Titanic Clashes

Clash  

A review of Chadwick Ginther’s Too Far Gone (Ravenstone, 2015)

By Derek Newman-Stille

Too Far Gone, the final book in the Thunder Road Trilogy by Chadwick Ginther brings together the threads of transformation that have been woven throughout the trilogy. Ted Callan, body tattooed by Dwarves and inheriting the powers of several Norse gods, has straddled the border between myth and superhero throughout the series, playing with the border between ancient myth and modern. Ted begins to embody another aspect of the superhero tradition – a conflict between his superhero identity and his civilian identity. Ted returns home to Alberta and has to cope with the clash of his past and present, his civilian and superhero selves coming into conflict as Ted temporarily buries his power under the performance of human normativity. Even Ted’s tattoos are transformed from Norse symbols to generic tattoos, allowing his appearance to change while his identity does. This may not be a superhero unmasking, but rather is a superhero unmaking, a suppression of difference under the guise of normalcy and mundanity.

Too Far Gone is a text of change involving the clash of past and present and disparate identities. It is a transformative text and this transformative background is not only illustrated through Ted’s changes but through the changes he evokes in others as he realises that his behaviours have consequences for everyone around him. The topic of change is played out through Ted’s engagement with his identities, but it is further complicated by the presence of Loki in the text and Loki’s trickster quality. Loki is fluid, changeable, able to fluctuate through identities and interested in playing multiple parts. Loki can fluctuate in gender, appearance, and personality over time. S/he is mostly identified through his/her smile, a feature that instantly identifies the Trickster quality of the god/dess. Loki also represents the conflict of time periods, both an ancient Norse god from the time before Ragnarok and a potential future for a new way of looking at the world. Loki becomes an embodiment of the uncertain, the changeable, and the chaotic, simultaneously Ted’s greatest ally and greatest threat, and this uncertainty and vulnerability only increases the stakes Ted invests in his friend.

Ted is pulled between nostalgia and the desire for change, with past and present conflicting. Being back in Alberta, where he first encountered the monstrous Surtur who was responsible for his introduction into the world of Norse magic, Ted is forced to explore ideas of closure while also facing consistent reminders that he has changed so much that the things that were familiar, comfortable, and normal for him can no longer exist. He recognizes that the familiar, easy idea of home that serves as a comfort to others only reminds him of all that he has lost and how much he has changed from the type of person who could have a home or normal life. This return to Surtur and final conflict is one with the power to change the face of the world and nothing is certain any longer in this world of collisions between past, present, and future. Myth and real life collide to remake ideas of what is normal, comfortable, and taken-for-granted. 

To discover more about Too Far Gone, visit Ravenstone’s website at http://www.ravenstonebooks.com/spec-fic/too-far-gone.html

To find out more about Chadwick Ginther, visit his website at http://chadwickginther.com

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Greek Gossip

A review of Karen Dudley’s Kraken Bake (Ravenstone, 2014).
By Derek Newman-Stille

Cover photo for Kraken Bake courtesy of RavenStone books

Cover photo for Kraken Bake courtesy of RavenStone books

Reputation and rumour – they are incredibly interlinked, especially in ancient Athens, and particularly for a celebrity chef whose entire reputation and business depends on being the current talk of the town. Karen Dudley’s Kraken Bake follows Pelops, first introduced as Athens’ newest mythological prince turned celebrity chef in Dudley’s first book, Food for the Gods. Pelops is now even more seasoned and his attitude is perhaps a bit more spicy than it was in the first book.

Kraken Bake explores the notion of gossip, the idea that people are created in the public arena and their identity is partially based on the way they are talked about, particularly when their business life depends on the public’s view. Pelops encounters another figure dependent on celebrity status, but one that is perhaps more attached to the role of the classical world: Perseus, a hero who has just returned from slaying the Kraken. Perseus entered the Athenian Agora (marketplace) long before he arrived in the form of rumours, tales of his exploits, and the arena of public opinion. When he arrives atop Pegasus, a winged horse, public opinion is confirmed: this is what Athens has been looking for, a genuine hero who they can wine and dine and gain status by showing connections to.

But this hero and Pelops have something in common: a connection to the god Zeus (Perseus is his son and Pelops his grandson), and both have a mixed relationship with the Kraken: Perseus’ slaying of the Kraken may not have happened quite as society has imagined… and Pelops has discovered that although he can cook anything else into a delectable treat tasty enough to make the gods weep, he can’t cook Kraken. Perseus’ conquest of the Kraken has already passed, but Pelops heroic quest has just begun, particularly when he discovers that the Athenians want to have a very public cook off, the Bronze Chef competition, and he is fairly certain that the secret ingredient will be Kraken meat.

Karen Dudley playfully blends Greek history and Greek myth together, not particularly concerned with veracity or timelines, and this adds to the sense of whimsy of her work, but also serves to undercut the notion that history itself is a story, a tale made up of rumour, myth, legend, and assumptions. Anyone who has read their Herodotus (the father of history) should know this from the gossipy and creative way he discusses Greek lives. But there is a magic in telling tales, whether they are mythic tales or general discussions of public figures and Dudley reminds us that we are all myths and legends being constantly formed through public discussions: gossip, rumour, debate, and reputation.

To find out more about Karen Dudley, visit her website at http://www.karendudley.com/ .

To find out more about Kraken Bake and other great Ravenstone books, visit their website at http://www.ravenstonebooks.com/authors/Karen-Dudley.html

RagnaROCKING Manitoba: The Road to Hel

A review of Chadwick Ginther’s Tombstone Blues (RavenStone, 2013).
By Derek Newman-Stille

Cover Photo of Tombstone Blues courtesy of RavenStone books

Cover Photo of Tombstone Blues courtesy of RavenStone books

This second book in the Thunder Road trilogy takes a turn toward the dark. The dead have risen, and Thor, who has been sitting in Hel since Ragnarok… has become dark and twisted by years of post-mortem torture.

When Thor encounters Ted Callan, the first thing he notices is that Ted has been tattooed with Norse artifacts… including Thor’s own hammer Mjolnir…. and he wants it back. Ted has become used to the powers that were granted to him by his Norse tattoos, so, when Thor rips Mjolnir from Ted’s body, he has to adapt to the changes in his body, finding new ways to cope with the magical and mythical world that continues to surround him and finding new ways to deal with the dead who have risen guided by a dark Thor and twisted Valkyries.

The road to Hell is paved with good intentions, and the same can be said with the role to Hel, the Norse goddess of death (and the name for her hall and her realm). All of Ted’s acts of heroism, his attempts to save the world have only made it more vulnerable. The wall that Odin placed around Midgard (Earth) to keep otherworldly beings out only allows these beings to influence those who have already been touched in some way by the otherworldly. Unfortunately, that means that every one of Ted’s heroic acts has created a potential victim, marking them for transgression by mythic and magical beings. In his attempts to protect his fellow humans, Ted has unintentionally weakened the barrier around Midgard, and the supernatural is getting closer. His good intentions paved a road for Hel to Earth and as the fog and mists of Nifleheim, the hellish realm between, roll out across the Earth, nightmares are able to visit a human race no longer prepared for the otherworldly, lost in the technocracy we have created.

The Dwarven tattoos carved into his body gave Ted the ability to walk on air, super strength, near invulnerability, power over the weather… and all of this has given him a hero complex, a belief in his ability to solve problems through brute force. But, despite the whisperings of Odin’s ravens Huginn and Muninn, which should grant him wisdom, Ted is only given information rather than wisdom. Power without knowledge and thoughts about consequences is a feature of many of the heroes our society manufactures, but in Tombstone Blues, Chadwick Ginther forces Ted to face responsibility for his acts, to question and debate his belief in his own moral rightness and question what may happen if he makes the wrong choice. Ted realises that he is only part of a greater world which can be changed by his actions, and not always in the positive way that he intends. A man of action, Ted is forced to reassess those actions, to stop, pause, and speculate about what he is doing and why.

Ted’s own bodily vulnerability, brought on by Thor’s act of ripping Mjolnir from his body allows him to think of wider vulnerabilities in the world, changes and dangers that may be too large for one person’s heroism to change. Like himself, the world has become wounded, and instead of blood, it is leaking the mists of Nifleheim, a fluid that is no less deadly.

To read more about Chadwick Ginther’s work, visit his website at http://chadwickginther.com/ .

To discover more about Tombstone Blues, visit RavenStone’s website at http://www.ravenstonebooks.com/spec-fic/tombstone-blues.html .

Xena Meets Iron Chef

Cover photo courtesy of Karen Dudley

A Review of Karen Dudley’s Food for the Gods (Turnstone Press, 2012).
By Derek Newman-Stille

Make sure to eat a large meal before you read Karen Dudley’s Food for the Gods. Dudley sets her novel in the ancient Greek world where mythology and Athenian life mix. Nothing prepares an ancient Greek chef for a life of cooking more than being made into a meal for the gods. Celebrity chef Pelops was sacrificed by his father Tantalus and made into a meal that was offered to the gods as Tantalus’ attempt to mock the gods. Dudley’s story takes place once Pelops has been reconstituted from this primeval stew (missing only a piece of his shoulder that was eaten accidentally by Demeter and replaced by a prosthetic shoulder of ivory) with a new, very personal understanding of the cooking craft… one could say that his blood was infused with good taste. Having turned down the love of Poseidon, Pelops was forced to find a non-watery solution for cooking in – allowing him to instead use the gifts of Athene and Dionysus (olive oil and wine) to infuse his food with new, rich tastes that set him aside from other chefs.

Having been served as food to the gods, Pelops has the ability to see the gods, and Dudley infuses her work with the divine presence. Food for the Gods combines a mystery plot with a reality-TV-like plot of a celebrity chef insider view… and a hefty dose of ancient gods and furies. Her plot plays with ancient Greek notions of moira (fate), hubris, and miasma (the contaminating quality of polluted acts), challenging her readers to think in an ancient Greek mindset and envision a world where negative deeds are seen as being able to be transferred by touch or by proximity to others. She also interjects the gods into every aspect of life from boiling water to drunken revelry – who would have known cooking could be so divine.

Dudley infuses her work with her incredible sense of humour, combining a serious plot of mystery and intrigue with humourous interludes and several posters advertising anything from advice books on preparing a dinner party to advice on how to properly interact with prostitutes. Her style of humour is clearly influenced by the ancient Athenian comic poet Aristophanes, blending body humour, social commentary, and philosophy/theology.

Although infused with humour, Dudley’s work also challenges modern notions of the stability of morality structures and introduces aspects of the ancient Greek world that would be considered taboo or outsider narratives in modernity. Dudley discusses sex workers as normative and unthreatening, and, unlike many narratives today, humanises her prostitute characters rather than casting them as social outlaws or social problems. Rather than casting her prostitute characters as drug-addled criminals with complex and problematic histories, Dudley displays prostitution as an employment option and even portrays one of the prostitutes as the love interest for her story.

Dudley’s plot exemplifies the ancient Greek comfort with queer subjectivity, and does not feel the need to narrativise queer lives or to construct reasons why her characters are queer. The homosexuality of her characters is just another part of their existence and is not complicated as something outside of the norm.

This novel encourages the reader to think outside of the temporal subjectivity (outside of the tendency of modern society to think of itself as superior and “the only way things could be”) and question whether modern methods of viewing the world are better than those of the past.

Dudley combines the playful engagement with mythology of Xena with the culinary interplay of celebrity cooking shows, and a healthy dose of mystery and crime-solving. By the end of reading this, you will find yourself reading Homer while eating a gourmet meal and pondering about the crimes in your city. I look forward to more of Dudley’s work with a fork in one hand, a spyglass in the other, and ancient Greek pottery on the table.

Warning: Do Not Read On An Empty Stomach. May Cause Hunger.

To read more about Karen Dudley’s work, visit her website at http://www.karendudley.com/ . Visit RavenStone Press (an imprint of TurnStone Press) for Food of the Gods at http://www.ravenstonebooks.com/

“That giant that wants to kill you, at home in his cave or barrow – wherever the poor, damned thing is forced to live now – probably has a mate, and squalling little giant children, waiting for papa to come home with the meat. When you kill that giant, do you think of them? No, you think, I’m glad to be alive. Or the monster deserved what it got. After all, you’re not a bad guy, so if it tried to hurt you, it was the bad one right?”

-Chadwick Ginther –Thunder Road (RavenStone, forthcoming 2012).

Quote – Giants Have Feelings Too!!!