Speculating Canada on Trent Radio Episode 56: A Discussion with James Kerr About the Potential of SF

In this episode of Speculating Canada on Trent Radio, my friend and colleague James Kerr and I discuss the complicated potentials of science fiction. We look at the ways that science fiction relates to current issues, can imagine new possibilities, can bring attention to social issues, and, perhaps most importantly, questions the status quo.

You can listen to this episode of Speculating Canada on Trent Radio at the link below.

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This audio file was originally broadcast on Trent Radio, and I would like to thank Trent Radio for their continued support. I would also like to thank Dwayne Collins for his consistent tech support and help with the intricacies of creating audio files.

Make sure to allow a few minutes for the file to buffer since it may take a moment before it begins to play.

 

 

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A Mosaic of Stories

A review of Steve Vernon and Colleen Anderson’s Tesseracts Seventeen: Speculating Canada from Coast to Coast to Coast (Edge 2013)

By Derek Newman-Stille

Cover photo for Tesseracts Seventeen courtesy of Edge

Cover photo for Tesseracts Seventeen courtesy of Edge

It is very exciting to see one of the prestigious Tesseracts books sharing a name with this website. I was quite honoured to see that they had chosen a name that matched the name I created for my website. Tesseracts has been a Canadian SF institution since Judith Merril edited the first collection in 1985, recognising that there was a need for a Canadian collection of SF and that there was something distinct about Canadian spec fic that could only come out by bringing works of Canadian SF together in a collection instead of the random inclusions of Canadian SF in American and British anthologies.

Tesseracts Seventeen: Speculating Canada from Coast to Coast to Coast is an exciting addition to this historic institution and rather than focusing on a single theme or idea, this collection sought to bring together Canadians from around Canada in order to capture some of the distinct flavours of Canadian SF from our diverse regions. Canada is a huge country and this collection was a huge endeavor. While reading this collection, I found myself flipping back to the author descriptions to constantly find out where authors were from to get a sense of that regional flavour, an idea of whether Canadian SF ‘tastes’ differently in different parts of our country. Tesseracts Seventeen provided a chance to travel across this country, but also into the minds of Canadians: their visions of the future, their travels across the universe, and their ventures into the unknown. Steve Vernon and Colleen Anderson were able to capture a tiny bit of Canadian diversity, a few wondrous tiles of the mosaic of thoughts and perspectives that creates the overall picture of Canada.

The tales in this collection bring together ideas about family, memory, privacy, religious fanaticism, dreams, isolation, the history of residential schools, aging, stigma and identity, issues of conformity, poverty and the exploitation of workers, … namely, issues relevant to Canada today and our constant pondering of Northrop Frye’s question “where is here?”, speculating about what Canada is and how to define our identity. Despite most stories being set in the future, on other worlds, in other realities, Speculating Canada from Coast to Coast to Coast speaks very much to Canadian realities, questions of today, and issues relevant to this world.

From a church devoted to Star Trek’s Spock to imaginary friends to ageing ghosts to sacred kitchen recipes to a galactic civilization that forces conformity to living graffeti … this is a book of Canadian magic, a passport to the Canadian beyond.

You can read reviews of individual short stories on this site at:

https://speculatingcanada.ca/2014/05/19/life-drained-by-residential-schools/

https://speculatingcanada.ca/2014/05/15/haunting-disability/

https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2014/12/29/chilly-renewal/

https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2015/01/01/cityscapes/

You can explore Tesseracts Seventeen: Speculating Canada from Coast to Coast to Coast at Edge’s website at http://www.edgewebsite.com/books/tess0/about-tesseracts.html

Speculating Canada on Trent Radio Episode 18: An Interview with Gemma Files

Gemma Files and I have been on a few panels together in the past and I have always found her incredible fun to talk to, so I was really excited that at Fan Expo Canada this year she managed to have a bit of time to do an interview that I could share with all of you listeners. Our interview is hilarious and simultaneously covers serious issues, marked with laughter and also important social questions. In our chat on Trent Radio, we discuss the use of Toronto by the film industry as the “EveryCity”… and the potential for horror in that anonymity and shapeshifting ability. We talk about Queer or LGBTQ2 content and kink communities and how these have lent themselves to the development of her fantastic fiction… particularly her Hexslingers series which features gay cowboys who use magic. We discuss the use of family and history in CanLit and how these can be factors making for a speculative story that is just as powerful for questioning ideas of ‘traditional families’. Gemma lends her insights about using characters who are morally ambiguous as well as the general problems with creating a ‘perfect hero’ and questioning of the whole social idea of ‘The Hero’. Overall, we venture into questions about subversive writing and the power to turn tropes on their heads as a way of empowering readers and authors.

Gemma talks about functional bisexuality in her characters, trans characters, and the general fluidity of gender and sexuality as a way of illustrating that change is powerful and that characters do change and transform and question notions of identity over time.

As part of her discussion of the subversive potential in literature, Gemma examines the wonderful world of fan fiction and the ability of fan fiction to insert questions into narratives that may not have otherwise asked them. She explores the ability of fan fiction to assert an otherwise ignored voice or people who are generally erased. She also examines the ability of fan fiction to serve as a queer medium allowing for gender or sexual transformations for characters.

Overall, our interview is a lot of laughs, a lot of fun, and a lot of social questions. At the end of this interview, you will find yourself being fairy-led to the bookstore to get some of Gemma’s books while simultaneously plotting out your next fan fiction story!

Explore Trent Radio at www.trentradio.ca

Explore Trent Radio at http://www.trentradio.ca

This audio file was originally broadcast on Trent Radio, and I would like to thank Trent Radio for their continued support. I would also like to thank Dwayne Collins for his consistent tech support and help with the intricacies of creating audio files.

Make sure to allow a few minutes for the file to buffer since it may take a moment before it begins to play.

 

Binding Traditions

A review of Erin Bow’s Sorrow’s Knot (Arthur A. Levine Books, 2013)
By Derek Newman-Stille

A great deal of fantasy is focused on the hero’s narrative, masculine figures in a masculine, patriarchal society. Erin Bow creates a female dominated society. Women have powers that males don’t – the power to bind spirits with string. In a place that is filled with the dead, shadowy globs of darkness who consume the living when given the chance, men aren’t safe. They don’t have the skills or the strength to protect themselves, so they leave the society of the women and head to safer areas. The women in this novel are figures of power, complex and diverse, but all possessing an inner strength that centralises them in the narrative. Unlike a lot of fantasy narratives that try to construct women as vulnerable, as damsels in distress who need rescue, these women are the figures of power in their society.

Instead of using the medieval world as an archetype of fantasy to modify for her story as occurs often in high fantasy, Bow creates a distinctly non-European society. Her society is one that is unique, with highly developed rituals that are distinct from the norms of fantasy. This society binds the dead in trees, has girls discover their possible careers at adulthood, organises women into households that are formed based on their career talents rather than their biological relationships (though these sometimes occur as well), doesn’t have marriage and in fact views monogamous pairings as unordinary and things that animals do rather than people, and, a society that is a matriarchy. The world she creates is whole and rich and this difference from the expected tropes of fantasy allows her to distinguish her world and create characters and cultural situations that would not often be found in medieval-like fantasy societies.

Cover photo of Erin Bow's Sorrow's Knot courtesy of Scholastic Canada http://www.scholastic.ca/books/view/sorrows-knot

Cover photo of Erin Bow’s Sorrow’s Knot courtesy of Scholastic Canada http://www.scholastic.ca/books/view/sorrows-knot

When discussing feminist fantasy, I have often heard male authors claim that they have to write women as weak because it is ‘historically accurate’ or ‘accurate for that society’, which is ridiculous since these stories are often not set in real historical periods, but rather other worlds. Bow is able to create a society that right away tells the reader: don’t expect this novel to be disempowering to women. She gets away from all of the baggage associated with the worlds fantasy authors often replicate by expressing this society’s difference.

However, her society is not a feminist utopia. It is set with problems that would face any society – issues of social taboos, the strength of traditions that alienate people who behave in non-traditional ways, and the loss of history. This society has classic human issues embedded in it like the battle between youth and the aged, acts of defiance and punishment, the desire to change social patterns, issues of power and the dangers of too much power, and questions about how the local relates to the wider world.

Carried on from the time of the mytho-historical figure Mad Spider, who first powerfully bound the dead, and first fought the most powerful form the dead can have, White Hands, the art of binding bodies and creating binding wards has been central to Westmost’s society. The village is surrounded by wards to keep out the dead, powerful knots of string that are created by the binders, specialists in the art of magical knot-making. Binders also bind the dead. Whenever anyone dies in Westmost, the binder takes them out of the village and ties them up at the top of trees, asking for the wind to take them away and therefore not have them visit the village with hungry mouths of shadow.

Willow, the most powerful binder since Mad Spider, raises her daughter, Otter, to be the next binder, recognising the same skill in the girl. But, when Willow’s mentor, who has been like a mother figure to her, dies, Willow begins to doubt the whole tradition of binding the dead and worries about the implications of this practice. She is unable to let go of her mentor and calls her back instead of wishing her to the winds. Willow sees that her power is too strong and that binding is a problem… and kicks her daughter out, telling her that she shouldn’t be a binder. Otter feels lost and as though her entire destiny and her family itself has been taken from her.

Skills in this society are kept secrets, only taught by those who have been chosen to be part of a specific career, which means that Otter, by being kicked out of the binder’s tradition, can’t discover this from others. Her friend Kestrel is receiving training as a ranger, and Cricket, one of the few males who decides to stay in the village, is learning to become a storyteller even though males are generally not taught skills, so Otter feels surrounded by those with clear paths while she has none.

Otter begins to notice something about the wards. They seem hungry like the dead. She realises that in keeping the dead out… they are also trapping the living within. The knots seem to pull at people. But, around her mother, all of the knots seem to be loosening, unbinding, and, like Mad Spider, Willow is also being called mad. When the village is attacked by the dead, who manage to get around the wards, Willow, rather than reinforcing the wards, goes out to meet her former mentor, who has become a White Hand. She gets touched by the White Hand, and, unlike other types of the dead who cause bodily harm, White Hands cause psychological harm – they replicate themselves in the body of human begins and eventually take over, dissolving individuality.

Otter is now the only choice for her society as a binder. She only has basic knowledge, but has inherent skills that could help her. Her mother tries to train her to take on the position in her last few days of life, all the while turning into something different. Willow begins to hunger, and Cricket discovers that she is appeased in small ways by the telling of tales. He tells her constant stories to try to help her hold on to her humanity, and then he tells her the one story that is a secret of the storyteller’s craft, a story that is forbidden to be revealed. He tells her that when Mad Spider bound her own mother, she bound her too tightly and Willow mentions that from that time forward, there has been something wrong with the binding of the dead.

Cricket is cast out of his society by the elders for telling secrets to others that are outside of his craft. When Kestrel and Otter follow him because they recognise that more knowledge and a greater breadth of knowledge from all of the other crafts could be helpful, they find him already preyed upon by the dead. The two young women continue on Cricket’s chosen path toward the great city that Mad Spider’s mythical roots began in, seeking to discover the depth of secrets and the reason why things seem wrong with the wards and with binding in general.

Questioning their place in their society now that taboos have led to Cricket’s death, the two begin to challenge all of the assumptions their society has, re-mapping their own history and trying to discover what has been lost to time and the origins of behaviours that their society has taken for granted as the only way to do things. This is a novel about he pushing of the bonds of society, the restrictive net that is cast around social groups, controlling and consuming them. It is only by violating traditions, by questioning them and refusing to follow the rules, that real, powerful change can be made.

 

Speculating Canada on Trent Radio Episode 13: An Interview with Sean Moreland

In this episode of Speculating Canada on Trent Radio, I interview Ottawa author, editor, and academic Dr. Sean Moreland. Dr. Moreland teaches various courses at Ottawa University, including courses on horror. He is also one of the co-editors of Postscripts to Darkness (which you can explore at http://pstdarkness.com/). He has published short fiction in several collections of speculative fiction such as Pavor Nocturnus: Dark Fiction Anthology, and Allusions of Innocence.

Dr. Moreland and I discuss teaching speculative fiction, illustrating horror, notions of the “literary” and exclusions of genre fiction from the literary, the ability for horror to push boundaries, horror as a mechanism for exploring and experimenting with identity, epics and nation building… and in addition to the more intellectual materials, we also talk about heavy metal themed spec fic, Kaiju and other giant monsters, revisiting horrific themes from youth and youth as a formative theme for ideas of horror… Needless to say, there is at least a week worth of conversation built into this one, short programme.

For this, the thirteenth episode, things get spooky.

Explore Trent Radio at www.trentradio.ca

Explore Trent Radio at http://www.trentradio.ca

This audio file was originally broadcast on Trent Radio, and I would like to thank Trent Radio for their continued support.

Make sure to allow a few minutes for the file to buffer since it may take a moment before it begins to play.

The Religion of Blood Medicine.

A review of Rich Larson’s “Maria and the Pilgrim” in Apex Magazine Feb 4, 2014 (available online at http://www.apex-magazine.com/maria-and-the-pilgrim/ )
By Derek Newman-Stille

Rich Larson’s “Maria and the Pilgrim” explores a future in which contagion has spread and a small group of people have applied religious meanings to the spread of disease. Seeing themselves as preserved by Jesucristo against a contagion spread by the devil, this group of survivors have sought a pilgrim.

As part of their religious dances, this religious group gives blood, allowing machines to pull forth sanguine liquid, offering it to pilgrims in the same way as they believe Jesucristo gave it to his followers. The pilgrim, however, uses the blood to test children for plague resurgence and health, determining the healthy development of the community.

This is a community shaped by eugenics, made to conform to a breeding programme due to the threat of Contagion. Health is policed, controlled, and regulated, permitting little variation from a set programme. Any children born without a membrane in this world are supposed to be exposed, left for dead, but this community wants the pilgrim to heal a child, restoring her membrane to help her survive. In exchange, they promise not to slip open the pilgrim’s membrane to give him the Contagion.

This is a future where even aggression is seen as considered genetic and an accusation of genetic aggression is enough to have a village sterilized and culled.

Religion and health combine in a system of control and regulation, shaped by a fear of exposure to disease. Life is regimented and controlled, and the body is a subject of policing. The policing of the body from a religious and medical perspective are intertwined in Larson’s narrative, exploring the multiplicity of bodily control that our social systems can impose. Fear becomes a powerful motivator for bodily regulation and control, allowing a population to submit without revolutionary thought.

You can explore “Maria and the Pilgrim” yourself at http://www.apex-magazine.com/maria-and-the-pilgrim/

Some of Rich Larson’s publications can be found at Amazon.com/author/richlarson.

 

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