Speculating Canada on Trent Radio Episode 66:

In this episode of Speculating Canada on Trent Radio, I have a chance to do an audio interview with Julie Czerneda. I have previously interviewed Julie in text format, but wanted a chance to share her spoken words with you.

Julie and I discuss the boundary between science fiction and fantasy, the power of SF to teach, developing fantasy worlds, ecosystems, and magical creatures.

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.

Do Emperors Dream of Electronic Nightingales?

Do Emperors Dream of Electronic Nightingales?
A review of Michelle West’s ‘The Nightingale’ in Once Upon a Galaxy Edited by Wil McCarthy, Martin H. Greenberg, and John Helfers (Daw, 2002).
By Derek Newman-Stille

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Michelle Sagara West (here writing as Michelle West) takes Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Nightingale” from once upon a time into the (un)Happily Ever After, transforming myth into science fiction. Andersen’s tale is one of nature versus artificiality, pitting the natural songs of a living nightingale against the regularity of a clockwork nightingale. Both are able to produce music, but the variety and passion of the biological Nightingale surpasses that of the artificial.

Michelle Sagara West plays with this contrast between the natural and artificial by setting her tale In the future. West introduces the nightingale to the audience first, narrating from her perspective. She is constructed entirely as an object of the Emperor, an extension of his power and a symbol of his absolute control. She lives for the Emperor, uncertain even of her own selfhood.

West plays with the Orientalism of Andersen – his portrayal of China as autocratic, distant, wealthy, and violent – by instead situating her Emperor in a galactic setting, a setting that can comment on Andersen’s racism while also allowing her tale to play with themes of autocracy, wealth, and violence without replicating Andersen’s racism. The Emperor in West’s tale has literally distanced himself from human experience by altering his body, becoming something distant and quasi-mechanical. His obsession with music arises from the power that music has to make him feel some tinge of his humanity. This is an Emperor who desires control over all things, so the power music has to present diversity, uncertainty, and fluctuation has been regulated in the form of his android songbird who has been imbued with all of the galaxy’s latest musical trends without the chaotic uncertainty of music.

West’s songbird, just like Andersen’s nightingale, submits to the Emperor, making herself an object of his pleasure and desire and an extension of his will. She is caged just as Andersen’s nightingale is, but West’s songbird is a combination of images of escape and reminders of captivity. She is trapped in a castle on a planet where flight is forbidden and, moreover, she is given wings, but forbidden to ever use them. Creating them as a symbolic reminder of her captivity. She is forbidden contact with anyone other than the Emperor, secreting a poison that is fatal to anyone but him and is programmed to only love him.

Yet, unlike the mechanical nightingale from Andersen’s tale, West’s songbird is able to hear and experience the music of a human singer, hearing her voice and opening herself to learning from this singer and therefore experiencing the intwined nature of emotion and song, the human ability to express feeling through voice. In order to learn this interweaving of song and feeling, West’s songbird has to find something inside of herself that is fundamentally foreign to her.

West plays with ideas of permanence versus ageing and mortality. West contrasts the rigidity and stagnancy that comes with permanence against the changeability that comes with mortality, allowing her artificial songbird to be emotionally awakened by a love that is born through music. West illustrates that myth or fairy tale, like song, is an expression of human mortality and is a flexible and open to fluctuations as song, allowing The Nightingale to drift from a mid 1800s tale to a tale of futurity and speculative fiction.

You can discover more about Michelle Sagara West at http://michellesagara.com

Speculating Canada on Trent Radio Episode 62: Afrofuturism

In this episode of Speculating Canada on Trent Radio, I explore Afrofuturism and particularly focus my examination on the work of Canadian author Nalo Hopkinson. Even though I am not a black person myself, I felt that it was important to examine Afrofuturism as an important contribution to imagining black futurity and to science fiction in general. In this episode I examine the important interconnection between imagining a new future for black populations in Afrofuturist texts, but also the importance of acknowledging the history of oppression that has shaped the lives of black Canadians.

Afrofuturism provides a space for imaging new possible futures, for questioning the status quo, and for asking critical questions about the continued oppression of black Canadians and African Americans.

My examination of the work of Nalo Hopkinson focuses on her ability to examine complexities and intricacies involved in imagining utopian future possibilities while examining the way that colonialism, slavery, diasporic experiences, and oppression have shaped the lives of people.

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.

 

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.

img_0564-2

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.

 

 

Learning How Not To Be A Hero

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Learning How Not to Be A HeroA review of Edward Willett’s “Falcon’s Egg” (Bundoran Press, 2015)

By Derek Newman-Stille

Lorn had always wanted to be a hero, always looked up to those revolutionary leaders he saw pushing boundaries and changing society, but when Lorn sees his “changed” government behaving in the same way as the previous regime, he is forced to question the ideals of change. Lorn tries to uncover secrets that the government is keeping from the populace and he has to take leave from his job in government policing in order to figure out what the government has become and what they are now capable of. 

As Lorn has aged, his heroes have become more humanized and he begins to see the weaknesses in the social construction of heroism. He is forced to face the reality that the idealisms of youth have become the cynicisms of age. 

In “Falcon’s Egg” Edward Willett takes on the notion of heroism itself, exploring the casualties of war and the results of battle on the psychology of the protagonist who has endured the traumas of war. “Falcon’s Egg” is a text of revolution, a war narrative with a bit of frontier ideologies since it is set on an alien world that is in conflict with the more technologically developed centrist planets. However, unlike most exploration, war, revolution, and adventure narratives who uncritically cast the hero as a figure who is above trauma, Willett’s narrative explores the toll that heroism takes on the mind of the hero as well as the toll that it takes on human lives and society. Lorn, through his trauma, is forced to re-assess what it means to be a hero and acknowledge the harm that he and others who saw themselves as heroes have done in enforcing their ideals. At the beginning of “Falcon’s Egg”, Lorn, like many soldiers, begins his story trying to convince himself that he had to do every horrible thing he had done to make the world a better place, and, when told by a psychiatrist that he had PTSD, ignored what he was told and saw PTSD as a “disease of lesser people”. But, when he experiences increasing flashbacks and scenes of horror, he realizes that he needs to shift his perception of himself and his role in society. The toll of human lives becomes too much for him and his own horror at how casually he can now commit murder opens a doorway to a room full of unanswered and unsettling questions for him. Lorn realizes that his dream of running away to space, away from home and his family has always, fundamentally, been a desire to run away from himself.

Willett creates a coming of age narrative that is not limited to a youth. He portrays Lorn as a man, like most others, who is perpetually going through coming of ages, understanding himself in new ways as his viewpoints change with experience. Lorn experiences an awakening to his own ignorance and self denial that lets him finally come to find himself and find meaning in his life beyond the fairy tale narratives of the hero that are portrayed by his society. Willett creates a character who is learning how not to be a hero, but, rather, learning to be a human being. 

You can find out more about Edward Willett’s work at http://www.edwardwillett.com 

You can discover more about Falcoln’s Egg and other Bundoran Press books at bundoranpress.com

Quote – SF to Confirm People’s Complacency

“I see the ways in which science fiction is too often used to confirm people’s complacency, to reassure them that it’s okay for them not to act, because they are not the lone superhero who will fix the world’s ills”

-Nalo Hopkinson – Forward to Falling in Love With Hominids

Dangerous Diplomacies

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A Review of J.A. McLachlan’s “The Occasional Diamond Thief” (Edge, 2015)

By Derek Newman-Stille

The Occasional Diamond Thief is a tale of things lost and things returned, all within the complex political world of interplanetary trade and cultural conflicts. Kia’s father has been haunted by a past that he has been rapidly forgetting in his dementia. So strongly is his dementia linked to his past that even words spoken in the Malemese language, a language used by a world he visited long ago, can trigger health issues. As his dementia progresses, he lapses into Malemese, unable to speak his own language and only Kia, with her incredible linguistic gifts, is able to speak to him. She does so, at the risk of losing him completely instead of losing him to the slow progression of his disease. Referring to her by a Malemese name she hasn’t heard of before, her father gives her a Malemese diamond, believing he is returning this to its owner and ridding himself of something that has plagued his soul, allowing him to move on. Because she seeks communication with him and speaks Malemese, Kia is rejected from her family, losing all connection to her roots and the system of support she had in place. 

Yet, despite the fact that language is connected to the loss of her father, Kia still sees the potential of language as a place of connection, an opportunity to build bridges between people and develop complex forms of understanding. The only problem is that the language school is expensive, and Kia, believing she is connecting with her father’s secret, criminal profession, a secret suppressed by her family, begins her career as a diamond thief.  

Her career as a diamond thief gets her in trouble with the interplanetary religious authorities, the OUB, who force her to visit the planet that she saw as the catalyst of her father’s destruction and eventual death, Malem.

J.A. McLachlan explores the power of suppression and recovery on an interplanetary scale, a community scale, and on a personal scale for Kia and the people around her. Kia’s linguistic gift is related to the issues of communication that shape the interactions between people in McLachlan’s world, the separations and miscommunications that have meant that planets and people have viewed each other with suspicion and distrust. In Kia’s desire to understand language and its cultural connections, she becomes a figure who collapses distances and allows people to communicate. 

Unlike many intergalactic, interplanetary tales, McLachlan’s story is a highly personal one, shaped fundamentally by character and the character’s exploration of selfhood and interaction on a microcosmic level which has implications for the macrocosmic level. Sometimes even small interactions between people are enough to shape and change universe-spanning political issues. 

Communication means that secrets lose their powers, things lost are returned, and healing happens through the barred gateways opened by the desire to talk and share.

To discover more about The Occasional Diamond Thief, visit Edge’s website at http://edgewebsite.com/books/occasionaldiamonthief/occasionaldiamonthief-catalog.html

To discover more about the work of J.A. McLachlan, visit her website at http://www.janeannmclachlan.com