Predator and Prey Relationships

A review of Suzanne Church’s “Mod Me Down” in Elements: A Collection of Speculative Fiction (Edge, 2014).
By Derek Newman-Stille

Cover photo of Suzanne Church's "Elements" courtesy of http://edgewebsite.com/

Cover photo of Suzanne Church’s “Elements” courtesy of http://edgewebsite.com/

Suzanne Church’s “Mod me Down” takes readers to the limit of the human experience, exploring that critical moment when culture bleeds into instinct. In a future where an attempt to prevent global warming has initiated an ice age, the American government has become totalitarian and given people a choice: be shot or take a shot of animal DNA to become something semi-human-semi-animal.

The modifications to the human body have been forced on the populace… or at least the less wealthy members of society. The richest of the American population are able to stay human and travel further south to be saved from the coming Ice Age, but everyone else is required to undergo genetic shots to transform them into human-animal hybrids. This transformation is also tiered, with the wealthy able to become predators, while the poor have to become prey animals, primarily vermin like rats and bugs. Suzanne Church highlights the issues with wealth stratification in “Mod Me Down”, literally turning the rich into predators who prey on and consume the poor much as the current economic system treats the poor as vermin and food for the wealth-generating machine.

Yet, her story also has a very personal quality. Lucas and Mary have been lovers for some time, yet haven’t been married, not seeing the point of it. But, when they receive their genetic modification assignments, Mary is told she will be a cockroach while Lucas is told he will be a rat. They are to be separated into different colonies since rats prey on cockroaches. Church tests the limits of the human when lovers meet the predator-prey relationship and love is tested against hunger.

To find out more about Elements and other Edge books, visit their website at http://www.edgewebsite.com/ .

To discover more about Suzanne Church, visit her website at http://suzannechurch.com/wordpress/ .

 

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Coyotes in Urban Turf Wars

A review of Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s “Nahaules” (in This Strange Way of Dying, Exile Editions, 2013)

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

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

By Derek Newman-Stille

As in many of her works, Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s short story “Nahaules” makes the urban space strange, exploring the intrusion of the folkloric into the cityscape. Nahaules, coyote shapeshifters, old stories, have come into the city, changing the city gradually as scents of the forest battle with smog, and buildings crack like mountains.

When she begins to be stalked by the nahaules, Moreno-Garcia’s unnamed narrator has to set aside her disbelief for legend and myth and start relying on old techniques for warding off the coyotes and reclaiming the urban environment. She is hunted, made a victim in her own home and she escapes from the mythical into the urban as long as she is able to until she is met with the inevitability that myths of old can only be fought with techniques of old.

The unnamed narrator, like many women in urban environments, is met with the process of being estranged from her home, made unsafe in an environment that she identifies as her own as predators push her to feel more and more uncomfortable. Stalked, she is forced to move further and further from areas that she considers her own, driven from her home by the predatory impulse of male stalkers as they move deeper into her territory. She plays with the image of being a victim, a sacrificial goat, while simultaneously turning the predatory behaviour back on her oppressors.

Moreno-Garcia reminds us that monsters hunt in urban environments and that people are made to feel unsafe and insecure, that their homes can be made strange and uncomfortable by intrusions of predators who rule through intimidation and threat.

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.

Little Tremours of the Weird to Shake Up the Mundane

A Review of Postscripts to Darkness 2 edited by Sean Moreland and Aalya Ahmad (Ex Hubris Imprints, 2012).
By Derek Newman-Stillepstd2cover

Postscripts to Darkness 2 is a fantastic sequel to the first volume, continuing the trend of infusing the familiar with the odd. The contributors to this volume illustrate an incredible ability to condense narratives to their bare essentials, creating worlds and characters in ultra-short stories. It is always challenging to try to create a story in a sparse number of words, but Sean Moreland and Aalya Ahmad chose stories by authors that were able to shape worlds and forge character identities using an economy of language. The result is an incredible diversity of narratives that provoke ponderings about the world and the role of the Weird in challenging the way we view the ‘normal’ world. By creating a volume with diverse short narratives, the reader is encouraged to engage with the intersections of stories, the points of commonality and recognise the importance of diversity and the richness of diverse genres of the fantastic. Moreland and Ahmad created a volume that produces little tremors unsettling reality.

The stories in this volume engage with mythic underpinnings to the world, exploring the point of connection between the living and the dead, zombies and ghosts, sympathetic monsters, werewolves, vampires, the power of wishing, gnomes, communication from objects, gateways to other worlds, the powers of gods, and, of course, magic, which permeates this volume. But, the stories also explore real world issues like drug use, yuppie arrogance, the haunting power of guilt, the horror and consumptive power of the ‘recession’ (and the use of the term ‘recession’ to justify morally questionable actions), capitalism and social control, the dangers of social networking, the horror of a bad reputation, prostitution, ideas of memory, the predatory quality of seeking a dating partner, stalking behaviour, obsession, loneliness, social pressures to create an obsessive maternity, the power of our environment and the objects around us to take over our lives, secrecy, the social obsession with youth, the obsessive desire for knowledge and its consequences, and the general disturbances that lurk in urban and suburban life. The volume reveals that sometimes the monsters are not the key points of horror, but rather the horrors live in our society, naturalised and often ignored.

Like the previous volume, Postscripts to Darkness 2 provides a composition that includes short stories, illustrations, and interviews, showing the diversity of speculative formats that exist and engaging the reader visually as well as through literary media. The reader is encouraged to use a multi-sensory approach to exploring the Weird and the addition of interviews encourages the reader to think about the author as a part of the medium that is the story.

The illustrations contained in this volume contribute to the dark, smoky atmosphere,

Artwork by Mark Slater, from Postscripts to Darkness II courtesy of the editors.

Artwork by Mark Slater, from Postscripts to Darkness II courtesy of the editors.

increasing its murky, dark aesthetic and the moral grey areas that it encourages the reader to enter. Stories and images enter into a mutual reciprocity, feeding each other. The stories contribute to the visual aesthetic and interest in the image – in particular, Cynthia Colosimo’s Portrait outlines the power of painting to change the world around it and Chris Willard’s What a Picture Doesn’t Say illustrates the importance of the visual in the creation of the ‘freak show’ – challenging ideas of visual aesthetics.

Rather than a full meal of the weird, this volume provides a sampler plate of diverse Weirdness appetizers, short sips of the macabre and bizarre to spice up the mundanity of life.

You can read more about the Postscripts to Darkness volumes at http://pstdarkness.wordpress.com/ .