Mistaken Behaviours

A review of Liz McKeen’s “A Season Begins” in OnSpec #92 Vol. 25, No. 1
By Derek Newman-Stille

Cover for OnSpec Spring 2013 courtesy of OnSpec

Cover for OnSpec Spring 2013 courtesy of OnSpec

War is a confusing thing, like cultural contact in general. Liz McKeen’s “A Season Begins” explores the interactions of two alien lives – one primarily land-based and one aquatic. Both species’ see the other as a threat due to their fundamental bodily difference. They mistake the intentions of the other, viewing their behaviours as acts of war, hostile actions that seek to open warfare… and both sides seek to appease the other. They are trapped in a perpetual cycle of misunderstanding, misreading behaviours and acting accordingly.

McKeen illustrates the danger of perceiving difference as a threat, the fear that comes with ascribing others to the position of “threatening”. Rather than seeking to understand each other, learning from one another, they each read the other’s actions as territorial invasions and the desire for conflict. With this threat-based mentality and the fear of the other, everything becomes an act of war, and, rather than seeking a cooperative opportunity, they reconfigure the other as a danger. The differences they inscribe on each other are so extreme that they can’t even conceive of their fundamental similarities – the possibility that both sides love their families and children. Instead they assume the other is a monster, stalking them and seeking conflict.

By putting the reader in between these two conflicting species, watching them become more confused by the actions of the other, McKeen calls on her readers to question what they assume about others, how they read others and what biases and assumptions they create to distance themselves from those they view as threatening.

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