Only More Death on the Horizon

A review of Tony Burgess’ The n-Body Problem (ChiZine Publications, 2013)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Cover photo of The n-Body Problem courtesy of ChiZine Publications

Cover photo of The n-Body Problem courtesy of ChiZine Publications

Tony Burgess’ The n-Body Problem is a pharmacological journey through the zombie apocalypse, and a discourse on the collective social habit of avoiding one’s problems. The n-Body Problem explores a world where people keep moving after death, not threateningly or aggressively, but moving nonetheless evoking the question of whether they are alive, what constitutes death, and the bigger problem of what to do with so many moving bodies. WasteCorp, a waste disposal company proposes the idea of launching the living dead into orbit, suspending them in the atmosphere until they burn off as layers of fire, and they are able to do good enough PR work to convince people that this is an almost romantic way to go. The only problem is that the sky is greyed by the network of dead bodies around the Earth and it is creating health issues for the people alive on the planet – both from lack of exposure to the sunlight and from the depression that comes from seeing a network of the dead around their planet every time they raise their eyes. It is a zombie apocalypse filled with threat, but not from the zombies… at least not directly, but rather from the “solution” to the living dead and the horror that ensues.

In order to cope, the population is advised to avoid looking up and to regularly take SSRIs to deal with the perpetual depression and anxiety evoked by this permanently altered world. However, the SSRIs are not benevolent either, causing a Syndrome from the quantities they need to be used in, fundamentally changing the people who use them.

The characters have their moral compass set to grey from the beginning of The n-Body Problem but a dark, dirty grey that gets more ashy over time as layers of dust from bodies burned in orbit rains down on them… a zombie grey that exists in the perpetual twilight of a world that no longer has hope of change.

Playing with ideas of speech and silence, the notion that some people are best left in a devoiced state because when they speak it may only be a diatribe of horrors, Burgess explores the power of voice for propaganda, and the way the silenced are used for religious, corporate, and political causes. Whether corporate propaganda tells the people about the beauty of their dead loved ones floating in silence in orbit close to the stars, or religious leaders use the dead and the dismembered to bring on religious fervour born of fear and a need for some form of change, silence is made to speak loudly.

Burgess experiments with the idea of a social shift from the military-industrial complex and its profit from death through war to a new system of profit based around the pharmaceutical-waste-disposal-religious complex, intertwined in a system of making capital through the disposal of bodies and inciting people to suicide.

To say this is a bleak book is to downplay the significance of the melancholy it evokes – within this novel, the only thing on the horizon is more dead bodies… literally. It is a stream of consciousness narrative that reads like a hallucinatory voyage between pathologies and syndromes, a work that makes the body and the world around it a perpetual uncertainty, a slippery, threatened and threatening thing.

To find out more about The n-Body Problem, visit ChiZine Publications’ site at http://chizinepub.com/books/n-body-problem

Northern Heroes With Grit

A review of the Heroes of the North webseries produced by Christian Veil (http://www.heroesofthenorth.com/index.php )
By Derek Newman-Stille

Heroes of the North Logo courtesy of the producers.

Heroes of the North Logo courtesy of the producers.

There has been an increase in Canadian speculative fiction shows lately with programmes like Lost Girl, Sanctuary, and Orphan Black, and they have been fantastic… but I have found myself searching for a really good Canadian superhero show. Although only a webseries at the moment, running on a shoestring budget, I have been excited about the work that has been put into the Heroes of the North series. Rather than creating the typical Canadian superhero group bound together already, Heroes of the North begins with individual tales of superheroes, each showcasing bits and pieces of their personality.

Unlike most Canadian superhero stories, Heroes of the North is a series that explores the violence of crime fighting and the idea that sometimes the line between superhero and supervillain is thin and it is only by calling them “heroes” that we keep them fighting against villains rather than the public.

Dressed in pleather and spattered in blood, these heroes challenge traditional assumptions about the Canadian superhero – the hero that says “please”, “thank you”, and “excuse me”, while politely bringing criminals to justice. However, this team, incorporating a particularly Canadian aesthetic, brings together Francophone and Anglophone team members and incorporates Canadians across the country into its roster… as well as former criminals. From The Canadian, based in Ottawa with super strength, stamina and an electrostatic shield to 8-Ball, the Montreal-based martial artist/ weapons expert, to Fleur de Lys, the Quebec City-based martial artist with Electricity-generating gauntlets, to Nordik, from Fermont Wall, possessing immunity to cold and bracelets that freeze enemies, to Black Terror, the drug-addicted, nanotechnology enhanced super-strong Griffintowner, to Pacifica, the super-speedster from Victoria, BC, to Acadia, the Moncton-based invisible woman with carbon-fiber blades this is a team that is diverse in ability, origin story, and locale… and they are all willing to go to extreme ends to facilitate their vision of justice. These are morally ambiguous heroes.

Heroes of the North photo courtesy of the producers

Heroes of the North photo courtesy of the producers

Sometimes it takes the morally ambiguous when you have to go up against a pharmaceutical/ weapons manufacturer who is interested in worldwide conquest.

Blending the comic and the macabre, this series questions the superhero genre at the same time as it presents some canon features of the genre. This is kink meets heroic… complete with latex and pleather outfits.

You can discover more about Heroes of the North and watch the webbisodes at http://www.heroesofthenorth.com/index.php .

Here is a link to their indigogo campaign to fund season 2 of the shot https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/heroes-of-the-north-season-2–2 .

Heroes of the North  DVD cover photo courtesy of the producers

Heroes of the North DVD cover photo courtesy of the producers