Speculating Canada on Trent Radio Episode 26: A Discussion with Dan Vena About Apocalyptic Fiction

In this episode, Queen’s University PhD student and cultural theorist Dan Vena joins me in the studio to talk about Canadian apocalyptic fiction. In our discussion, we explore notions of the monstrous, the superheroic, mutations, pandemic narratives, and the power of apocalyptic narratives to discuss issues in the present such as environmental concerns, the experiences of LGBTQ2 people, critical capitalism, and power structures.

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. 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.

Hunger

A review of Tyler Keevil’s “The Herd” in Dead North: Canadian Zombie Fiction (Exile Editions, 2013).

Cover Photo of Dead North: Canadian Zombie Fiction

Cover Photo of Dead North: Canadian Zombie Fiction

By Derek Newman-Stille

Tyler Keevil’s “The Herd” reverses the hunter/hunted dynamic in zombie fiction. Zombies, often characterised by their herd mentality in fiction are treated like a herd of prey and hunted by a man who has acquired a taste for human flesh.  Keevil mixes the mythology of the Wendigo with that of the zombie, creating a monster who craves human flesh and even inhuman flesh.

Cast from his tribe when starvation forces him to eat human flesh, the hunter finds a place of belonging in the north, characterised by its long periods of hunger and the cold, unmarked landscape that creates a place of moral ambiguity for him. The spread of zombiism makes this northern landscape an ideal place for inhuman acts of violence.

Many zombie tales feature the zombie as fodder for human aggression – a human body that can be killed without any moral consequence and Keevil plays with this genre trope and presents the human (or perceived human) hunter as a monster, a predator with an insatiable hunger much like that of his prey. This equivocation of human (wendigo) and zombie brings the reader into a place of instability between the category of the monster and the human (a category that is often presented in the zombie genre as something that is firm and only passes one way – from human to zombie through infection).

By making the zombie the object of hunger, the food that fuels the desire for consumption instead of the consuming figure, Keevil situates hunger as a human characteristic.

You can explore more about Tyler Keevil’s work at http://www.tylerkeevil.com/

To check out Dead North, visit http://www.amazon.ca/Dead-North-Canadian-Fiction-Anthology/dp/1550963554

Penning the Subtle Murmur of Death and Splash of Blood

A review of Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s This Strange Way of Dying (Forthcoming 2013, Exile Editions)

Cover photo courtesy of Silvia Moreno-Garcia. Artwork by Sara K. Diesel

Cover photo courtesy of Silvia Moreno-Garcia. Artwork by Sara K. Diesel

By Derek Newman-Stille

Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s This Strange Way of Dying is just one step abstracted from reality, with one foot in The Weird. Populated with monsters, magic, and folklore, her work is fundamentally about the human outsider experience, the deeper engagement with the world that comes from being on the fringe, looking in at the oddity that is “The Normal”. From this outsider position, her characters navigate a world that is simultaneously familiar and odd to them. The city in Moreno-Garcia’s work, is a place of wonder and misery. She engages with the estrangement of the urban environment and the isolating and abject quality of living in modernity.

Setting most of her stories in Mexico, and exploring Mexican legends and Mexican urban environments, Moreno-Garcia uses the power of being a person between spaces (both Mexican and Canadian) to navigate the duality of her identity, presenting Mexican themes for a primarily Canadian reading audience. Her stories revel in the creative space of between-ness.

Moreno-Garcia provides the deep and intelligent critiques of “The Normal” that can best be expressed through outsider characters and their ability to have a dual vision of society both from the fringes and from within, questioning and interrogating the norms that are constantly being imposed on them. While engaging with monsters, monstrous changes within, and the touch of magic and death on their lives, her characters explore their relationship to the environment, to mortality, critique capitalist disparity, war and violence, and explore their estrangement from others. Her stories swirl around a critique of people who are obsessed with the mundane while ignoring the violence, disparity, and death around them. The glimpses she provides into the dark don’t allow the reader to escape from the reality of horrors embedded in our world.

Penning shadows that soak and stain the page with midnight ponderings, Moreno-Garcia creates worlds of dark wonder that pull the mind of the reader into a dream-like-state of pondering. Courting death and violence as her muses, and breathing them out onto the page, whispering little deaths onto the paper, she evokes the horror that exists around us, constantly being pushed to the shadows by our own desires to ignore it.

Much like the god of the woods in her story Shade of the Ceiba Tree, her voice is joy and love, yet the reader discovers that beneath the layers of beauty in her words is the subtle murmur of death and the splash of blood on the earth. She, too, wields a double-ended blade of fear and desire.

You can explore some of my reviews of individual stories from this volume at https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2013/07/22/coyotes-in-urban-turf-wars/ and https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2013/07/15/commodifying-extinction/ .

To find out more about This Strange Way of Dying and Silvia Moreno-Garcia, visit http://silviamoreno-garcia.com/blog/this-strange-way-of-dying/This Strange Way of Dying will be available on September 1, 2013.

300th Post and The Story of Speculating Canada

Dear readers,

Today will be Speculating Canada’s 300th post!! Thank you for all of your support. I thought I would publish a bit about the story of Speculating Canada itself and reveal some of my hopes and dreams about where Speculating Canada is going.

Speculating Canada grew out of my current research for my PhD in Canadian Studies at Trent University. My research is focussed on exploring the representation of disability in Canadian speculative fiction, and, in particular, looks at the way monstrous protagonists in Canadian urban dark fantasy are often written in a way that suggests the experience of people with disabilities in Canada. For example, monstrous protagonists, like people with disabilities, are often described in urban dark fantasy as experiencing barriers to employment, the need to pass as normative bodied, differences in senses, dealing with bodily difference, the medicalised body, etc.

Speculating Canada is sort of a combination of a number of different things that were important to me like making Canadian speculative fiction (SF) more known, showing my love of the genre, discussing Canadian speculative fiction as a tool for learning and opening up new questions and ideas, and making scholarly work accessible to the public. Often academic work is written in a way that excludes the public and makes it inaccessible. So, on Speculating Canada, I try to combine reviews of Canadian SF with a little bit of literary analysis. I do this to recognise the intelligence and depth that readers of SF have, and to allow them to critically think about the work they are reading and experiencing.

Art by Derek Newman-Stille - www.dereknewmanstille.ca

Art by Derek Newman-Stille – http://www.dereknewmanstille.ca

I also try to show the ability of SF to question things, to open different social norms up to speculation. SF has an incredible ability to push boundaries, help people move out of their comfort zone, and challenge pre-conceptions that our society doesn’t often challenge. SF has a fantastic capacity to link up with higher education in its ability to open everything to discussion and constantly ask the question “why?”.

I do regular author interviews on Speculating Canada, and I think I do something a little different with my interviews. I see a lot of websites that ask authors questions about writing: Why did you get into writing? What is it like to be an author? etc. So, I thought I would do something a little different and ask authors about what kinds of questions they are hoping to raise with their literature and give them a forum for discussing the big issues of today and how they manifest themselves in literature. Authors are often really keenly aware people who have an incredible grasp of social situations and issues around them and SF authors, focussed on the future, on the darker side of things, or on other worlds of possibility, often are looking into things that the majority of our society ignores or leaves unquestioned. I like to allow authors to really express these insights and show the ability of SF to question “the normal” (an invented category, itself).

I see speculative fiction as a medium that can bring attention to social issues around us, and possibly give voice to people and ideas that are often under-represented. SF is often referred to as the “literature of change”, and it has a lot of potential to become this, but a lot of people who are writing SF are still recycling current stereotypes and treating them as though they are inherently natural rather than socially created. One can see this in the stereotypical treatment of people of colour, people with disabilities, and in the treatment of gender and sexuality. A lot of things still remain unchallenged and I see SF as playing a huge role in opening up some new ideas and challenging some things that have been unchallenged for too long. Canadian SF is already starting to bring attention to social issues and social questions and I hope to see more of those questions being asked as time goes on.

Several fantastic Canadian authors are bringing attention to and challenging social issues like Claude Lalumiere, Michael Rowe, Gemma Files, Karl Schroeder, and Silvia Moreno-Garcia (a small sampling of the numerous authors who are using SF as a medium of change). When interviewing authors for Speculating Canada, I have really seen how keenly aware and interested they are in social issues and in promoting ideas of diversity, social and environmental justice, and challenging ideas that limit us as a society. SF can really become a medium of change and help society to ask itself the tough questions that will lead to deeper awareness and hopefully help us promote a more diverse, inclusive, society.

Speculating Canada came out of many of the interests I mentioned above, but it also came from an unusual personal circumstance. I have been experiencing health issues for the past few years that have, among other things, affected my memory. I began taking more extensive notes on the Canadian SF that I was reading (for me, there is no such thing as JUST reading for fun – reading for fun and reading for research happen together and I always have a bit of a critical analytical perspective when I read). It occurred to me that I could take those notes and share them with people to try to encourage people to read more Canadian SF and to make people aware that they can be doing critical analyses of Canadian SF on their own.  So, my recent memory disability was an inspiration for the creation of Speculating Canada.

My hope is that this website opens up opportunities for people to think about Canadian SF, challenge conventional ways of thinking, and open up new opportunities for thought and growth.

“People unite against things. People fight when they’re scared and threatened, not to change, not for the future. They get it wrong in the other Tales. People don’t fight for heroes: They fight for the monsters. For fear of the monsters in the dark.”

-Leah Bobet – Above (Arthur A. Levine Books, 2012)

Quote – People Fight For Fear of Monsters

Interview with Corey Redekop

An interview of Corey Redekop
By Derek Newman-Stille

Author photo courtesy of Corey Redekop

Author photo courtesy of Corey Redekop

Wouldn’t the world be better if we just asked the monsters politely if they could please not eat us at the moment? Corey Redekop and I had a chance in this interview to explore the figure of the monster and its role as a representation of the social outcast, the rejected. It is great to talk to an author who shares my belief that horror and SF in general can be a medium of social change. I hope that you enjoy our interview as much as I enjoyed talking to Corey Redekop.

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

Corey Redekop: I was hatched in the Canadian north, and spent the next 18 years building up my strength to order to escape. After bouncing around for a few decades, I wrote my debut novel Shelf Monkey, which helped open some doors I didn’t know existed. Currently I eke out a living as publicist for book publisher Goose Lane Editions in Fredericton, NB.

Spec Can: Why is the zombie so appealing to people right now? What has led to the current excitement about the figure of the zombie?

Corey Redekop: It’s well known that people flock to monsters and horror in times of stress, which explains the popularity of giant radioactive monsters during the beginnings of the nuclear age. I don’t know why zombies in particular have taken off. I think it has to do with the fear that we are the ultimate monsters in our world. If we want to better this planet, we have to fight our own fears, our own weaknesses, and our own ignorance.

Spec Can: What are some of the things that the zombie can represent in our society?

Corey Redekop: Zombies are a terrifically malleable monster, the “jack of all trades” of symbolism, capable of subtextually representing almost anything we care to name. Crime, disease, ego, sexuality, bureaucrats, consumerism, class warfare, conservatives; you name it, they can do it.

Spec Can: What myths of the zombie influenced the type of zombie that you created in Husk and what zombie myths fascinated you most?

Cover Photo of Husk, courtesy of the author

Cover Photo of Husk, courtesy of the author

Corey Redekop: Much of my initial idea had to do with the resurrection myths that permeate modern and ancient religions. In a real sense, they may be the progenitors to the zombie of today. What was Jesus post-death, really, if not a zombie with functioning brain? In my original manuscript, I played a lot more with this theme, trying to push the rotting corpse of Sheldon into a messiah figure. By combining the two, I tried to find a way that Sheldon could be both a zombie in the b-movie Hollywood sense and a fully sensate individual.

Spec Can: What made you decide to write Husk from the perspective of the zombie?

Corey Redekop: I didn’t want another “us vs. them” story. I like stories about outsiders and loners, which all monsters are to some extent. I also like tales where protagonists have to adapt or fight against something completely out of their control. (Which, I suppose, is the basis for all fiction, now that I think about it).

I love body horror, which is horror of the most unsettling sort; the horror of being trapped within flesh, a prisoner of your own DNA. David Cronenberg — whose movies The Fly, The Brood, and Videodrome are required viewing for those who appreciate both the form and a great mix of gore and intelligence — is the preeminent purveyor of the theme, and I wish he’d go back to it. I also find the idea of a man continually trying to keep his innards in check very funny, as well as gross; I recommend Stuart Gordon’s Re-Animator and From Beyond as two examples of just absolutely grotesque transmogrifications of the human form that are horrifying and horrifying funny. It seemed natural that I combine the two.

Spec Can: Is there something distinctive about Canadian horror? How so? What distinguishes it?

Corey Redekop: All horror is about coming across some form of evil; Canadian horror is about confronting such evil with unfailing politeness. Why thrust a wooden stake through the heart of the vampire when a strongly worded letter can be just as effective? “Dear ancient evil; I must strongly object to your recent killing spree…” (joke)

Horror is horror, no matter who writes it. I don’t think that there’s a necessarily Canadian POV that permeates northern horror, other than possibly setting (which doesn’t even work, since fiction crosses borders with such ease; one of my favourite horror novels, Cabal by Clive Barker, is set in Alberta, yet the author is British). I think this may be because fear is a primal instinct, something shared between peoples across the globe. Authors such as Andrew Pyper, David Nickle, Gemma Files, Michael Rowe, Susie Moloney, Ian Rogers, and Tony Burgess stand firmly with the best horror fiction available in the world. This could be because horror authors are all of a similar breed, a sect of damaged individuals who yearn to explore the darker corners of the world. Some are darker than others, but all appreciate what confronting our demons can achieve.

Spec Can: In your novel Husk, you wrote about a gay zombie. What inspired you to make your zombie character gay?

Corey Redekop: I actually didn’t know Sheldon was gay until (*SPOILER*) he killed his boyfriend. It just wrote out that way, but as soon as it did, I knew there could be no other choice. Sheldon has always been uncomfortable as himself, which may explain his striving to be an actor. He was never truly at ease with his homosexuality, a discomfort that can be placed at the feet of domineering religious mother. In our society, homosexuality is one of the last personal characteristics that some people feel very comfortable discriminating against because of their blatant fears and willful misreading of age-old texts that have very little bearing on the world of today (although this is lessening, thank God). Allowing Sheldon that experience informs his refusal to fully “monster up” and embrace his new identity as a member of the undead.

Spec Can: What can horror reveal about ‘otherness’ and the outsider experience?

Corey Redekop: In Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend, the hero Neville, after fighting vampires for what seems like ages, suddenly understands himself to be the outsider, the monster that preys on innocent victims. Similarly, in Cabal, Boone, filled with self-loathing and believing himself a monster, realizes that the monsters are in actuality the prey, living forever in fear of humanity. Like the best of any fiction, horror allows us to turn the mirror and see ourselves as others see us, as monsters in our own right. This isn’t meant to excuse the monstrous acts of others, of course, but is it right to condemn the monster (or the outsider) as evil simply for following its own instincts? A zombie isn’t intrinsically evil; it is simply following an impulse we do not share. A vampire is only trying to survive, the same as us, reacting in the same way as any animal that has its habitat threatened through civilization’s continuing encroachment.

Spec Can: Can horror be a medium for empowering people who have been oppressed? How so?

Corey Redekop: Storytelling can always be empowering, and using elements of horror in the medium is no different. Look at how many authors are imprisoned for their stories; there is great power in words and tales, which explains why some governments are so wary and distrustful of their artists. The more we discuss a subject, the more people begin to understand it, come to grips with it, and accept it. This is what some people find so dangerous. The world is a place of constant change and evolution, and that scares some people to the core of their being. This is why Harry Potter gets challenged and banned, because in its own way it challenges some people’s belief as to the way the world works.

Spec Can: Why does horror literature show such a fascination with the body? What does the body interest us so much?804381_10151519200179402_957214904_n

Corey Redekop: The fascination lies in the body’s fragility. The prick of a pin can lead to infection; the eating of a peanut may close our breathing passages. It doesn’t take much to kill us, really, and while we may fight disease, we all know that it is ultimately a losing battle.

There’s also the absolute unfairness of the body that terrifies us. When people die from outside actions, there is always a reason we can attach a form of blame to. The girder wasn’t built to specifications, the terrorist was angry at government inaction, the brakes on the bus failed. We get that; we can deal with it rationally. When our body rebels, however, we have no one to blame, no one to confront, no one to fight back against. That body you took such good care of is now a prison you never escape from. You could apply the term Kafkaesque to the process, although the machinations of the body is even more unfathomable that poor Josef K’s predicament.

Spec Can: What can Speculative Fiction do that ‘realist’ fiction can’t?

Corey Redekop: When people read speculative fiction, they are already primed to accept anything that would, under almost every other circumstance, be viewed as ludicrous. Once you accept that (in the world you’ve just begun reading about) starships travel faster than the speed of light, the colour of your hair may lead to insanity, a society of frog-people live beneath the surface of the lake, Trafalmadorians can experience any point in time at will, and the dead get up and walk around and hold down a job, you’re up for anything.

Speculative makes the impossible possible and the subtext palatable. A reader may not want to read a treatise on the damaging mixture of religion and politics, but a reader will read an enormous set of volumes on just that theme as long as its set on Arrakis. A viewer will not care to sit through a documentary on racial violence, but will watch again and again a tale of space prawns unwilling trapped in South Africa.

I actually don’t care for the term, actually; by definition, all fiction is “speculative.” It feels like a cheat to me, a way of elevating a genre through semantics. I’m all for declaring all genre classifications null and void. However, the librarian in me protests that form of anarchy, because then where would we put the books?

Spec Can: What drew you to write speculative fiction? Why do you write it?

Corey Redekop: This is the only spec-fic I’ve ever written, and I’m not sure I’ll return to the genre soon (I’m now starting work on a crime novel). But I love it. My childhood was made up of equal parts Star Trek, Star Wars, The Prisoner, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, The Wild Wild West, Stephen King, and Monty Python’s Flying Circus. I wasn’t popular as a kid, so most of my free time was spent in my imaginations, and the more outlets I could find, the better. I love stories that give you an alternate view of the world, a viewpoint you never considered.

Spec Can: What role can Speculative Fiction have in provoking people to think about new things and new ideas?

Corey Redekop: Fiction pushes at the boundary of what’s possible, and encourages readers to learn from example and then create themselves what they love in their stories. We dreamed of space travel through our stories, and then achieved it. Jules Verne and H.G. Wells were enormously influential, as is William Gibson today. Yet we’ve now advanced to such a point where such outward innovation has almost caught up to our imaginations. I think speculative fiction will have to look inward now, to expanding our consciousness beyond mortal limits. We see hints of this in talk of Artificial Intelligence and The Singularity.

Speculative fiction can also act as a warning by providing glimpses at what may happen should science go awry. Margaret Atwood’s books are terrific examples of real-world scenarios and advancements having devastating consequences.

Spec Can: Is there anything distinctly Canadian about the worlds and characters you create?

Corey Redekop: I don’t know. I write what I want, and leave the discussion on subtext and cultural influences to others. I like to think my protagonists so far have been polite, which works to their disadvantage.

Spec Can: In Husk, medical doctors are largely corrupt and disinterested in the human element. They privilege their research and economic factors over humane treatment. What influenced this image of science?

Corey Redekop: I certainly didn’t mean for my doctors to infer a distrust of the medical profession. I think doctors (the good ones) are some of the noblest people of the planet. I far more distrust corporations that underwrite research, politicians who suppress research and innovation because of ideological bent, and good old basic human greed. I also follow Vonnegut’s satirical writing rule, “Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the reader may see what they are made of.” I need bad things to happen to Sheldon, and uncaring scientists seemed a good way to test his mettle.

Spec Can: Why focus Husk on an actor? What is the significance of the acting profession and how does it relate to your story line?

Corey Redekop: I thought acting would be a fine way for Sheldon to avoid being himself. Acting can be a psychologically damaging profession (I know from experience), and I thought it a nice touch that Sheldon can’t seem to get anywhere either as himself. I also wanted to play with some of the themes of fame, or more specifically, celebrity. I hate that in this world you can become a celebrity by virtue of being an absolute asshole with no redeeming qualities who somehow lucked into having a television camera catch every revolting act. Sheldon wanted fame, but not celebrity.

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

Corey Redekop: Only that the response has been far greater than anything I could have hoped for. I’m truly gratified that people have so enjoyed such a deeply weird story.

I want to thank Corey Redekop for this insightful and thought-provoking interview, as well as for his sense of humour. It is always delightful to talk to someone who can ponder about the nature of the Outsider effect in our society and then also joke about Canadian politeness.

 

If you haven’t had a chance yet, you can check out my review of Husk at https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2013/02/25/five-stages-of-grieving-yourself/  and you can explore Corey Redekop’s website at http://www.coreyredekop.ca/ to find out a bit more about him and his upcoming projects.