It’s the End Of The World As We Know It, and I Feel Speculative

A review of OnSpec #90, Vol 24, No. 3 Fall 2012 Apocalypse Special Issue.

Cover image courtesy of On Spec

Cover image courtesy of On Spec

By Derek Newman-Stille

On Spec, with their combination of SF stories and non-fiction SF essays and interviews, never fails to be entertaining, but the special issue on the apocalypse was even more fantastic than most. It was as thought-provoking as it was entertaining, reminding readers of their own culpability in creating the potential for a destroyed world as well as their responsibility for making the world a better place.

The layout of the volume was, itself, fascinating and had the ability to draw the reader in on multiple levels. This was most in evidence by the interweaving of Kevin Cockle’s “Timeline” (a recounting of some of the history of economic theory as well as a postulation on the future of economic policy and where this will lead) throughout various narratives – every few pages, elements of Cockle’s timeline would appear at the bottom of the page, threading itself through the overall narrative of the On Spec volume and tying stories together.

As a disability scholar who does work in fantastic fiction, I was particularly taken with Camille Alexa’s story “All Them Pretty Babies”, which challenged social ideas of beauty in the post-apocalyptic future. Unlike many authors who revel in the horror of the different body, who present the “deformed” body as something that should evoke shock and disgust, Camille Alexa puts the reader into the position of her narrator, Esme, who collects babies that have been mutated by bio weapons that have damaged the future. Esme is an incredible character, able to see the beauty of diversity, seeing disability and difference as markers of beautiful bodies. She defines beauty as difference from the mundane normalcy of the human body that is preferred by most of society – Esme sees beauty in extra eyes, legs, arms, and conjoined bodies. She is dismayed that she is so boring, with only two legs, two arms, and two eyes: “Bonita’s so pretty, she probably never walk. Not even walk like New Mama, who hunch over cane and hobble like on third leg – though she’s not that pretty, what with her having only two like most” (6).

Despite the human race suffering because there are too few human beings remaining after the bombing, the people of the future preserved cities are abandoning children that they view as deformed, trying to stick to an ideal of what the “normal” human being should be.  People in haz mat suits come out to the destroyed fields to leave babies to die because of their biological difference, while worrying about the future of human fertility. Esme and her group go through the fields to rescue these abandoned children of a humanity that fears biological difference, telling these children how beautiful they are for their diversity from bodily norms. Esme and her group of abandoned children are trying to make the world outside of the city livable again while the city-dwellers consistently deny the changes that they have wrought. The city dwellers waste human life because the life forms they encounter don’t conform to their notions of beauty.

Camille Alexa provides a commentary on the ableist (able-bodied centred) world that we currently live in. She creates an exaggerated ableist future to point to issues regarding biological diversity and disability in our current world. Disabilities are made more prevalent and occurring more often, and people with disabilities face even more discrimination – having their lives and rights taken away completely rather than facing the likelihood of facing a life of reduced rights, government control, and the medicalised body. Her future population tries to euthanize functioning human bodies because they differ from a socially determined norm and they justify these actions as humanitarian because they cannot imagine people living with diverse bodies. Rather than shifting their own notions of what is bodily acceptable, they eliminate difference and further regulate and control the body.

Ideas of the danger of birth continue into Daniel LeMoal’s short story “Destroyer”, where small elements of future populations have developed the ability to project dreams into the minds of others. When a child begins to show an increased ability to control the minds around him, he is seen as a biological threat. Like Camille Alexa’s story, this apocalyptic narrative focusses on the danger embodied in the future – represented by children. Apocalyptic narratives are fundamentally about the future, and, therefore tales about children and the potential embodied in future generations brings attention to the impact we have on the future of the world.

Karl Johanson’s “Frats and Cheers” is probably the most terrifying narrative in this volume for me since it shows a future population that is so inundated with media manipulation that it has lost the ability to think for itself. His population is terrifying because it shows a magnification of the modern disinterest in challenging and questioning messages. His future population enjoys reality T.V. more than the actual reality of the world around them, and actively avoids interest in world affairs, while being content to have their messages fed to them. This is a narrative of the dangers of apocalyptic stupidity – truly terrifying.

Timothy Gerwing plays with ideas of religious apocalypse narratives and portrays a future that is visited by an avenging angel in his “Hog-Killing Weather”. Gerwing turns religious apocalyptic narratives on their end by creating an angel who punishes religious zealots as much as any others who show a fundamental inhumanity.

Al Onia, also playing with religious narratives of the apocalypse, presents us with four horsemen who are gathered together to fight the four horsemen of the apocalypse in “Knights Exemplar”. Despite their desire to save the world around them, they are subject to the social fear and hatred of outsiders that becomes magnified in times of crisis.

Douglas Smith’s “The Walker of the Shifting Borderland” creates a different kind of religious narrative of the apocalypse when he presents the embodiment of Chaos and Order and their child, the Walker, who is seeking balance between these forces. Reality is crumbling as Order and Chaos seek to maintain their old status quo and prevent new changes in the world. This is a tale of epic love when a mortal gets caught between a battle of the gods. Smith reminds us that we have the potential to change the world around us and that self-sacrifice can be a means of making the world around us better.

Leslie Brown’s “Mesa at the Edge of the World” portrays a future in which the government has provided a method of euthanasia for any who want to commit suicide. Rather than putting funding into health care and psychological care programmes, the government has shown a willingness to ship people who seek suicide out into the desert so that they can hurl themselves into a vortex. Brown illustrates the treatment of people with psychological disabilities as disposable objects and inconveniences.

The apocalyptic narratives in this On Spec issue are not ones of futility, hopelessness, or loss, but are rather reminders of the importance of continuing a battle for social justice and a reminder that we have the potential to change the world around us, to fight the apocalypses that we continually create around us.

You can explore On Spec at their website at http://www.onspec.ca/ and pick up a copy of this apocalyptic issue since the world didn’t end after all. Thank goodness you will have enough time to read this before the next apocalypse comes along.

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Big Red Suit Scare – A Midwinter Cold War

A review of The Claus Effect by David Nickle and Karl Schroeder (Tesseract Books, 1997)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Cover photo courtesy of the authors

Cover photo courtesy of the authors

Every child wishes they could go to the North Pole to become one of Santa’s elves. What child wouldn’t want to get everything that they want? David Nickle and Karl Schroeder take on the spirit of the holidays in The Claus Effect and explore what the personification of the holidays would be like. They cast a critical eye at the materialism of modernity and the overwhelming impulse of desire in Western society, and its particular expression of indulgence around the holiday season.

Santa Claus becomes the personification of capitalist desire – the manifestation of the idea that everyone should get what they want rather than what they need even when what they want is destructive to the society around them. Nickle and Shroeder’s Santa becomes a figure that seeks overall destruction by giving children access to weapons that would do harm to them and others, gleefully indulging in the destructive impulse of desire.

The Claus Effect begins with the short story “The Toy Mill” (originally published in Tesseracts 4) in which a young girl named Emily, obsessed with the mythology of Christmas and the desire for belonging asks Santa Claus if she can become an elf. Santa is wordsmithed with a predatory quality, described as having “an endless quest for girls and boys”, and licking his lips when he encounters them. His desire is for workers for the mill, children transformed into elves to work in his industrialist nightmare – a factory with huge smokestakes and enslaved workers. The factory itself is described with a predatory, consumptive quality – drooling cables and iron spiderwebs.

Emily struggles to find out why Santa doesn’t always give children what they desire, not reading their requests in his letters and points out to him the horrifying possibility that he may benefit from reading the words of children. Santa has become embittered from not receiving the thanks he feels he deserves for giving children what he thinks they should want. Santa lives in ignorance, believing he is above hearing the requests of children in letters, above the need to learn anything new. But when taught about the opportunity presented in this letters, when told that it could be research on giving children the very items that would allow for the full manifestation of their self-destructive consumptive impulse, he pays attention to this “market research”. He finds letters from children who wish their whole town would catch syphilis, who wish they owned M-16s, AKMs, and other munitions, and thousands of requests for their parents to die.

Emily begins to realise the horror of giving The Claus access to the full extent of children’s wishes and empowering the maliciousness that gave manifestation to him. Mrs. Claus has been preventing Santa’s wrath by telling him that letters were complaints from children about his gifts, indicating their displeasure.

Wishes and desire become the means for The Claus to manifest his love of destruction. He realises that the most harm he can do to the world is to give people what they want. He realises that consumption is consumptive, that over consumption and desire is destructive.

Despite her realisation that giving people what they want can be destructive, and her attempt to end Santa’s destructive regime, over-consumption is something that has become too enmeshed in our society. Santa can’t be destroyed, and Shroeder and Nickle re-visit Santa in The Claus Effect, which examines a clash of ideologies as over-consumptive capitalism meets communism.

Neil Nyman views war as a means of expressing American Western ideals of “the right way” and as the ultimate expression of ideas of masculinity and concepts of honour, particularly when that violence is directed toward a perceived communist threat. His uncle, a soldier teaches him at a young age that vengeance and violence are expressions of patriotism and that Christmas can be a time of vengeance.

After becoming a soldier himself, Nyman discovers some of the horror that militarism can wreak when he realises that Santa is in a conspiratorial relationship with the U.S. government: a weaponry wishlist delivered by the military to Santa each year. Santa has become a manifestation of the capitalist industrialist-military complex.

In order to keep his secrets, Santa targets Emily, now a grown woman who remembers his weaknesses. Emily is continually reminded of the horrors of working for Santa while she works for ValueLand, another commercial empire profiting from greed and, particularly, seasonal greed.

Neil and Emily eventually meet each other, both suspicious and questioning of the status quo and both having discovered secrets surrounding Santa Claus and his relationship to the American government. The two of them come into contact with another figure from Christmas mythology, Krampus, a figure that mythologically existed in contrast to Santa Claus in Germanic countries and was responsible for capturing and punishing children who were naughty. Krampus is an ideological figure, one who believes that human beings shouldn’t get everything that they want, but rather should be focused on their needs. Krampus had once discovered a copy of Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto and saw in it a potential for the balance between punishment and reward, a way to balance the greed embodied by Santa Claus. He travelled to Russia and joined the Russian revolution.

In The Claus Effect, the extremes of capitalism and communism come into ideological conflict, embodied by mythic figures surrounding the Christmas as an ideological time that focuses both on the extremes of capitalist greed and also ideas of community and working toward a common good. Christmas for Schroeder and Nickle is a time of contradictory impulses, a battle of extremes of ideology – a winter cold war of conflicting messages.

You can discover more about Karl Schroeder at his website at http://www.kschroeder.com/ and you can discover more about Dave Nickle at his website at http://davidnickle.blogspot.ca/ . To explore The Claus Effect for yourself, visit the Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing site at http://www.edgewebsite.com/books/clauseffect/ce-catalog.html

Speculating Canada ON AIR – Apocalyptic Canadian Literature with Derek Newman-Stille

Explore Trent Radio at www.trentradio.ca

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Note: Give the file a few moments to buffer – it is a large file as it is a radio quality recording.

Vampiropocalyptic Cold

A review of Sandra Kasturi’s The Slowing of the World in Evolve Two: Vampire Stories of the Future Undead (Edge, 2011)

Cover photo courtesy of Nancy Kilpatrick

Cover photo courtesy of Nancy Kilpatrick

By Derek Newman-Stille

Vampires, living forever and experiencing the world through the longue duree, should be the personification of patience. Predators are known for their ability to wait for long periods of time for their prey, and, when that predator lasts for millennia, their perspective on the world would be one that appreciates small changes over a long period of time.

Sandra Kasturi’s vampires in The Slowing of the World are glacial figures: cold, slow, and deadly. She explores what it would be like to live through so much history: slowly losing the need to stick to the simple categories humanity applies to ideas of life. Her vampires slowly lose their sense of humanity, the impatience that comes with living short lives.

From this long term perspective, vampires are able to view the Earth outside of the human impatience that drives us to destroy the planet for our own convenience. They watch the overpopulation of the world, the pollution and destruction that come from the desire to have everything NOW. But vampires think in terms of millennia, able to see the impact of actions over a long period. They recognise that they need to cool down the hot passion that drives humanity toward its own self-destructiveness. They recognise that sometimes for our own good, we need to gain a new perspective and the only way to slow and cool us down is a worldwide ice age – the personification of slow, cold, isolated pondering.

The perfect story for a long winter evening, Kasturi’s narrative drives ice chips into the blood and leaves us in the state of pondering the world around us that often comes from the isolation and cold of the winter.

To read this story, check out Evolve Two: Vampire Stories of the Future Undead available from Edge: http://www.edgewebsite.com/books/evolvetwo/evolve2-catalog.html . The Ebook version of this book is only $2.99, and the collection contains a whole section on Post Apocalyptic stories. You can explore Sandra Kasturi’s website at http://sandrakasturi.com/ to find out about her projects.

Doomed to Repeat

A Review of Camille Alexa’s Children of the Device (In Here Be Monsters: Tongues and Teeth: Issue Seven, 2012)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Cover photo of Here Be Monsters courtesy of the publisher.

Since the world is supposed to end at the end of this month according to the Mayan Calendar, I thought I would begin the month with an apocalyptic story by Camille Alexa. Nothing better prepares us for the holidays than a reminder of the dangers of human greed.

Only one ship carrying thousands escaped the destruction of the Earth in Camille Alexa’s Children of the Device and five generations into the ship’s voyage, Earth’s traditions linger – from New Year’s resolutions to our perpensity for overpopulation and selfish greed.

Plagues have spread through the colony ship, erasing much of the access to historical records, and, Alexa gives the reader a reminder that those who forget history are doomed to repeat it as humanity cycles through the destructive behaviours that led to the destruction of their own world.  Instead of learning from each previous generation, the human colonists repeat the horrors of human history, desiring more for themselves than their fellow human beings, privileging present desires over the needs of future generations, and solving debates with deadly battles. The pervasive attitudes that lead to Earth’s destruction continue to surface as the fundamental selfishness of the human animal surfaces even far from home.

A lot of space narratives begin with the image of escaping a destroyed Earth and see this as a moment of freeing ourselves from our past and from the gravitational shackles of home that kept us back from the universe, but Camille Alexa reminds us that a change in environment does not facilitate a change in attitude and escaping from our roots does not prevent us from growing back like weeds to infect new environments with our selfish intentions. Alexa warns readers about the dangers of  presentist thinking, and the belief that an accumulation of more things now wards off the dangers of loneliness and sorrow.

Explore more about this volume at http://herebemonstersanthology.blogspot.ca/ and find out more about Camille Alexa and her current projects on her website at http://camillealexa.com/

End of the Week End of the World: SANTApocalyptic Saturdays

SANTApocalyptic Saturdays Throughout December, 2012

The Mayan calendar was written to include everything up until December 2012. There is a widespread discussion about whether this means that our world will end on December 21, 2012.

Of course, while holiday depression is setting in on people and the wild extremes of capitalism are raging as people seek to buy their way to happiness… I thought it would be a good time for an Apocalyptic narrative.

This month, stay tuned for some exciting recommendations of apocalyptic reads for the maybe-not-arriving New Year and some discussions of apocalyptic themes.

Nothing says holiday bliss like thinking this may be the last one!!

Make room in your calendar for the SANTApocaypse: Saturdays Throughout December