Planets Contaminated

A review of Crystal Yates’ “Earthsong” (Overmorrow Media)
By Derek Newman-Stille

“Earthsong” is an incredibly beautiful and chilling fantasy graphic narrative. Crystal Yates plays with light and images of fabric to create a comic that, while dealing with serious issues, also feels like a warm blanket wrapped around the reader. 

Crystal Yates’ “Earthsong” is an interplanetary fantasy where the planets themselves take on life and consciousness. Some of these planetary spirits interact with their creations, their children, but most have been content to sleep. Many of them have slept right through a crisis that has been happening throughout space and on their own surfaces. A contamination has leaked onto the surface of planets that attaches itself to various of the planet’s sentient children and, if unchecked, will destroy the lifeforce of the planet itself.

The planets got together to deal with what was occurring and decided that the best way to solve the issue of contamination is to remove contaminated people from their planet and place them on a new planet and the planet who named herself Earthsong has become a host for all of this misplaced travellers. These planet children end up on Earthsong without their memories, dropped into a complex battle they know nothing about.

Yates explores ideas of quarantine, contamination, the loss of selfhood, and the desire to learn about oneself in “Earthsong”, creating a narrative about planetary contamination that isn’t about pollution but reminds us of the fragility of our place on our planet nonetheless.

To find out more about Earthsong and read some of the online comic, visit http://www.earthsongsaga.com

Tales of Her Own

Tales of Her Own
A review of Emma Donoghue’s Kissing the Witch: Old Tales in New Skins (Joanna Cotler Books, 1997).

By Derek Newman-Stille

In Kissing the Witch, Emma Donoghue casts a web around traditional fairy tales, drawing them together into one narrative thread by having a character from each tale introduce the next tale as her own. Characters both narrate and are narrated about. These are tales about the telling and about the power of narration itself to reveal, conceal, and create the self.

Donoghue invites her characters to ask who is allowed to tell their tales and who is constructed through the telling of tales. Characters resist the narrative ark of “tradition”, imagining new possibilities for their own deviation from the text. 

These are liberating fairy tales, opening up possibilities, and giving women voices in these tales where the traditional tales limited the options open to women. These are tales of shifts and changes, allowing women to chart new territories through the fairytale landscape, changing their circumstances. Often set at the cusp of womanhood, these tales explore the relationship between bodily and social transition. 

Donoghue evokes the power of witches, those othered and ostracised women, for changing the world around them, opening critical questions, and encouraging women to recognise their power. She resists the impulse to tie her stories up with a heterosexual “happily ever after”, and instead imagines new narrative possibilities, creating lesbian couples, women content to be without sexual relationships. 

Her tales reimagine Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, Snow White, The Goose Girl, Rapunzel, The Snow Queen, Rumpelstiltskin, Hansel and Gretel, Donkeyskin, Sleeping Beauty, and The Little Mermaid. Donoghue illustrates that an intensive knowledge of folklore allows one to play with the tropes of the tradition, imagining new possibilities. 

You can discover more about Emma Donoghue’s work at http://www.emmadonoghue.com 

Speculating Canada on Trent Radio Episode 55: Canadian Arthurian-themed Music

In this episode of Speculating Canada on Trent Radio, I explore Canadian musicians who have been inspired by the myth of King Arthur and incorporate his stories into their music. I examine the way that music adds to the power of the myths being retold and the interest in mythic re-tellings. I focus on the work of Heather Dale and Loreena McKennitt, and particularly examine the way that both artists work a spell-like melody into their music.

Because of copyright laws, I only share a sample of each of the works I discuss. You can explore the full songs on the websites of Heather Dale and Loreena McKennitt (listed below).

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

img_0564-2

 

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.

 

You can discover more about the work of Heather Dale at her website https://heatherdale.com/

You can discover more about the work of Loreena McKennitt at her website http:loreenamckennitt.com

Grey Areas

A review of Tanya Huff’s ” Gate of Darkness, Cirlce of Light” (DAW, 1989)

By Derek Newman-Stille

Tanya Huff’s Gate of Darkness, Circle of Light is a rare novel in that it features a type of protagonist that is rarely displayed in literature, and particularly urban fantasy literature. Rebecca is a woman with an ID (intellectual disability, sometimes called a developmental disability). Unlike most portrayals of characters with ID, she is not a supporting character nor a throwaway character meant to garner audience sympathy, instead, she is the central character of this narrative. Like most people with ID, Rebecca regularly experiences discrimination and assumptions about her capacity from the people around her. Ableist people around her constantly express the belief that she should be institutionalized, and the belief that she is at risk and vulnerable. Rebecca resists these assumptions about her, constantly displaying that she is the hero of this narrative, a character who serves as the touchstone for the various people that she has attracted into her party of people fighting against a darkness that has infringed upon the city. 

Rebecca has the ability to see the magical all around her. She sees all of the mythical creatures that inhabit the city of Toronto that no one pays enough attention to in order to be able to see them. Her observations about this mythical world are constantly overlooked as imagination by the people around her and dismissed as the imagination of a woman with ID, but when darkness invades her world, Rebecca is able to teach a select group of people how to See the supernatural. Rebecca encourages her friend Roland, a musician, and her social worker Daru to join her battle against the darkness eventually invoking an adept of the light to battle against the darkness. This adept relies on the combined strength of these characters to prevent darkness from overtaking the city of Toronto, particularly drawing upon Rebecca’s strength.

But this battle is not just one of light versus darkness, but an internal struggle for all of the characters to learn more about themselves. Roland undergoes questions of his sexuality as he experiences his first attraction for another male in the form of the adept of the light, Evan. He becomes uncertain of himself as he experiences his first gay crush. The darkness exploits this uncertainty initially until Roland is able to face his own understanding of himself and accept himself. Along with the big issues of good versus evil, characters go through those little transformations and little struggles with the grey areas of their existence, struggling to find themselves and discovering that even the small acts in their lives have meaning and shape the world around them.

Gate of Darkness, Cirlce of Light is a novel about facing the complexity of existence and learning about oneself and one’s biases in the meantime. It is a novel that situates itself as one of binary opposition (good versus evil) but explores the complexities of life and the awareness that we always live in the grey areas in between where we need to constantly learn more about the world around us to make moral decisions. 

To discover more about Tanya Huff, visit her website at http://andpuff.livejournal.com

Quote – Fairy Tales Prepared Us For If We Wandered Into Their Land

“I’m not sure, to be honest. I think the tales we grew up on served to both warn us of bad faeries, but also prepare us to accept their magic and wonder, in case we ever wandered to their land. Or were kidnapped.”

-Marie Bilodeau, Nigh Book 3

Bronze Age Magic

Bronze Age MagicA review of Caitlin Sweet’s The Door in the Mountain (ChiZine Publications, 2014)

By Derek Newman-Stille

Caitlin Sweet’s The Door in the Mountain is a mytho-archaeological story of wonder, blending the mythology of the Ancient Greek world with archaeological settings from the even earlier society of Minoan Crete and populating this world with deep, complex characters. Sweet follows authors like Mary Renault who in works like The King Must Die and Bull From The Sea play with the meeting of myth and archaeology and use this blend to evoke characters whose lives are similarly stretched between the fantastic (through the elements of magic) and the realistic (through their engagement with the very real issues of family, the struggle for a place of belonging, and misinterpretation, which fuels so many conflicts). 

My masters’ research was in Aegean Bronze Age archaeology, examining the civilizations Caitlin Sweet explores in her novel, and I was moved by the way she brought these artifacts that I had spent so many years examining to life, mingling them with complex characters who brought a sense of mythic nearness to this ancient world. Sweet was able to animate these artifacts, let them shape the characters she populated her novel with, and express the sort of magic these artifacts inspire in our minds by giving them associations with magical powers. Using fantasy, Sweet was able to get at different truths than archaeology would be able to find, an imaginative truth that these artificers can inspire. 

Archaeology is speculative, imagining the lives of people long dead from the refuse they left behind and the places they eventually abandoned, and perhaps it is this speculative quality that led Sweet to imagine a speculative fictional world around these artifacts, to put them into a framework of magic and fantasy and allow them to evoke wonder. 

As much as The Door in the Mountain is a tale of wonders, it is also a tale of human experience, focussing at its root on family conflicts. This is a tale of the toxicity of envy in a family, of rejection and the desire for belonging, of power and the loss of control. It is, at its roots, a tale of those everyday conflicts that shape the lives of people and turn them into who they will become. The power of transformation in this novel is not just one of characters who can turn into Bulls or birds (although, of course, they do) of even of characters growing into their magical powers as they discover how they are god-marked, but is also about the way that simple actions, misunderstandings, interpretations, and ideas can change a character, shaping them from childhood to adulthood and determining who they will be and what will continue to motivate, hurt, inspire, and influence them.  

To discover more about The Door in the Mountain, visit ChiZine Publications’ website at http://chizinepub.com/books/door-in-the-mountain

To find out more about Caitlin Sweet, visit her website at http://www.caitlinsweet.com/

A Very Kvetching Story

A review of Allan Weiss’ “A Little Leavening” in OnSpec Vol 26, no. 3
By Derek Newman-Stille

Allan Weiss excites the imagination with another Jewish wizard story. Eliezer is caught between his religious obligation to celebrate seder and his need to fulfill his obligation to help all of those in need. Weiss plays with the interaction between a multiplicity of identities and responsibilities and the sometimes conflicting relationship between these multiple positions. 

Eliezer has been introduced in previous stories by Weiss as a wizard who is being punished for poking around in mysteries that were considered none of his business and is therefore religiously required to help out any people who seek his assistance. Along with his psychic horse, Melech, who provides a saucy reply to the wizard’s kvetching, Eliezer wanders the landscape assisting people in need.

Despite the fact that he has been punished for seeking forbidden knowledge, Eliezer is in a perpetual state of learning, acquiring new perspectives from those he encounters. “A Little Leavening” is a tale about his conflicting responsibilities, but it is also a tale about his need to acquire some understanding of and tolerance for the goyim, the non-Jewish people who assist him. 

Weiss’ powerful narration allows the reader to easily hear Eliezer’s tone and quality of voice, bringing the reader into the narrator’s realm as a participant in the story. 

To discover more about OnSpec, go to http://www.onspec.ca

To discover more about the work of Allan Weiss, visit his website at http://www.yorku.ca/aweiss/