Commodifying Extinction

A Review of Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s “Maquech” (This Strange Way of Dying, Exile Editions, 2013)
By Derek Newman-Stille

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

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

Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s short story “Maquech” is a narrative of wealth disparity and the value attached to animal life. Set in the near future, rare animals that are going extinct have become commodities for the rich, purchased as fashion items, status signifiers, and indicators of wealth. Animals are not valued unless they serve a capitalist end, providing an economic advantage.

In a world of wealth disparity, where the poor are struggling to survive, animals are endangered, seen as competitive resource consumers, and de-valued. Rather than balancing wealth and making clean water and food available to all (instead of just to the wealthy), the poor starve and live with thirst and come to see animals as only competition for resources rather than valuable contributors to the world around them. Rather than viewing the wealthy as the competing consumer, the cultural messages of this near future world construct animals as the competing organism, and a draw on resources, much as, in our own time period, the wealthy tend to blame others for the disparity in availability of resources.

Mario is the grandson of a man who makes rare animals, reconstructing them before they are extinct. He wants to travel to Canada to see the polar bears before they become extinct and sells a rare maquech (an insect) to Gerardo in order to get the funds to witness animal life flourishing before it disappears. Gerardo sees the maquech as an economic advantage, a saleable item for the wealthy to consume since the rich use these live insects as clothing items, a living broach on their clothes. Animals have been reduced to trade items, methods for people to make money and survive in a competitive future.

Ignoring the ecological and mythical significance of the animal, its life has been reduced to a dollar value. It is the very nature of extinction that attributes value to these animals, their rarity constructs them as something to be used as status symbols: “he likes real things and real things are scarce”. Life itself has been rendered as part of the capitalist economy, but the real wealth of animals, their deeper significance is lost in the trade for money as Gerardo discovers when he finds a loss in himself at the loss of his maquech.

To find out more about Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s work, you can visit her website at http://silviamoreno-garcia.com/blog/ . To read this story and others from This Strange Way of Dying, you can explore it at http://silviamoreno-garcia.com/blog/this-strange-way-of-dying/ . This collection will be available in the fall.

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Voudoun Visions of Toronto

A Review of Nalo Hopkinson’s Brown Girl in The Ring (Grand Central Publishing, 1998)
By Derek Newman-Stille

In Brown Girl in the Ring, Nalo Hopkinson blends urban fantasy and near-future science fiction together in a Toronto environment. She creates a Toronto that has been cut off from the rest of Canada, ghettoised and locked off from the rest of the country and made into a controlled space where entrances and exits from the city are carefully monitored and controlled. Yet, this space of conflicted identity, a Toronto that is searching for its new identity, searching for what it should become from a past that has been conflicted and confused. Toronto’s identity has been cut off from the wider Canadian identity through its rejection, and yet this could be an opportunity for it to find a new identity.

Despite its near-future science fictional setting, Brown Girl in the Ring is a space of fantasy, incorporating into it magic, mythic figures, Loa (gods and goddesses of Haitian Vodoun), and visions. Ti-Jeanne is a woman who is conflicted between her Torontonian identity and the rich Caribbean heritage that her grandmother has passed down to her – Caribbean foods, creole, healing herbs, and some elements of vodoun. She has had visions and magical power passed down to her that has attracted the attention of the Loa, the gods of Vodoun and her grandmother, Gros-Jeanne has pointed out that if she denies this aspect of herself, if she ignores the magic, it will over-ride her. If she lives in conflict with this aspect of herself, she will be warring with herself instead of integrating herself and accepting all aspects of her identity.

Hopkinson’s Toronto is a place where magic can occur, a place where cultures intersect and assert themselves and where people search for identity and meaning as they see their community in new lights, push for change, and come to find new definitions of home. Her Toronto is not one steeped in one history, but a place where multiple histories intersect, where the visions of diverse people come together to see a more complex, more magical, and more inclusive space.

To find out more about Nalo Hopkinson, you can visit her website at http://www.nalohopkinson.com/ . You can explore more about Brown Girl in the Ring at http://www.nalohopkinson.com/writing/fiction/books/brown_girl