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

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Adrift

A review of A.M. Dellamonica’s Child of a Hidden Sea (TOR, 2014)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Home is a complicated, multi-faceted, problematic notion, and A.M. Dellamonica captures this complexity in Child of a Hidden Sea. She begins her novel seemingly mid narrative, with her protagonist floating in the sea, facilitating the sense of dislocation for the reader that would shape Sophie’s experience of her new/old world. The reader is swept up by a whirlwind of prose and submerged in an unfamiliar realm, just as Sophie, in her quest to find her birth family, has been placed in a confusing muddle of conflicting stories, feelings of rejection, and torn obligations.

Sophie finds herself in a different world, one that is largely made up of islands located distantly from one another, and yet there is something familiar about this place. The stars are the same as on Earth, but the cultures and languages are entirely different… and there are species of animals that she as a scholar has never seen before on our Earth.

Sophie, motivated by a desire to discover, a desire to understand the unusual or unfamiliar is placed in a scholar’s dream – an entire world that is new and exciting… and yet her curiosity isolates her here. She is viewed with suspicion when she asks questions, interrogating things that those around her treat as taken-for-granted truths. This is a world of magic, which differs greatly from the comfortable world of home, governed by rules that she understands – physics, mechanical properties, and simple rules of causation. She treats this whole world as an object of inquiry. Her curiosity is seen as a threat and it only furthers her persistent feeling of rejection which has shaped her life but gained sharper focus when she finally met her birth mother, who rejected her and reacted with horror at her return.

She is filled with wonder at Stormwrack, a world which she discovers she has familial connections to. She alternates from feelings of belonging, finally finding a place of “home” and discomfort, particularly when she discovers a religious cult whose approach to the world is homophobic and sexist. When she brings her adopted brother Bram with her to Stormwrack, he encounters homophobic violence at the hands of this religious group as part of their general attempt to annex an entire island that is based on polyamorous notions of diverse sexual and love relationships.

Dellamonica explores the isolating power of homophobia and its ability to displace LGBTQ populations in her general narrative of displacement. Child of a Hidden Sea is powerful as a narrative because it embodies both curiosity and the desire to find a sense of home and place to belong as well as its ability to point out that displacement is still a persistant feature in our world, one that is further sharpened by economic inequalities, sexism, homophobia, and general power structures that serve to elevate certain groups of people over others.

You can discover more about the work of A.M. Dellamonica at http://alyxdellamonica.com/ .

To read more about Child of the Hidden Sea visit http://www.tor.com/stories/2014/05/child-of-a-hidden-sea-am-dellamonica-excerpt

Superheroic Questions

A review of Northguard Book One: Manifest Destiny by Mark Shainblum and Garbriel Morrissette (Caliber Press, 1989)

Comic books are often treated as a lower form of culture and considered to be pure pleasure reading without intellectual interest, but comic books, like any other form of text, offer a vision of the world around us and the speculative nature of the format offers us a series of questions to ask about normalcy. The superhero genre, in particular, evokes questions about what constitutes heroism, what makes someone special or different, and comments on the way we look at ideas of justice and moral rightness, which are entirely subjective.

Mark Shainblum and Gabriel Morrissette’s Northguard is a figure that offers a critical lens to the superhero genre. He is not the moral guardian who is sure of his rightness and always saving the day, but rather is insecure, uncertain, and cautious in his approach. He does not seek to impose his idea of rightness, but rather dwells in a space of moral question, critiquing himself and his choices. All of this contrasts nicely with the key enemy in the collection Northguard Book One: Manifest Destiny, the organizsation ManDes, an American religious fundamentalist group who sees Canada as an embodiment of weakness to the North, too passive, too diverse, and sinful in our allowance of diversity. ManDes is a group that embodies patriarchal misogyny, religious intolerance, capitalist monopolism, and white supremacy.

P.A.C.T. (Progressive Allied Canadian Technologies) has formed in Montreal to stop organizations like ManDes from imposing their corporate control over people and doing social harm. They form a system to keep multinationals in check. In their attempt to provide a set of balances against other corporate powers, they created a device called the uniband, which has the power to reverse the laws of thermodynamics and operate beyond the restrictions of physics… and it can be integrated into the human body. When the person who has originally worked with the uniband and attuned it to his biorhythms is killed, P.A.C.T. ends up finding an unlikely candidate to wear this personal arsenal: Philip Wise, a comic book fan. Philip only asks for one thing: that he be allowed to design his own suit to operate the machine, one modeled after his own superhero fantasies and featuring the prominence of the Canadian flag.

Philip’s uneasy relationship with the flag represents a microcosm of the Canadian uncertainty around embodying ourselves in a patriotic symbol. Unlike American figures like Captain America, that easily wear the flag and represent a certain brand of American patriotism, Canadians on the whole have been a little less certain about a figure that wears his or her patriotism on the outside and Northguard is the perfect character to embody that uncertainty. Before he decides to model his costume after the maple leaf and dress in red and white, he throws the flag down on the ground yelling at it “mean something”, bringing to his own experience of uncertainty to his garb as well as his conflicting need to have the flag mean something for him. In this simple act, Northguard is able to take up an aspect of Canadian identity: the perpetual search for what Canadian identity can mean.

His own interaction with Canadianness also embodies a particular Canadian notion of dualistic identity and the potential for a multicultural reading. Philip is a Jewish Canadian living in Montreal – his identity is powerfully shaped by his ability to simultaneously represent Canadianness and Jewishness, and living in a city that is bilingual and multicultural. The power of his duality is marked nicely in the comic when the maple leaf on Northguard’s mask and chest are both overlaid by the Star of David, allowing the costume to simultaneously speak to Canadian identity and how that identity is made up of a multiplicity of cultures and cultural symbols.

Yet, ManDes sees Canada as weak because of this multiplicity and attempts to play into the perceived insecurity caused by a collective of cultural interests by purposely trying to play Francophone and Anglophone Canadians against each other, perpetrating violence and attributing it to one language group or the other. Northguard resists these attempts both by foiling these plots by also by trying to become bilingual himself, creating a French name for himself “Le Protecteur” and working with a French Canadian superhero named Fleur de Lys, who wears the symbols of Quebecois identity.

Northguard is able to embody the potential of the superhero to be a figure who evokes questions, both in his own morality and in the way Canadians see ourselves. Shainblum and Morrissette turn the Canadian question about “who are we?” into a suit of red and white, featuring a maple leaf that asks readers to keep questioning and to recognise the superpower that exists in the act of constantly questioning our identity and what we can and do represent.

Unfortunately, this collection is hard to come by and I hope that Shainblum and Morrissette are able to revive Northguard in the future.

To find out more about Mark Shainblum, visit his website at http://www.shainblum.com/

 

 

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/ .

Demonthropology

A review of Marie Jakober’s The Demon Left Behind (Edge, 2011)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Cover photo of The Demon Left Behind courtesy of Edge ( http://www.edgewebsite.com/ )

Cover photo of The Demon Left Behind courtesy of Edge ( http://www.edgewebsite.com/ )

The world is full of invisible entities, entities affected by us and by the chaos of our world – demons. They aren’t evil, but rather morally grey, like us, varying in their outlook on the world. But because of the link between the visible and invisible worlds, they feel the need to study us, watch and observe us and ensure that no human (visie) action will affect them or their lives. Demons have become silent observers in Marie Jakober’s The Demon Left Behind, bound by a supernatural prime directive not to interfere with our world, but to observe it in case action needs to occur – particularly since human inventions like nuclear bombs could demolish demon life as well as human life.

When the young demon Wye Wye disappears, Melusine and her team are tasked to find him and bring him home. They discover that in his quest to discover threats to the world, he has become insatiably curious about militia groups who believe that the End of Times is upon them and believe that they have a role in protecting the world from things that they see as threats to Christian hegemonic control. Melusine and her group have to employ the work of a human informant and begin to re-trace Wye Wye’s steps as well as his research in order to find out what happened to him and how he became lost in his search to understand.

Jakober’s The Demon Left Behind plays with the image of ethnography, studying humanity from the perspective of an ‘Other’ that is so different from human experience that it does not have a bodily existence apart from the time the demons spend emulating humans in order to study us. Like in many early ethnographic texts, Melusine experiences the allure of the ‘Other’, feeling a desire to become more like the human beings she is observing. She feels a pull toward bodily existence, the desire to experience human sexuality, human desire, human food, and the complexities of bodily existence. Others in her group experience disgust at the idea of bodily existence, but as Melusine becomes closer to her human informant, Paige, she begins to better understand his experience and sees value in corporeality even though it would mean the loss of her immortality if she were to take human bodily form for too long.

The Demon Left Behind evokes in readers a sense of estrangement from the human experience, an othering of our own lives so that we can look at ourselves from an outside perspective and wonder at the strange things that occur in our world that we don’t question – that we normalise.

To explore this and other Edge books, visit their website at http://www.edgewebsite.com/ .