A NecROMANTIC Disregard

A review of Toni Pi’s “The Marotte” from OnSpec # 95, vol 25, no 4
By Derek Newman-Stille

Cover photo from OnSpec  # 95, courtesy of http://www.onspec.ca

Cover photo from OnSpec # 95, courtesy of http://www.onspec.ca

 

The world looks very different after you are dead, particularly if you wake up in the body of a Marotte, a fool’s staff. From Lord Conjuror to the toy of the court’s fool, Vod is able to gain a new experience and way of looking at the world and his court when death causes his change of office.

Set up as part of a political intrigue, Vod is better suited to carry out an investigation of the court when he is linked to the largely ignored fool. There is a benefit in being treated as a joke in that no one expects you to actually be challenge the expectations of the court.

As a fool’s marotte, Vod learns more about the court, about himself, and about notions of selfless, self-sacrificing love. He is able to discover that the court fool, Cherchenko, far from being  foolish, is complex, intelligent, and completely in love with him. Constrained by social position and the homophobic culture in which he is embedded, Cherchenko was forced to keep his love for Vod secret, burying his affections until Vod has become a spirit, disembodied and distanced from his rank and any cultural expectations around sexuality. He is able to be more free and open with a spirit than he had been with the man.  Cherchebko’s love for Vod literally called him back from the grave, summoning him forth into Vod’s wand, stolen and disguised as the fool’s marotte.

Toni Pi explores the role of the fool as a social outsider, like most social Others, both invisible (ignored and disregarded) and hypervisible, constantly noticed for his Otherness. Cherchenko uses his status as someone who is disregarded to engage in political intrigue, knowing that he won’t be taken seriously or viewed as a political player, but that invisibility also meant that Vod, while alive, ignored the fool, disregarding him as all of the others did. It is only in Vod’s new position as ghost, without his body and status and everything that lets him disregard those on the fringes that he is able to really see into the fringes, to see the relationships that exist outside of his previous sphere of attention.

To read more about OnSpec, visit their website at
http://www.onspec.ca/

To discover more about the works of Toni Pi, visit his website at http://www.writertopia.com/profiles/TonyPi

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Between Coping and Addiction

A review of Brandon Crilly’s “Remembrance” from OnSpec # 95, vol 25, no 4

Cover photo from OnSpec  # 95, courtesy of http://www.onspec.ca

Cover photo from OnSpec # 95, courtesy of http://www.onspec.ca


By Derek Newman-Stille

Set in the future, Brandon Crilly’s “Remembrance” is a venture into the results of war, not on nations, but on one family. Since returning from war, Anna’s father has used an assemblage of assistive technology including a bionic prosthetic leg, but more importantly, a new technology that is purported to help soldiers cope with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). This technology allows a soldier to visit friends lost in war by simulating them in a virtual world.

Anna fears that the assistive tech her father is using is causing him to lose touch with reality and become addicted to his technology. She feels him slipping away from her as he engages more and more with his virtual world. She ponders whether the technology is helping or hindering his metal health.

It is only when Anna is able to think about her own experience of loss, the trauma that she suffered when her mother died, that she is able to understand her father. This common experience of loss lets her enter into a shared space of longing and constant coping.

Crilly provides no easy answers or simple resolutions, but rather shows that trauma and loss are always negotiated, ongoing processes for families to work out.

To read more about OnSpec, visit their website at
http://www.onspec.ca/

To find out more about the work of Brandon Crilly, visit his website at brandoncrilly@wordpress.com

Performing “Reality”, Living Fiction

A review of Kevin Harkness’ “Double Vision” from OnSpec # 95, vol 25, no 4.
By Derek Newman-Stille

Cover photo from OnSpec  # 95, courtesy of http://www.onspec.ca

Cover photo from OnSpec # 95, courtesy of http://www.onspec.ca

Truth is painful, and seeing the truth is a huge responsibility. Kevin Harkness’ “Double Vision” peels back the layers of fiction in our society, exposing the social masks and lies we create for ourselves and others – an important part of this process we call “civilisation”.

When Chartrand was in a mining explosion, pieces of metal and rock were thrust into his brain, severing it into two halves. This doubling of cognition allowed him to simultaneously see and hear two different visions and sets of words – one, the words that were said and the attitude performed by a person, and the other their true face and the words that they conceal. His doubled experience allowed him (or forced him) to see the difference between the performed world and the inner, hidden world, creating a painful cognitive dissonance and a general alienation from an all-to-often fictional society.

Harkness takes the reader into this realm of duality, letting us see how much of our world is fictional, performed, and inauthentic. In this space of question, Harkness exposes not just individual secrets, but the way that communities ignore or hide problems to make things appear better on the surface, erasing difference, removing members of a community that differ from the values that are entrenched as the “norm”, and concealing issues of violence and abuse because they are “private” rather than public affairs.

Through Chartrand’s dual vision and dual hearing, the reader is pulled into a place of social question, asking what has been concealed, what hidden, what erased to make communities appear to be homogenous.

To read more about OnSpec, visit their website at http://www.onspec.ca/

To find out more about the work of Kevin Harkness, visit his website at http://kevinharkness.ca/

YOLO Deathwish

A review of R. Crowle Gray’s “The Revenant Threat” in OnSpec #94, vol 25 no 3

By Derek Newman-Stille

We all have one of those friends who defies all of the theories of Darwinian evolution by making perpetually stupid decisions and still managing to survive. R. Crowle Gray appropriately names this frat boy type of character Darwin and in “The Revenant Threat”, his friend Tristan has to bail him out of another bad situation he has gotten into as a result of his YOLO attitude about decision-making. Darwin returns from a night of poker and drinking with a bag full of money, a new watch, and a writing, growing tattoo that radiates bad vibes. Darwin assumes that the tattoo was just another bad drunken decision, but Tristan can see the air of the supernatural haunting this bad choice – something about this tattoo radiates “death mark”.
Not bothering to tell Darwin about his poor choice, which could turn him into an evolutionary dead end, Tristan seeks to fix Darwin’s mistake without consciously involving him – only asking him a minimum of questions about how he acquired his new death mark and literally distracting him by turning on the television or pointing out pretty girls to him.
Gray mixes a bit of magic with characters that we can all relate to – those loveable fools who can’t help but get themselves into trouble and the intellectual badasses who find creative ways to bail them out of trouble through creative uses of wit, and, if not magic, at least a bit of the miraculous.

Books for Kindling

A review of Andrew Bryant’s “Last Stand at Catesby’s Books” in OnSpec #94, vol 25 no 3
By Derek Newman-Stille

For those of us who love books, love the touch, smell, and experience of them, there is something that eBooks can never replicate. The experience of going into a bookstore is transcendent, a venture into a place where tales, myths, wonders, and magic are embedded in paper. When we are told things like “books are going extinct” and “who needs books when I can download a whole library”, we cringe, worrying that booksellers will take these comments seriously and close their stores.

That is one of the things that makes Andrew Bryant’s “Last Stand at Catesby’s Books” so appealing. Bryant creates a band of outlaw booksellers trying to defend the last of the bookstores from a society of e-zealots determined to wipe out the last vestiges of ink on paper. His future is one where people have become so invested in the notion of the eBook that they view books themselves as a crime, an attack on trees and view the eBook reader as the way to achieve the future.
Bryant plays with the notion of the Kindle – both Amazon’s proprietary eBook reader and kindling, something to be set fire to and has this future e-hooked readership launch campaigns to burn all of the books. This is a last stand narrative, a last stand to save the book by a group of paperback frontiersmen against the quick encroachment of a technology that doesn’t want to coexist with them.
To explore OnSpec, visit their website at http://www.onspec.ca/

Disability Ghetto

A review of  Tyrell Johnson’s “Feathers for Tray” in OnSpec Vol 25 No. 2, Summer 2013
By Derek Newman-Stille

Cover image for OnSpec Summer 2013 courtesy of the publisher

Cover image for OnSpec Summer 2013 courtesy of the publisher

In his Feathers for Tray, Tyrell Johnson explores the ghettoisation of people with disabilities. Disabilities in our own society are often treated like something that should be hidden, moved out of sight. People with disabilities are often put into homes and hidden from the sight of the able-bodied.

Writing about disability can be transformative, and Johnson’s story is imbued with ideas of transformation and change, both bodily and societal. In the society that Johnson creates, people with disabilities are put into a walled in enclosure called “Confine”, and the only open space that is not gated is a cliff face. This becomes a place of escape for many of the residents, jumping off of the cliff to their death to escape ghettoisation. Johnson’s story explores the social equivocation of disability with death and the notion embedded in our society that the death is a “way out” for people with disabilities and examines the social construction of disability as a form of “end of life”.

The society of Johnson’s world separates people with disabilities from their biological families and friendship networks when they attain any form of bodily difference (whether through genetics or circumstances) and they are placed in this enclosed space, assigned a new family unit, and expected to remain out of sight of the able-bodied. Disability is socially constructed as a problem, a danger.  It is made invisible by the change in place… and yet, within the enclosure, disability is highly visible. Everyone is expected to show their bodily difference and that bodily difference becomes a subject of regular discussion.

When a girl named Tray arrives and appears to have no visible disability, she is met with speculation, uncertainty, and, eventually, fear. She is seen as hiding something, keeping the feature that makes her belong in this space a secret. This is a community that is both policed by external forces (the guards and gates) and within, by the community members who have bought into this bodily surveillance and policing of difference. They can’t fit Tray into a category that they understand, can’t slot her into a pre-defined body type, so she becomes constructed as a threat and they decide that she needs to be murdered for her perceived dishonesty about her body.

Johnson brings attention to the way that society regulates bodily difference and ascribes systems of control onto those whose bodies don’t fit with socially constructed norms and assumptions.

To find out more about OnSpec, visit their website at http://www.onspec.ca/ .

SF Versus Oppression

A Review of OnSpec #92 Vol. 25, No. 1

Cover for OnSpec Spring 2013 courtesy of OnSpec

Cover for OnSpec Spring 2013 courtesy of OnSpec

By Derek Newman-Stille

Speculative fiction is a genre of possibilities, potentialities, and change. It is therefore surprising that most SF tends to replicate patterns that support hegemonies – heterosexism, sexism, ableism, ageism, racism. When one sees how much bias can be replicated in SF, it is exciting when a volume like OnSpec #92 Vol 25, no. 1 comes along. This volume features otherwise ignored, underrepresented, oppressed, or poorly represented groups. Within this volume are portrayals of aged, queer/LGBTQ, and racialised protagonists. These characters are not portrayed as essentialised figures or stereotypes, but are rather given complexity, depth, and an essential humanity that most works of SF tend to deny the oppressed.

This volume pulled together the essential power of SF to challenge social preconceptions about people who are generally Othered or marginalised. It illustrates the potential of SF to open up new modes of thought and understanding.

With spiritual quests and ventures into other worlds and other time periods, blendings of the magical and the mundane, OnSpec #92 opens doorways. It is great to see that not all adventurers into the unknown are portrayed as white, young, heterosexual, able-bodied males. With all of the othered people are Selkies, dinosaurs, creatures from the depths, and space travelling sci fi writers.

You can explore some of reviews of individual stories at:

https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2013/09/25/sci-fi-author-in-space/

https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2013/09/29/mistaken-behaviours/

To find out more about OnSpec, visit their website at http://www.onspec.ca/ .