Old Enough to be Hurt

A review of Jeff Lemire’s “Old Man Logan: The Last Ronin” (Marvel Comics, 2017)
By Derek Newman-Stille

With the “Old Man Logan” series, Jeff Lemire has been playing with ideas of ageing, displacement, and the changes in identity that occur with the passage of time. This is a Wolverine who has been displaced from time from an apocalyptic future to a present he isn’t quite ready to face.

In “Old Man Logan: The Last Ronin”, Lemire explores the connection between the passage of time and regrets and Logan has had a long enough life to have a plethora of regrets. Logan finds himself back in Japan, a place he visited when he lived in the future and where he encountered a cult called The Silent Order that sought to claim Japan for its own and had envisioned him as simultaneously a foreign threat and a prophesized figure. Logan encounters The Silent Order again in the present with his memories of killing people in the future and seeks to divorce himself from the person he was in the future. In the present, he is filled with the regrets of his future life and tries to resolve things peacefully with The Silent Order, but the Order has a prophet who has seen what Logan will do in the future and is angry at the loss of his friends. This young, but powerful boy is plagued by the fear of his encounter with Logan in the future and tries to stop Logan before he destroys everything he cares about.

Lemire explores the way that fear, longing, and regret shape us, and the way that these accumulate over a lifetime in a way that transforms instincts into mirrors of the pain and suffering of a lifetime. Logan is a figure defined by pain, pierced as much by his guilt and regret as he is by his claws as they extend to deal with threats he feels to old to cope with. Logan is a man displaced, with nowhere to call home, and yet every place he visits is one he has already been to and already left enemies in. His long life means that he develops all of the conflicts of home, but doesn’t ever get to experience any of its comforts or connections.

To discover more about “Old Man Logan: The Last Ronin”, visit http://marvel.com/comics/series/20617/old_man_logan_2016_-_present

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

 

 

Blurring the Boundaries

A review of Greg Bechtel’s Boundary Problems (Freehand Books, 2014)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Cover photo from Boundary Problems from http://gregbechtel.ca/

Cover photo from Boundary Problems from http://gregbechtel.ca/

We tend to think of boundaries as stable, fixed, unchangeable, but boundaries are inherently permeable, and any boundary that is created is created because someone or something is able to slip trough it. Greg Bechtel writes on these borderlands whether they be of genre (realism, science fiction, fantasy), gender (male, female, intersexed, trans, genderqueer) temporal (past, present, future), he shows a fascination with those luminal spaces and situations, heightened periods of intensity when things are shifting, because the reality is that everything is constantly in flux and stability is a fiction. And fiction, the stories that create us, constitute us, and shape our experience of the world, can be very much real.

Boundary Problems delves into a polyphonic mix of characters speaking themselves into the world from the margins, announcing their complexity and unwillingness to be captured in a single voice. Bechtel recognizes the inherent slipperiness of stories, the sense that writing a story down attempts to, but will never succeed in, fixing a story in one voice. Every reader will inherently read a story with their own voice, their own set of expectations and symbolic understandings. His characters fluctuate throughout the story, in some cases fluidly moving between gendered, racial, and sexual identities. He recognizes the permeability of story and personhood – that each filters into the other and that we are constituted by stories, tales that shape our identities. The uncertainty of his story endings speaks to this idea that he is only capturing a snapshot of a wider story and that the character has an existence separate from and larger than the story. He speaks to the continuity of all stories and that the stories that we write are fragments building a feeling, a state of being and an aesthetic for the reader but that no story is ever complete or done, but perpetually in progress. He reminds readers that writing endings is an artificial process, and that it limits the complexity of the notion of The Story itself.

Boundary Problems provides snapshots of the human experience, moments of people trying to make sense of the world around them. Bechtel shows an interest in going voice to people who have been expelled from the hegemony of “The Normal”, inserting those pushed to the fringes into a position of centrality. He reminds readers that those stories pushed to the fringes and devoiced are often the most complex, fascinating, and thought-provoking.

Bechtel’s collection explores that permeable place between speculative fiction and realist fiction, not shying away from either, but interweaving them – because reality IS speculative, and good speculative fiction should evoke questions and speculations about reality. Bechtel deals with real world issues like violence against women, place and selfhood, the policing and control of sexuality, surveillance and losses of freedoms, and the danger of hegemonic power structures silencing the voices of dissent, the voices who speak up against systemic violence and the erasure of their stories, their histories. Boundary Problems delves equally into quantum physics, magic, and the everyday experience of a coffee shop book reading… but all of these stories evoke something of the human experience, tell us about our relationships to each other, to our perceptions of ourselves, and to the world around us.

To read some reviews of individual short stories in this collection, see:

https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2014/03/27/sexy-shiftings-and-stirrings/

and

https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2014/04/02/interweaving-worlds-of-possibility/

To discover more about the work of Greg Bechtel, visit his website athttp://gregbechtel.ca/ .

To read more about Boundary Problems, visit Freehand Books athttp://www.freehand-books.com/authors/greg-bechtel

A Brush With Mythical Madness

A review of Ursula Pflug’s The Alphabet Stones (Blue Denim Press, 2013)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Cover photo of The Alphabet Stones courtesy of Ursula Pflug

Cover photo of The Alphabet Stones courtesy of Ursula Pflug

Ursula Pflug writes The Alphabet Stones with a mixture of rural Ontario accent and a transcendent poetic quality. Her work glitters with the cadences of rural ontario while evoking a deeply poetic quality and beauty of phrasing.

The Alphabet Stones is a voyage of self discovery and delving into the blurry lines between myth and memory, the haunting quality that the past has on the present. Jody is a girl who was raised on a commune with a mother who has been committed to an asylum. The land around the commune and her experiences with others have written themselves deeply into her memory, shaped her into who she is but her memories are suspect, questioned, and shaped by an air of myth.

Pflug does an incredible job of exploring the dream-like quality of memory – shifting, changing, and uncertain. But, the memories she explores are literally tinged by the mythic, the unbelievable, and the supernormal. Jody and her friends have had contact with the otherwordly through a mythic place where stones are written with words and images that evoke a world beyond our own, and she has been touched by an element of the fey.

Jody is a youth invested with the qualities of old age – she is wise beyond her years and is steeped in a deep nostalgia that often only permeates those later in life – she misses things from her past, feels cut off from her places of origins, and senses that things have fundamentally changed while pining the fact that things will never be the same. She is defined by an inescapable sense of loss.

Ursula Pflug wends her story with twining threads of strangeness and loss, the alienating quality of the past. It is fantasy on the cusp of madness, with characters debating the reality of their experiences and the extent to which delusion may have permeated their lives.

Her characters prefer to believe that the otherworld is just stress or delusion. It is easier and safer for them to think that the world itself is knowable rather than subject to an uncanny quality, a place infinitely more complex than they can grasp or understand. Pflug doesn’t try to create easy answers in her novel, providing for her readers the same sense of dislocation that is invested in her characters. She allows the readers to truly feel what it is like to stand on the cliff between reality and the mythic, madness and ideas of normalcy.

To discover more about Ursula Pflug, visit her website at http://ursulapflug.ca/ .

Draconic Intersections

A review of Charles de Lint’s Berlin (in Wings of Fire Ed. Jonathan Strahan and marianne S. Jablon, Night Shade Books, 2010)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Worlds collide in Charles de Lint’s Berlin. De Lint explores the borderland between the human world and Elfland, a place called Bordertown where things mix and mingle and where magic and reality overlap with one another. Things that are generally ignored in our world are noticed here, and not just magical things – in a world where poverty is generally ignored and the homeless are rendered voiceless, a place can be found for them in Bordertown.

Like any town, it has problems, and gossip and misunderstandings feature strongly in those problems. Berlin, a woman who is primarily interested in defending the poor and finding a place for people living in poverty, is trapped in a conspiracy of lies that implicate her as a trouble-maker in a city that likes to avoid notice and attention. She becomes a pawn in a war of reputation.

De Lint doesn’t avoid the tough topics. He approaches issues of homelessness, drug abuse, gang violence, and, like many of his works, he uses art forms as a means of dealing with and coping with issues. In Berlin, de Lint explores the lingering presence of past traumas and how these traumas can continue to haunt us and influence us in conscious and unconscious ways, but it is through artistic performance, through acting out scenes that reflect on the past that characters are able to explore their trauma, feel it, and cathartically deal with the lingering essence of the past, and, in particular, past pains.

The realms of Elfland and the ‘real world’ are not the only things that collide in Bordertown – it is also a place where memory meets the present, where gang violence meets people trying to survive, where pain meets healing, and where dragon meets human. Berlin, like her community, is hybridised – she is human and dragon, and aspects of both bleed over into the other, much as the past bleeds into the present and violence spills over into places of community. De Lint reminds readers that every space is hybridised, made up of a running together of multiple pasts, multiple people, and multiple ideologies.

You can explore more about Charles de Lint and his work at his website http://www.sfsite.com/charlesdelint/ .