peever: Write. It is all we can do, right? If it moves you, it will move your readers. I learned that emulating authors like V. C. Andrews and Stephen King when I was young. Both tend to write very strongly when they had a message about women’s issues (no matter if it were presented inside-out) which is not my forte, but it is how I learned that concept. It is deeper than ‘write what you know’. Much deeper. If you write about the things happening around you that really shake you to your foundations – the stuff that gives you real nightmares that aren’t fuelled by the last movie you watched – people will tune into that. If you have a history with a social issue be it addiction, debt, domestic crisis, sexual conflict, mental health; write about it. Never be afraid to write about what shakes you up, breaks your heart, or makes you scream. If you are afraid to come clean with your own experience, at least fictionalize it or choose a good pen name. Don’t keep that precious dark ink bottled up.

Spec Can: How can horror “teach”? How does it cause audiences to shift their perspective and question things?

Lydia Peever: Any form of instruction starts with a nice theory primer conducted at arm’s length. Horror is kind of like that. You may not have experience with the specific terror or the ‘other’ found in the story, but it explains itself neatly and from a safe distance. You can inspect so many otherwise inaccessible worlds this way. Death, science, religion; and many other things you may otherwise avoid or be loath to discuss with those around you. As with other fiction, there are entire worlds in each book that are based on our own, to one extent or another. The avenues for real world extra-curricular research are unending if you are truly engaged and inspired by what you are reading. Many of my hobbies and much of my non-fiction reading has been initiated by horror I have read.

Spec Can: In what way can horror be an empowering genre for women? How can horror novels/short stories/movies be feminist texts?

Lydia Peever: Think critically when watching. Apply gender issue thinking to what you read and see. This applies to all media, really. The experts on horror and the feminine are now luckily found within universities. Through Ottawa Horror, I was able to attend portions of the Monstrous Feminine course taught by Aalya Ahmad at Carleton University on feminist literature and film. My close friend and colleague Amy Jane Vosper has recently completed her thesis on horror and the feminine. I’m no feminist, myself, so am perhaps the worst authority. As a teen I did struggle with the idea for a while. In the 90s, it seemed there were very few strong women portrayed in horror. It was slim picking, so I identified with Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor even though she had weaknesses I still can’t identify with. Currently, you can’t turn your head without Eskimo kissing a Sarah Connor type in one form or another. Strong women are everywhere, but not without their weaknesses or flaws. I am always on the lookout for realistic females. Being a very independent and childless single girl, I tend to discard the plot device of women as a ‘vehicle for a child-bearing uterus’ which sadly, nearly every story boils down to.  On the other hand, you have ‘jaded harpy’ which is another trope that needs to be discarded. It depends on what kind of women you are. In the last decade, you have a better chance of finding strong women in horror dealing with unimaginable strife but you may have to juxtapose a few of them if you are looking for an ideal archetype.

Spec Can: Do you find that your photography work complements your writing? In what ways can your photography inspire your written work and in what ways does your written work bring your attention and interest to various images?

Lydia Peever: I do. Even if not directly or for the public to parallel. From snapshots of flowers or carefully composed landscapes, I photograph a lot of things that tell a story to me and myself alone. I like to capture desolation or loneliness in many of the photos I take that no one will ever see. Even when doing portraits, I end up taking a few candid shots with pensive, lost or thoughtful looks. Then, you have my fetish, gore and band photos. Those likely complement my writing in the most obvious way. Images of one tied to a St. Andrews Cross or doused with blood on stage come easy to me since I’m not offended by the nature of the concept. Same with images of graveyards and road kill, though those are a neatly captive subject less likely to move into bad lighting or blink.

Spec Can: Your work is often very close to reality, with small deviations into the Weird or horrific. What inspires you to slightly “Weird” reality, while still sticking close to the believable world?

Cover photo of Nightface courtesy of Lydia Peever (artwork designed by Lydia Peever, herself)

Cover photo of Nightface courtesy of Lydia Peever (artwork designed by Lydia Peever, herself)

Lydia Peever: The world is really very weird, if you pay attention. It is all in how you describe it. A psychotic carnival trailer murder scene at midnight can be a very unrealistic and scary place if you zoom in on a scene like that in fiction. Then, if you zoom out and tell the story from the beginning it is all very cozy. The city it is in, the people that are there, the words you hear and events of the evening could be anywhere and lead up to anything. A trip to the dentist can be as fraught with weird as the trip to that carnival trailer after dark. I like living in a world like that, so I pay attention to the weird. Also, having the dark and odd interests I’ve always had, or having come face to face with strife the average person does not usually have to see without the ability to live in La-La Land, I marry the two on a day-to-day basis. It’s how I think, so I guess it is also how I write.

Spec Can: In what ways can horror be a social activist medium?

Lydia Peever: In the same way that you can bring issues that are important to you or the inverse of being able to learn from horror. Infuse what moves you into a story. Let a story sprout from blood spilled in real life. Let those you know or who have passed transmogrify into beast or angels. Write it all down. Sometimes the message is very clear and your story does the heavy lifting for you. Sometimes it’s all very cryptic and subtle. In that case you can dust off your soapbox and append an intro to your story or present it within a themed anthology. There are more and more of these in submission calls every year. You can tour your book to various media outlets and talk about the underlying issue as opposed to talking about your plot. Talking about what drove you to write it and what you learned through that journey or afterward. Talking to readers is another way. They tell you something about your work that you didn’t even see.

Spec Can: Is there anything further that you would like to add to this interview?

Lydia Peever: Yes, a huge ‘thank you’ for enjoying the reading at Black Squirrel Books and for taking the time to chat! Support for artists and authors is just as important to me as getting all my thoughts on paper. Buying books, music and art is one thing, but talking to and about the people that are doing amazing work is just as important. Not everyone can support art with their wallet, and not everyone can make it to every event. Interviews, profiles, reviews, blogs, discourse; it’s all part of supporting us who wring ink into the literary ocean. Thank you.

I want to thank Lydia Peever for this absolutely incredible and insightful interview. As someone who has taught courses about horror, I really appreciate her insights into the importance of horror for shining light on aspects of our society that we tend to stigmatise, repress, and ignore. This was a VERY inspiring interview. To find out more about Ms. Peever, visit her website at http://nightface.ca/portfolio/ .