Beauty Myths and Legends

A review of Savithri Machiraju’s “Ganapati Bappa Moriya” in Tesseracts Eighteen: Wrestling with Gods (Edge, 2015).
By Derek Newman-Stille

Ganesha is a Hindu god who has the head of an elephant and a plump body. He is a god of luck, a remover of obstacles, a patron of the arts, and a deity of intellect and wisdom. He is one of the most worshipped deities in the Hindu pantheon, and he is the protagonist of Savithri Machiraju’s short story “Ganapati Bappa Moriya”. 

Tesseracts Eighteen is a collection about faith, but it is not really Hindu faith that Savithri Machiraju explores in “Ganapati Bappa Moriya”, rather, she explores a system of beliefs and practices that are generally not considered to be a faith, the fitness movement. Machiraju’s Ganesha is called fat and told that he is disgusting by a fitness guru. Rather than dismissing this as silly human judgements as his wives do, Ganesha decides to change his image to make himself conform to human beauty standards. He begins to work out, control his eating, take supplements to increase his muscle mass, and has plastic surgery to change his elephant head into the visage of a Bollywood star. Rather than embracing his individual bodily expression, he seeks to be just like everyone else, to conform to a standard of beauty. 

Machiraju explores the compulsion to conform that is embedded in the fitness movement and the social push for a bodily ideal that removes bodily diversity. Machiraju explores the religious quality of fitness gurus, moralizing bodies into “good” and “bad” and explores the danger of losing oneself in the beauty myth. Machiraju adds further depth to her story by naming her fitness guru Maya, a name which in Hindu belief means “illusion”, illustrating that the beauty myth is itself an illusion, a surface-level performance that does not reveal depth or reality. 

To find out more about Tesseracts Eighteen: Wrestling with Gods, visit Edge’s website at http://www.edgewebsite.com/books/tess18/t18-catalog.html

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Cuttlefishy Myths

A review of James Bambury’s “Chromatophoric Histories of the Sepiidae” in Tesseracts Eighteen: Wrestling with Gods (Edge, 2015)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Human arrogance assumes that only humanity has the ability to develop beliefs in deities, and it is exciting to see that James Bambury’s “Chromatophoric Histories of the Sepiidae” is included in a collection on religious beliefs because unlike most of the stories in the collection, he focusses on the beliefs of Cuttlefish. Bambury’s cuttlefish tell a mythic history to each other about their rise from the dark of the deep sea (a place filled with predators and absent of light) into the light of the sun. His cuttlefish celebrate their mythic ancestor who absorbed the light of the sun and brought that light into her own body, bringing communication to her people (since cuttlefish communicate with changing patterns of light and colour). Bambury explores this potential within the cuttlefish body for a mythical exploration, connecting the cuttlefish’s ability to change colour to communication and suggesting an ur myth where the cuttlefish first began to communicate by sharing patterns of light with each other. He creates a unique mythological system that comes from environmental and bodily change, a uniquely cuttlefishy desire to understand themselves and their place within their oceanic world. He indicates to readers that religious ideas would express themselves through the body of the practitioner and be shaped by their bodily engagement.

Bambury’s “Chromatophoric Histories of the Sepiidae” invites the reader to divorce themselves from their human-centric perspective of the world and asks us to look at the potential wonders of the deep sea since it is an area, like space, that represents a final frontier that humanity has only explored in part.

To find out more about Tesseracts Eighteen: Wrestling with Gods, visit Edge’s website at http://www.edgewebsite.com/books/tess18/t18-catalog.html

To read more about James Bambury, visit his website at http://jamesbambury.blogspot.ca

An Unnecessary Proving Ground

A review of Alyxandra Harvey’s “The Faith Circus” in Tesseracts Eighteen: Wrestling with Gods (Edge, 2015).

By Derek Newman-Stille

In “The Faith Circus” by Alyxandra Harvey explores ideas of religious conflict and the development of a multi-faith, multicultural system. When the Raja was young, he had demanded that various priests and magicians heal his family from illness. When none of their practices worked, he created the faith circus, a battleground within which various practitioners try to show that their god is the most powerful by killing other religious practitioners. The Raja, stuck in a mode of perpetual anger at what he believes is a betrayal by all of the various gods, brings this assortment together for his own amusement and uses the power shed by the murder of practitioners to give him further magical power and to power the shields that prevent the combatants from leaving the combat grounds.

When a dancer arrives in the arena with a skirt of coins, she questions the need to fight to prove the effectiveness of one’s deity. She shifts the nature of the combat by pointing out the collective power of bringing so many gods and so many faiths together and invites people to look at their commonalities rather than their differences. She looks at the connection that can exist through the blood that has been shed in the arena, the power of sacrifice to bind people together rather than the power of bloodlust to pull them apart.
Harvey subverts the expectation of conquest that underlays most tales of arena combat. She invites readers to look at the potential for collective action rather than individual predominance and conquest over others. She explores the potential of a diversity of faiths as a place of connection between people, a shared experience rather than seeing religious diversity and pluralism as a threat.
To discover more about Tesseracts Eighteen: Wrestling with Gods, visit Edge’s website at http://www.edgewebsite.com/books/tess18/t18-catalog.html

To discover more about Alyxandra Harvey, visit her website at http://alyxandraharvey.com

Robo-religion

A review of Derwin Mak’s “Mecha-Jesus” in Tesseracts Eighteen: Wrestling with the Gods (Edge, 2014)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Religion (particularly when represented in fantasy) is generally constructed as something that is bounded, something that has clear boundaries and belongs to one specific group who all believe the same thing. Derwin Mak’s “Mecha Jesus” blends categories, blending religious systems and getting away from the idea that a religious figure can be exclusively the property of one group. Mak sets his story in a Shinto temple of the future, but one in which Jesus is one of the Kami. The Kami are the spirits and gods of Japanese Shintoism, but the Kami are considered boundless and can encompass any entity that is a force of creation and has influence on our world. It is therefore understandable that Jesus, a figure from Christian belief, could be adopted into Shintoism one of the Kami.

It is always challenging to explore real-world religions in speculative fiction, but Mak shows an ability to question the boundaries of religion and explore universal human themes like the quest for the ‘truth’ (and the eventual discovery that ‘truth’ is subjective), battling against discrimination and oppression, the realisation that the universe is infinitely more complex than we can imagine, and the magic of self-discovery. Mak recognizes a similarity in aspects of Shintoism and Christianity such as the idea that a man can also be a god or have something divine in him and the connection between the Catholic notion of a relic, an object that relates to a particular saint that still holds some of their power and the Shinto notion that an object that belonged to or contains part of a Kami can still hold its power.

“Mecha Jesus” features a Shinto temple devoted to Jesus as one of the Kami and the principle characters in this short story are a Japanese Catholic priest who understands both the Christian context of Jesus and the Japanese cultural context of Shintoism, a fundamentalist Christian who spends most of the time at the temple trying to convince Shinto practitioners that they are worshiping Jesus wrong, and, of course, mecha Jesus himself – a robot who has taken from the principles of Shintoism that any object that holds a relic can become a shrine, making mecha Jesus himself a walking, operating shrine that holds the power of Jesus inside of it. And houses his spirit.

As much as this is a story about recognising the interconnections between religions and the need to see beyond the isolating potential of religion, it is also a story about discrimination and facing social oppression. In the future that Derwin Mak creates, groups are destroying robots, considering them to be a threat to human employability and an abomination. These hate groups attack robots and those who protect them because they believe they are working for humanity. These groups, seeing robots as soulless face a critical moment when they come into contact with a robot who seems to have a soul and a group of people who are willing to defend him from persecution.

To discover more about the work of Derwin Mak, visit his website at http://www.derwinmaksf.com/

To read more about Tesseracts Eighteen, visit Edge’s website at http://www.edgewebsite.com/books/tess18/t18-catalog.html

Animal Outbreak

A review of Jeff Lemire’s Sweet Tooth: Out of the Deep Woods (Vertigo, 2010)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Cover photo of Sweet Tooth: Out of the Woods courtesy of http://jefflemire.blogspot.ca/

Cover photo of Sweet Tooth: Out of the Woods courtesy of http://jefflemire.blogspot.ca/

Set in a post-outbreak society where most of the society has died of the plague and the remaining bits of humanity know that they have a countdown on their remaining life, Sweet Tooth: Out of the Deep Woods is a tale of loneliness and the desire to find one’s place in the world. In this post-outbreak society, the only people who are uninfected are human-animal hybrids, who appeared at around the same time that people started dying of the infection.

Having been raised in isolation, Gus, a human-deer hybrid, is soon left without the father who was his only connection to the world. Growing up surrounded by religious ideas and only his father to provide an interpretation of the world, Gus believed that he lived in the End of Days, his small, idyllic forest cabin surrounded by hellfire. When Gus’ father dies of the plague that is spreading across the world, he is left to interpret the world on his own, particularly when people invade his small woodland space and bring to him all of the hatred and fear that a plague-filled world has for those who are different, particularly those who are immune to the disease.

Sweet Tooth: Out of the Woods is a tale of coming-of-age in the apocalypse, a story of youth cut off from any semblance of normalcy and forced to discover this new world with only scant memories of the past world, snippets of conversations, religious ideologies, and fear as a guide.

Jeff Lemire’s artistic style, blending the dreamscape with the harsh sketched lines of a post-apocalyptic reality evokes the complexity of this world, filled of both destruction and the potential for change and growth.

You can explore Jeff Lemire’s blog site at http://jefflemire.blogspot.ca/ .

Evangelical Science

A review of Suzanne Chuch’s “The Wind and the Sky” in Elements: A Collection of Speculative Fiction (Edge, 2014)
By Derek Newman-Stille

In a future where humanity neared extinction and have become a hunter-gatherer society watched over by androids in space, science has become religion for the artificial life forms above our world. Suzanne Church explores a society where science has become dictatorial, a religious system that must not be questioned.

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

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

Despite the threat of upgrade and memory erasure, Polnine has developed a fascination with humanity, with the wonders of a world beyond the artificial. His research into humanity is viewed as trivial at best and threatening to the social order at worst. His superiors believe that despite their mission to maintain human genetics and culture, their survival is enough to justify their role.

When Polnine escapes to the surface of Earth to temporarily escape software upgrade and experience contact with humanity and their planet. On the surface, he is even more convinced of the richness of experience on Earth, almost overwhelmed by the complexity of the ecosystem and intricacies of human interpersonal relationships.

Polnine must use the extents of his compassion to learn how to interact with humanity without causing offense or upset human beings who have mythologized his existence. Interacting with humanity, he is pulled into a space between the human and the artificial, challenging social perceptions of both.

Through the lens of the android, Suzanne Church explores the nature of religious extremism, and the religious nature of science as a discourse.

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/ .

Floating on Myths and Legends

A review of Marie Bilodeau’s The Kevlar Canoe in Masked Mosaic: Canadian Super Stories (Tyche Books Ltd, 2013).

By Derek Newman-Stille

Marie Bilodeau re-visits Quebecois mythology in her story The Kevlar Canoe, reinventing legend and tying it to a modern legend, a myth for modernity: the superhero story. Taking the story of La Chasse-galerie, often translated into English as The Flying Canoe, Bilodeau inserts modernity into the tale, transforming the canoe into one made of Kevlar and lined with Tasers and other weapons attached by Velcro to its surface.

In the Quebecois legend, La Chasse-galerie is maneuvered by a voyager who has made a pact with the devil to gain the ability to fly a canoe through the skies like a leader of the Wild Hunt. But, Bilodeau’s modern Voyager searches for demons, protecting the world from their intrusion and policing the thin veils between the worlds. Like a fisherman of the sky, he feels the flow of the clouds and air currents around him to sense the presence of demons causing trembles in the surface of the world.

Playing with the religious character of the original story, Bilodeau inverts some of the assumptions. Church bells, normally symbolic of warding off evil presences, here are extensions of demonic power; their openings gaping mouths capable of biting the unwary, their chimes rupturing the world, and their influence controlling nuns, their passive servants. Rather than resurrecting a myth that reifies religious assumptions about the world, Bilodeau inverts them, reminding the reader that part of loving myths is questioning them and that myths should be speculations about the world rather than black and white presumed “Truths”.

The Voyager in Bilodeau’s story, like the tale of La Chasse-galerie, is one of the few of his kind, one of only a few voyagers remaining on scarce canoes, which were getting slower and older with time. But, far from being worn out, Bilodeau gives new life to this tale, illustrating that we can always find new meanings in our stories.

Bilodeau reminds the reader that our stories are still haunted by our mythic past, by the stories that pre-date us, but still continue to shape us and our understanding of the world. She shares the secret with her readers that myths are made to be changed, re-told, re-shaped to reveal new understandings, to adapt to the world’s questions and concerns by shifting with social currents.

You can discover more about the work of Marie Bilodeau at http://mariebilodeau.blogspot.ca/

Visit Tyche Press to find out more about Masked Mosaic: Canadian Super Stories at http://tychebooks.com/books/masked-mosaic/ .