Life Drained by Residential Schools

A review of David Jon Fuller’s “Sin A Squay” in Tesseracts Seventeen: Speculating Canada from Coast to Coast (Edge, 2013)

Cover Photo for Tesseracts Seventeen: Speculating Canada from Coast to Coast courtesy of http://www.edgewebsite.com/books/tess17/t17-catalog.html

Cover Photo for Tesseracts Seventeen: Speculating Canada from Coast to Coast courtesy of http://www.edgewebsite.com/books/tess17/t17-catalog.html

By Derek Newman-Stille

Residential schools were a real life horror for indigenous Canadians. Taken from their homes, punished for speaking their own language, forced to abandon their own culture and lifestyle, subject to abuse and starvation, Canadian aboriginals from the late 1800s to the mid 1900s endured victimization by very real monsters.

David Jon Fuller’s short story “Sin A Squay” takes the very real horror of residential schools and overlays it with modern mythical monsters. Jenny and Marion were both subject to torture at a residential school – beaten, starved, cut off from their family and their heritage they had their lives drained from them… literally. While at the MacDonald Indian Residential School in Saskatchewan, the girls were subject to both psychological and physical draining by the vampiric Miss Harrow.

Trained through violence to submit to others, Marion lost the empowerment that her werewolfism brought to her, her alpha status, and it is only through her confrontation with the person who subjected her to violence, Miss Harrow, that she is able to discover herself and her own power.

David Jon Fuller brings attention to the historical issues around the treatment of aboriginal people in Canada, particularly aboriginal women. He highlights the violence of the residential school system by showing two women drained of their lifeforce by a vampiric other, here representing a system that sought to drain aboriginal people of their heritage (their blood). Using the figure of the werewolf, Fuller brings attention to the way that the residential school system claimed that its role was to “tame” aboriginal Canadians and force them to submit to a white domestic culture in which they were treated as pets. Marion’s werewolf side has suppressed its role as an alpha to others because of this depriving of independence and freedom of thought.

He highlights the continued and very pressing concern about the disappearance of aboriginal women in Canadian history and its continuity today. When Miss Harrow is feeding on children and killing them, stashing them in the basement, they are ignored by the police who believe that any white woman working for the residential school system would be above reproach.

You can explore David Jon Fuller’s work at http://www.davidjonfuller.com/ .

Read more about the collection Tesseracts Seventeen: Speculating Canada from Coast to Coast on Edge’s website at http://www.edgewebsite.com/books/tess17/t17-catalog.html .

Paranoia, Power, Politics, Police, and Protest

A Review of Cory Doctorow’s Homeland (Tor Teen, 2013)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Cover photo courtesy of the publisher

Cover photo courtesy of the publisher

Marcus was known as m1k3y when he was younger, a web protestor and advocate of human rights who exposed government corruption. In Homeland, Marcus is a young adult, just beginning life outside of university. He has all of the regular issues facing a young person – searching for a job, dealing with student loans, new relationships… but he also has had a new set of responsibilities placed on him. When two of his friends are kidnapped, they leave him with a huge document listing and proving a remarkable variety of government and corporate abuses of power, criminal activities, and general corruption. He has to think about his own safety and the safety of his friends and family when he decides whether to release this information to the public.

The world Cory Doctorow creates in Homeland is one of corruption by people in positions of power (the 1%), government control, surveillance, invasions of privacy, and the general disinclination of the public to challenge these systems of control and abuse…. in other words, our world. Homeland, as well as being a brilliant story, is a call to activism, a demand that readers open their eyes and see the world around them with all of its flaws and to do something about the horrors that are being perpetrated in their name (in the name of the public, in public security, or ‘our best interest’).

With the rise of protests against the abuses of power by the 1%, the occupy movement, and Anonymous, Homeland is written at the perfect time to empower young adults to take an active interest in their world and in the collective power that they can wield against a corrupt system. Our society is one in which protests, activism, and even general consciousness about injustices is discouraged… indeed one in which many of the groups who bring awareness about inequalities are criminalised and portrayed as social problems. Doctorow reminds us that we cannot allow the criminalisation of social protestors and people standing up for collective rights, and that we need to ask questions, inquire about things, be aware, and actually DO SOMETHING about the corruption in our world rather than assuming that this is the natural way of things.

Doctorow’s character Marcus is a hacker, but not someone who puts malicious software on computers (as many hackers are portrayed to be), he is someone who is intensely interested in governmental and business corruption and the abuses that occur to the public in the name of “public safety” and “betterment”. He sees the Orwellian doublespeak that is used to put layers of control on the public. Marcus faces moral dilemmas when hackers break into his own computer and begin surveilling him – the same kind of surveillance and violations of privacy that corporations and the government have done to control society. Despite what they have done to him personally, they provide him with information that could help to ensure his freedom from the corporations that stalk him and endanger his friends  – BUT if he uses it, he is endorsing the kind of malicious use of technology that he has been fighting against (attacks on his own privacy). His ‘saviours’ are very much like the corporations that have endangered him in the first place. Doctorow ensures that his novel has no easy morals – no ‘hackers good, corporations bad’ dichotomies, but rather relies on his readers to determine their own morals and question the diversity of individuals who are conducting actions rather than trying to paint entire groups with one moral brush.

Doctorow doesn’t limit his ideas of moral ambiguity to personalities in the novel, he also explores the dualistic role of technology – no technology is, in itself, either good or bad, and technology that was used to support the 1% and their abuse of power can be reworked, changed, and re-purposed to help to expose those abuses of power. UAVs, although used to spy on protestors and reveal their positions to police can also be used to take areal photos of the group to expose police bullying and abuses of power as well as to show ways for protestors to escape from police blockades. Doctorow illustrates that protestors have to be as willing and able to adapt, change, and modify their strategies as those in charge of the systems of oppression around them.

Homeland reminds readers that we can’t blame the system and give up our agency over what is happening in the world around us. Acts are being committed in our names, in the name of the public that we would not approve of. We have to take responsibility and do something.

To find out more about Cory Doctorow, you can visit his website at http://craphound.com/ . To find out more about Homeland, visit Tor’s website at http://us.macmillan.com/homeland-1/CoryDoctorow .

Supernatural Superhero Secrets

A Review of D D Barant’s Death Blows (St. Martin’s Paperbacks, 2010).
By Derek Newman-Stille

Death Blows will be the second of DD Barant’s The Bloodhound Files novels that I will have reviewed. You can check out the review of book one by clicking on DD Barant in the Tags section.

In a world where everyone has supernatural powers, there are no need for comic book superheroes, so why does a man get murdered wearing a Flash costume… the costume of a superheroic figure from our world? Like the world of comic books itself, full of multiple realities, crossovers, dimensions colliding with one another, the comic BOOK itself becomes a vessel for taping into other realities, it becomes a conduit for crossing the dimensional barrier.

Barant’s world, dubbed Thropirelem because it is made up primarily of (lycan)thropes, (vam)pires, and (go)lems is one that recognises the power of the comic book. It is a world of magic that looked at the comic book and saw a medium that combined pictures, words, concepts of multiple worlds, and mass production and realised what this could do. When a comic book cult formed to use the power of the written word and inscribed image to change the face of reality, the population of Thropirelem could see the danger – True Crime Comics could become comics that were foretelling crimes that would soon come true.  As conduits for dangerous magic that could shift the mentality of all of their readers, comics were seen as a danger to society and banned.

So when murders begin happening in Thropirelem that have allusions to comic books, who do they call in but Jace Valchek, a human FBI forensic psychologist from our world who has been brought over to Thropirelem to find a serial killer. She may not have a lot of experience with comics, but she at least comes from a world where they aren’t illegal and where the figure of the superhero has permeated popular culture.  Plus, her background working with people with mental illness means that she can grasp the nuances of a mind that would use comic books as a method of murder.

Through the course of her investigations, Jace discovers a secret that the government has kept hidden, that comic books had been used as a counter-weapon against the comic cult and that even supernaturals need superheroes. But these superheroes, now having retired their super-powered weapons and hung up their tights, are now under attack and each of the murders is charged with comic and cosmic significance.

Comic books are the ultimate interface between the imaginary and reality, creating an imaginary world on the page – penning and inking it into existence. They are the perfect point of obsession for the deranged mind of a killer who intermixes reality and the imaginary and can’t distinguish between the two of them. Barant’s interplay between ideas of reality and imagination and the power of the written medium as a communication tool and point of connection evokes in the reader a curiosity about the nature of the university and the possibility of multiverses.

Barant’s discussion of the power of the comic reveals an interest in the persuasive influence of popular culture, and the ability of the written medium to create change. What we write about DOES have an influence on the world, though perhaps not so directly as the comic medium in Thropirelem.