Chrysalis

Chrysalis 
A review of Lena Ng’s Love Transcendent in We Shall Be Monsters (Renaissance Press, 2018)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Lena Ng’s Love Transcendent is a belle mort tale of transformation. Exploring the Ancient Greek image of the soul represented as a butterfly, Ng explores the idea of death itself as a process of beautiful transformation, as a chrysalis in which the caterpillar of life becomes something majestic and winged after life. 

This beautifully macabre tale explores the role of a young doctor seeking to understand the body, who ultimately becomes fascinated with what exists beyond the physical. As much as he is fascinated by the inner workings of the body, he is fascinated by the aesthetics of embodiment. Life evokes a passion for discovery in him that is all-consuming, a desire to understand things that are unfathomable. 
This is a tale of a doctor’s obsession born of death and his desire to catch glimpses of the uncanny.
Ng’s tale is a meta tale with a young doctor seeking answers beyond science by picking up the text of Frankenstein, detailing Victor’s success in resurrection and using it for his own model. Yet, Ng complicates the text, illustrating the limits of science and that there is some ephemeral otherness that occurs in death and in resurrection.
This is a tale of a surgeon’s battle between professional detachment and love. 

To find out more about We Shall be Monsters, visit Renaissance Press’ site at https://renaissancebookpress.com/product/we-shall-be-monsters/

Pins and Needles

A review of Jerome Stueart’s “How Magnificent is the Universal Donor” in The Angels of Our Better Beasts (ChiZine Publications, 2016).
By Derek Newman-Stille

Ever since the AIDS crisis, we queer people have had a complex relationship to blood, so we are put in an interesting relationship with the fictional figure of the vampire, a figure who can alter what it penetrates, and who both feeds off of blood and often changes those whose blood it comes in contact with. Jerome Stueart’s How Magnificent is the Universal Donor explores the complexities of Queer relationships with blood without making his narrative an AIDS narrative directly. Instead, he creates a new blood-based pathogen called BBD, which spread through 40% of the population and needs to be treated through blood transfusions. 

Stueart explores the idea of medical control around a blood-based pathogen, illustrating that medical professionals and the World Health Organization are able to exert total control over the lives of those it views as medically threatening. But, disease is frequently a method of Othering certain people, casting them as infectious invaders into a normate body. Frequently diseases are traced back to other countries, particularly those with less political power on the global stage, and, in the case of AIDS, there is a narrative that pushes the disease onto the Queer population, and gay men in particular, casting gay men as an infectious population. At the time I am writing this, Canadian Blood Services still won’t allow gay men or anyone who has had sex with a gay man to donate blood (unless they have been celibate for at least 3 years). This targets a specific population and portrays them as inherently infectious. Although Stueart portrays the disease BBD as not connected to any specific population, his use of two gay male narrators brings the reader’s attention to this parallel, inviting us to question why these two men, in particular, are targeted by a medical system that has absolute control over them. Their own narratives are erased in this society in favour of the narratives put over them by doctors. 

“How Magnificent is the Universal Donor” invites critical questions about power and the relationship between medical power and those who are oppressed. Stueart asks us to question who is benefitting from medical practices and medical power and getting us to look at the way that medical practitioners frequently forget how much social and political power they have… and that their practice still shares the same biases as the rest of society. “How Magnificent is the Universal Donor” is a narrative about reclaiming our stories and using these stories to empower us.

To discover more about Angels of Our Better Beasts, visit http://chizinepub.com/the-angels-of-our-better-beasts/

To find out more about Jerome Stueart, visit https://jeromestueart.com

Persistence of Memory

A Review of M.G. Vassanji’s Nostalgia (Anchor Canada, 2016)

By Derek Newman-Stille

vassanji nostalgia

Memory is powerful and it can be fleeting, but M.G. Vassanji’s Nostalgia is a tale of memory’s ability to persist. Vassanji writes a near future fiction story in which immortality has been achieved, but in this future, everyone who undergoes rejuvination (the age reversal process) simultaneously has the memories of their past life erased for the new life as a younger person. But, memories are hard to erase and occasionally these memories resurface. These memories are pathologized in this world and are considered a medical disease colloquially called “nostalgia”. Vassanji creates a world that fears its past, that tries for an eternal present.

 

Vassanji invites us into the political questions raised by technology. He invites us to explore what would happen in a world that had a “cure” for ageing. Rejuvenation creates a series of social divides: between the aged and the young, the rich and the poor, and between medical ideas and religious. The young feel as though they are not able to make their place in the world because of the proliferance of older people being returned to youth. They engage in protests with slogans like “Let them go! The Earth for the Young! Let the Fogeys Die!”, viewing the aged as getting in the way of young people. Only the most wealthy can afford rejuvenation and those who undergo it keep generating further wealth, creating a greater wealth disparity bet the rich and the poor. The poor are often also the disenfranchised young, who are unable to get jobs in a world where all of the best positions are already occupied. They perceive of the older generation as needing to make way for the new generations. Yet the young are not the only ones to feel detached from their lives. Many of the ‘rejuvies’ feel a sense of disconnect in their lives, a sense of detachment and not fitting in.

 

Memory in Nostalgia is shaped by medical discourse, constructed as a danger to people’s current identities, which are authored by medical doctors who give people a new background for their new lives after rejuvenation, lives changed from the ones they are seeking to forget. The lives of the rejuvies are authored, constructed, and artificial, a veneer over a personality that has been suppressed to create the new rejuvenated self. These past lives are a threat in this medical discourse, dangerously causing a collision of personalities in the rejuvenated person. They call it “Leaked Memory Syndrome” (LMS). Yet, religious systems also engage with ideas of past lives, and religious groups have perspectives on what happens after death. They protest the damage being done spiritually through the proliferation of rejuvenated people.

 

Vassanji brings critical attention to these clashes between groups by putting us into the perspective of a doctor who deals with constructing identities for people undergoing rejuvenation, with a specialty in treating case of LMS or nostalgia, Dr. Frank Sina. Sina’s beliefs are deeply embedded in him, making him a firm believer in the mastry afforded by science, an almost zealous believer in the power of the medicine to cure the world’s ills. But even Sina’s beliefs can be challenged and they shift when he meets a man, Presley Smith, whose LMD memories seem to resonate with him and lead to his obsession with this man’s past.

 

This is a world divided not just by rejuvenation, but also by other political systems, where the wealthy parts of the world are walled off from the poorer parts of the world. This is a world where the memory constructing ability of rejuvination provides the perfect systems of assimilation for those from other countries, rewriting people’s pasts – their politics, their ideologies, and their belief systems to turn them into ‘perfect citizens’. Vissanji writes a narrative of totalitarian power and the power of memory in a political system for preventing erasure.

 

To discover more about Nostalgia, visit http://penguinrandomhouse.ca/books/183221/nostalgia#9780385667173

To discover more about the works of M.G. Vassanji, visit http://www.mgvassanji.com/

Grey’s SUPERanatomy

Grey’s SUPERanatomy
A review of Corey Redekop’s “SUPER” in Tesseracts Nineteen: Superhero Universe edited by Claude Lalumiere and Mark Shainblum (Edge, 2016).

By Derek Newman-Stille

Corey Redekop’s “SUPER” intertwines the medical drama with the superheroic, creating a commentary on the medicalizing of bodies that differ from a socially created norm. “SUPER” presents the reader as one of a group of doctors who are being led into a facility whose purpose is to deal with medical issues that may arise from superhero bodies. The reader is led through an introduction to the facilities and some of the specific concerns that relate to super bodies. Redekop, although playing with humour and the absurd, also plays with the hyper-real by examining the potential realities of the diverse bodies presented in traditional superhero comics from the problematic digestive issues of a body made of stone, what happens when a super body heals too much and produces new bodies out of every discarded part, and what happens when an elastic body stretches too far. He also invites questions around those issues not explored in comics like what happens when a superhero acquires an STI or how superheroes cope with erectile dysfunction. 

Redekop plays with medicalised rhetoric around disability by instead applying this to superhero bodies, bringing attention to the ways that we socially construct disability as a problem. He uses medical rhetoric like calling people “supercapables” (playing with the term ‘handicapables’) to point at the way that language often is used as a distraction from deeper social discriminations against people with different bodies. He brings attention to the way that rhetoric often replaces real social change and nifty acronyms replace accessibility. Indeed, the facility itself is called SUPER (Sanatorium for the Uberhuman Palliative, Emergency, and Restorative care), playing with the way that medical bureaucracies often apply language to new situations instead of policies of change. Bringing attention to things like palliative care and terms like “restorative”, and “sanitorium”, Redekop focuses the reader on the institutionalization of people with disabilities and the aged. He invites the question of “what happens when we no longer consider different bodies to be USEFUL bodies?”, a question that has occupied disability scholars regarding the representation of disabled bodies as only valuable when perceived as productive. 

Redekop reverses the lens of looking at disability as the Other by also ensuring that the doctors are from traditionally pathologised groups, made up of people who exhibit borderline personality disorders and “near-crippling” social phobias. The doctors would likely be treated as stigmatized people because of their psychological disabilities and be subject to all of the social oppression that other people labelled “mad” would experience. By situating the doctors as people with stigmas, Redekop breaks down the barrier that is arbitrarily created between able-bodied and disabled, or, in this case, between able-bodied and superable-bodied. He portrays the psychological disabilities of these doctors as assets, aiding in their ability to think up new medical treatments. By putting the reader into the position of one of the doctors through the second person narration, Redekop further complicates the portrayal of disability by having the reader occupy a diagnostic position, making the reader the medical authority who is learning about new bodies. 

Combining social critique and questions with his characteristic humour, Corey Redekop wields his words like a scalpel, cutting to the root of complex social questions and operating in a theatre of critical wit.

To find out more about Corey Redekop’s work, visit his website at http://www.coreyredekop.ca

To discover more about Tesseracts Nineteen, visit Edge’s website at http://edgewebsite.com/books/tess19/t19-catalog.html 

Resistant Strain 

A review of Kelly Robson’s “The Three Resurrections of Jessica Churchill” in Clarkesworld Magazine (February, 2015). Accessible online at http://clarkesworldmagazine.com/robson_02_15/

By Derek Newman-Stille

Jessica’s life had been haunted by the faces of missing and murdered women that dotted the walls of the gas station where she worked, evoking the idea that when one lived on the Highway of Tears, one’s life as a woman was shaped by persistent loss. Jessica learned early on that the system wasn’t made to help, protect, or support her. She had already found that she couldn’t count on the police, medical, or education system for any form of protection, safety, or health. She has learned that her life was shaped by the controls of others and that the only way to be independent was to reject those controls. But, Jessica’s life becomes marked by the omni-presence of health and the threat of death. Her rape and murder are only the first of her body’s violations and infiltrations as her body is resurrected by alien bacteria who claim to want to help her but have invaded her body and modified it. 

Kelly Robson’s “The Three Resurrections of Jessica Churchill” explores the societal violence done against aboriginal women and its multiple manifestations – whether through the prevalence of missing and murdered aboriginal women or the denial of basic services like quality health, protection, and education to women. Robson explores the idea that the violence against women extends beyond sexual assault and murder to the various institutions that divorce women from their own bodies, that deny them access to health, understanding of their bodies, and means of protecting themselves. Robson’s bacterial aliens are only another manifestation of the types of bodily infiltrations and controls that women’s bodies are subjected to. 

“The Three Resurrections of Jessica Churchill” is a chilling tale about the relationship between violence, the body, and the idea that one often falls into trust by necessity because there aren’t other options… but this trust generally comes with an openness to vulnerability as well.

To discover more about Kelly Robson, visit her website at http://kellyrobson.com 

To read this story, visit Clarkesworld at http://clarkesworldmagazine.com/robson_02_15/

The Abduction of Women’s Voices

A review of Nancy Johnston’s “The Rendez-Vous: The True Story of Jeanetta (Netty) Wilcox” in Bending the Landscape: Science Fiction (The Overlook Press, 1999)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Nancy Johnston’s “The Rendez-Vous: The True Story of Jeanetta (Netty) Wilcox” is a wonderful feminist discourse on the tendency of men to overwrite the narrative and words of women. This is a story about erasure and the abduction of the female voice and the uncertainty of historical or narrative “truth”, particularly highlighting the way that narrative “truths” are often constructed in a gendered landscape.

Coached as a story that is nominally about abduction, Nancy Johnston’s science fiction short story points to the fiction of science and its constructed nature. The story is written as a report about the UFO abduction of Jeanetta (Netty) Wilcox. This report structure to the abduction narrative highlights the way that women’s words are mediated through others. The narrative is constructed as a “truthful” account, requiring the reader to read the obvious markers of assumption in the reporting of events in order to find Jeanetta’s actual narrative and her alternative vision of the occurrences that took place.

Jeanetta’s story is shaped through the perspective of her now ex husband Willard as he attempts to discern why she disappears every night and seems to be lethargic about all of the domestic duties that he thinks she should be conducting happily as his wife. He assumes initially that her concerns may be due to menopause, illustrating his own sexist reading of her body. Later, when he can’t find a method of making her less lethargic and disengaged, he seeks medical support and the doctors, supporting the notion that women should be happy to be relegated by patriarchal control to the domestic sphere, assume that they must be missing a medical problem with her and prescribe mild sedatives… which similarly do not stop her feelings of disengagement.

Never questioning the assumptions of patriarchy, Willard then latches on to the story of a UFO enthusiast that there have been alien visits to the area and tells his wife that she must be regularly getting abducted by aliens and forgetting her own experiences. The male voice here overrides her own and he and other males (doctors, journalists) seek to tell her what she “actually” experiences even over top of her own very direct denial of this. Her own observations are erased by people telling her that she has thrown up blocks to her own subconscious.

Although nominally an alien abduction narrative, “The Rendez-Vous” Johnston’s story is about the tendency of men exercising patriarchal power to override the voices of women and the likelihood that by ignoring women’s experiences and voices, they are going to miss the obvious and construct fallacies that reinforce their own power structures.

Speculative SEXtember

Body of War

A review of Suzanne Church’s “Coolies” in Elements: A Collection of Speculative Fiction (Edge, 2014)
By Derek Newman-Stille

War evokes complicated loyalties and dangerous moral questions. War involves the engagement of elaborate systems of propaganda that make moral choices seem easy, breaking down their complexity into black and white, good and evil, win and lose.

Cover photo of Suzanne Church's "Elements" courtesy of http://edgewebsite.com/

Cover photo of Suzanne Church’s “Elements” courtesy of http://edgewebsite.com/

In Suzanne Church’s “Coolies”, the United States is at war with Canada, bombing Canadian stem cell research facilities out of their belief in the moral wrongness of the facilities. Marvin, convinced that he needs to protect Canada’s facilities, abandons his loyalty to family and duties as a father in order to continue his investment in his loyalty to the state, a loyalty he has been inculcating in young soldiers to continue the war effort. When his daughter, protected from the knowledge of who her father is, joins the military, he is put into the position of questioning his oaths or having to collect her body parts from the battlefield to graft onto other soldiers.

Church plays with militaristic ideas of loyalty (and complicates the notion that loyalty is an easy duty), “saving lives” (and explores the question of whether soldiers or doctors are best suited for the task of saving lives), and literally has Marvin see the world through new eyes provided by organ transplant.

Like the bodies on the battlefield, Suzanne Church rips apart conventional propaganda myths, revealing the corpus of stories that shore up the singular morality of war.

To fin out more about Elements and other Edge books, visit their website at http://www.edgewebsite.com/ .

To discover more about Suzanne Church, visit her website at http://suzannechurch.com/wordpress/ .