A Shattered Touchstone

A review of Sean Virgo’s “My Atlantis” in Cli Fi: Canadian Tales of Climate Change (Exile, 2017).By Derek Newman-Stille

Sean Virgo’s “My Atlantis” is a tale about the return to a changed land. Like Rati Mehrotra’s tale in Cli Fi, this tale features an older person, but unlike Mehrotra’s tale, where the protagonist is stationary in a changing land, this aged character is returning to a place that has become his touchstone over the years, associated with memory, and able to remind him who he is. The problem is that his touchstone has changed, deteriorated by the impact of environmental destruction. Although wildlife is returning to this landscape as human beings move into the cities, that wildlife is struggling to stay healthy and survive in the damaged environment that remains. 

The protagonist works in mental health and frequently works with people who are experiencing memory loss, and that notion of memory is a significant one in this narrative as it shifts through different periods of time while memories arise one after the next inspired by glimpses of familiar scenes altered by time and the human desire to change our environment. 

Age is a significant factor in this tale as the protagonist is able to draw on a lifetime of memories of a place to reflect on its changes and highlight the way that the world has shifted. North American society is relatively short sighted about our impact on the environment, so it is significant that Virgo chooses a long duree approach to the environment, observing it over the course of a lifetime to see the impact of change. 

To discover more about Cli Fi, visit Exile’s website at http://www.exileeditions.com

Advertisements

Ageing into Climate Change

A review of Rati Mehrotra’s “Children of the Sea” in Cli Fi: Canadian Tales of Climate Change (Exile, 2017)

By Derek Newman-Stille

In “Children of the Sea”, Rati Mehrotra links the changes that come with ageing to the changes that come from environmental damage. In Mehrotra’s tale, age becomes a subject of stability in a changing world and an older woman lives through massive climate change while constantly revisiting memories of a time before global environmental catastrophe. 

Auntie Benita is the stable figure as her world changes, watching it shift from her African home. The tides encroach on her home like the memory of all of the destruction and damage that has come from other places through the impact of colonialism and industry. Even the “solutions” to the ecological issues disempower her, located elsewhere and often exploitatively taking advantage of her. Benita watches as an ark ship leaves her planet to seek out another one, trying to bring humanity to another planet and colonize and terraform it since human impact on our own planet has terraformed it into something no longer inhabitable. She has observed failed attempts at reversing global warming as the water from melting icebergs gradually encroached on her home, and finally even saw the bodies of her family members altered and changed to adapt to aquatic life that would become a reality on our world. 

Landscape and memory intersect in this tale, entwined through Benita’s experience, but also through loss as Benita’s memories retreat from her and the tides gobble up the land. Yet, Benita is also able to be a gage for change, observing how her world shifted throughout the years of her life and serving as a witness for readers to remind us to notice how our landscapes change and make alterations to our lifestyle to prevent the kind of crises she experiences.

To discover more about Rati Mehrotra, visit her website at https://ratiwrites.com
To discover more about Cli Fi, visit Exile’s website at http://exileeditions.com

Old, But Not Obsolete

A review of Jeff Lemire’s Old Man Logan Vol 1: Berserker (Marvel, 2017).
By Derek Newman-Stille

So many narratives of ageing feature memory and reflection, an exploration of a life lived rather than a life in the process of being experienced. Like many representations of ageing, Lemire’s aged Logan finds himself in a world that isn’t the way it should be… but instead of this narrative being another story of an old man who has lost touch with the passage of the world, this is a tale of a man from the future visiting his past, a world that isn’t as it should be because it will all be destroyed. Logan experiences a dissociation from his world not because it has moved on without him, but because he moved on without it.

Logan has to relive his past, see friends and family that have died in his future and find his way in a world that no longer suits him. Logan has escaped from a post-apocalyptic future world, but one that has left its stain on him, changed him fundamentally and coloured the way he engages with this world from his own past.

Wolverine (Logan) has been defined by his ability to resist age, to resist health issues, and to resist ageing, but this Logan is one who feels the aches in his adamantium bones, who doesn’t heal as quickly, and who has now experienced ageing. This Wolverine’s life has been shaped by regrets and he now finds himself inexplicably in the past and able to do something about those regrets. His healing factor may be slowed down, but this is a Wolverine who needs to do a lot of healing.

To find out more about Old Man Logan Vol 1: Berserker, visit http://marvel.com/comics/series/20617/old_man_logan_2016_-_present

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/

Mecha-care

A review of Fiona Moore’s “Seal” in Lazarus Risen (Bundoran Press, 2016)
By Derek Newman-Stille


Over the past few years, there has been a rising interest in robotic assistance for Long Term Care homes for aged populations. One of the technologies that has been developed is a robotic seal (called Paro) that emulates life and serves as a companion for aged people. Fiona Moore explores this trend through her science fictional story “Seal”, which examines the interactions between an ageing programmer, her daughter, and a robotic companion seal. Viv has consistently disparaged technologies developed for ageing populations and believed that the only valuable scientific pursuits were in space travel, but she now lives in a Long Term Care home and is experiencing that technology directly.

Moore points out issues with Long Term Care homes, bringing attention to the imbalance in resources and the allocation of resources to wealthier people in the home. She highlights the costs associated with care and the resultant inaccessibility of resources for people who are not wealthy. But, most importantly, she examines ideas of surveillance and the lack of privacy in the LTC home as Viv is constantly monitored and all of her habits and behaviours noted by the nursing staff.

Moore highlights issues of family involvement in the LTC home by bringing attention to elder abuse and the potential for family members to take resources away from those in the home.

“Seal” is a collision of technology and the imagination of what constitutes long term care, questioning practices that are taken for granted as normal aspects of care. 
To discover more about Lazarus Risen, visit the Bundoran Press website at http://www.bundoranpress.com/product/1/Lazarus-Risen

Speculating Canada on Trent Radio Episode 72: An Interview with A.C. Wise

On this episode of Speculating Canada, I Interview the fabulous A.C. Wise about The Ultra Fabulous Glitter Squadron Saves The World Again. We discuss trans narratives, femininity and femme identity, Lovecraftian fiction, monstrosity, unspeakable horrors, weird literature, horror literature, resistant texts, diversity, representation in literature, making our fiction match the diversity of our own world, memory, the power of speculative fiction to evoke new thoughts, and the power of discomfort to evoke change.

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

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. 

Immortality Quest

Immortality Quest

A review of Kelley Armstrong’s “Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word” from “Expiration Date”, Edited by Nancy Kilpatrick (Edge, 2015)

By Derek Newman-Stille

It is always exciting to see a collection on the notion of the “Expiration Date” open with a vampire story – a monster developed as a fundamental question to the notion of death itself and occupying a liminal status between life and death while complicating both ideas. Kelley Armstrong’s “Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word” reintroduces some of the vampires from Kelley’s other fiction including Zoe, the Toronto vampire who people feel doesn’t really count as a vampire, and Cassandra, a vampire who has lived well beyond the date at which most vampires die. In Armstrong’s Otherworld stories, vampires are only able to live a certain number of years and each year, on their birthday, they must kill a human being and drink the last of their blood. As vampires age (still well beyond a human lifespan), they begin to experience the effects of aging and eventually die. Cassandra is seeking a replacement for herself on the supernatural council as the vampire representative and she has identified Zoe as a potential replacement.

Armstrong’s vampires, like many vampires in fiction, embody the clashing of past and present – figures who blur the understanding of the past by carrying memory into the present. Cassandra embodies this clash of temporalities by being an antique dealer, working with items from the past and bringing them into the present. Zoe embodies her resistance to the timeline by being an antique thief, stealing those moments of the past as she does by living beyond her years. But, Zoe and Cassandra’s strange relationship to time is most important in the notion of what is remembered and what is forgotten or left in the past. When Zoe’s young, human protage, Brittany the (former) Vampire Slayer (yes, she is definitely an Armstronged Buffy) begins asking Cassandra about Zoe’s past, the vampire obscures the details of Zoe’s past to hide the more unsavoury details of her life, hiding the rawness of Zoe’s memories and her previous identity from Brittany. This desire to hide the past only highlights how much Zoe has changed and how much she is concerned about her changes. Yet, this is also a narrative about wanting an apology for a past wrong done to Zoe and apologies are a way of coping with the past.

To further the issues of time and long life embodied by the vampire, Zoe is also facing an influx of “immortality questers” into the Toronto area – supernaturals who dissect vampires as a way to try to gain immortality. This act of questing for immortality underlines the role of the vampire as a question about immortality and survival as well as the obsession our society has with finding ways to life forever.

Armstrong’s “Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word” is about the uncertainty of time and memory and about the loss that long lives can imprint on the undead. Situated in a collection about death, this story serves as a question about death and the social power it has.

To discover more about Kelley Armstrong, visit her website at http://www.kelleyarmstrong.com

To find out more about Expiration Date, visit Edge’s website at http://edgewebsite.com/books/expirationdate/expirationdate-catalog.html