Authors in Quarantine – Julie Czerneda

With this this series, I am hoping to capture how this cultural moment is affecting our speculative fiction authors and how our authors are surviving during the COVID-19 outbreak

Spec Can: What have you been up to during the COVID-19 outbreak?

Julie Czerneda: It’s been work as normal for us in many ways, especially coming out of winter. I turned in a book in February and the next is due early June. That’s a good pace. My publisher, DAW Books, has all their staff working from home and eager to see material flow. As I’d already been driving hard to turn in my current WIP, SPECTRUM, early, to give me more time ahead for a “secret project,” I haven’t lacked motivation. Now? Because spring is like a tonic, especially to see the green things and birds, the struggle to balance outside and office is pretty familiar. It’s not a bad thing.

Spec Can: How are you adapting to social distancing?

Julie Czerneda: I’m very fortunate to live with my best friend and partner (coming up to 44 years, btw) Roger. We have offices and room to roam in our house, and much to do. For breaks and exercise, we love walks and biking, so that’s all good. I won’t lie, it’s agony at times being apart from the rest of our family and friends. Videos of loved ones are bittersweet. Sometimes I’ll sniffle a while afterwards. Not being able to help is the worst, but we know we’re protecting one another and are in it together. The end of this will come.

Like many, I can say we’re getting a great deal done on several fronts simply because we’re not leaving town or dividing our time. Oh, and I must applaud Roger for being our designated Seeker of Needful Things. I haven’t shopped since March 14th. (When I bought my wonderful new keyboard, so there’s that.)

Spec Can: How is the outbreak affecting your writing?

Julie Czerneda: I am grateful to be writing Esen. She’s family and joy, along with the suspense, and there’s a great release in finding new weird aliens around every corner. I don’t know if I could have written MAGE during this. Maybe. Glad I don’t have to find out.

The first week I couldn’t focus as well. The significance of the news was overwhelming–trouble with a science background, we both had a sense of how huge the problem would become. By the second, I’d regained my rhythm, but my daily word count was down maybe 20% overall until lately. (I track it) I do allow myself to walk away, then try again later. We leave the news till after our workday, as best we can. That helps. Plus we’re wary of what we watch or read for pleasure. Some themes cut too close right now and that’s normal.

Fortunately, the new book has hit the climatic portion–so much happens!–and that’s always the smoothest/fastest for me to write. I’m already seeing my numbers head back to normal. As for tone…that’s interesting. When I need to decompress, I’ve gravitated to rereading favourite mysteries, Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe. Bonus? That tingly sense of oooh REVEAL CLUE!!!! has crept in to my story, which is fun.

Coffee and cheesecake from the local bakery

Interviewed by Derek Newman-Stille, MA, PhD ABD

A Call for Research

A review of Holly Schofield’s “Weight of the World” in Cli Fi: Canadian Tales of Climate Change (Exile Editions, 2017)

By Derek Newman-Stille

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Holly Schofield’s “Weight of the World” explores the role of science in humanity’s engagement with our ecology. Schofield brings attention to the way that capitalism is constantly placed ahead of ecological research, pointing out that we endanger the planet further by devoting government resources to areas that we think will be more profitable and provide short term benefits rather than long term research that could develop solutions to ecological problems.

 

Schofield’s tale centres on a scientist named Gurpreet who keeps getting shuffled from department to department while she tries to create solutions for humanity’s current eco crisis and food security issues. Changes in the gulf stream have meant that Canada has become a frozen wasteland where growing seasons are uncertain and always incredibly short. Gurpreet has to deal with misogyny from her male coworkers as well as corruption in funding models that takes money away from viable food production and funnels it into popular, but under-researched methods of producing food, even though these methods will likely have longer term ecological repercussions.

 

Schofield’s tale is timed at a critical moment when we see a conflict between scientists in the United States and a government that doesn’t want to change its ecological policies. Her tale is a reminder to all of us that we need to invest in long term scientific research and stop having stop-gap methods that cause further ecological danger.

 

To find out more about Holly Schofield, visit https://hollyschofield.wordpress.com/

To discover more about Cli Fi and other Exile books, visit http://www.exileeditions.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/ .

Malicious Math

A review of Matt Moore’s “Delta Pi” (from Torn Realities, Post Mortem Press: 2012)

By Derek Newman-Stille

Matt Moore’s “Delta Pi” is an Aurora-nominated short story that plays with the idea that math can be a spell as powerful as any invocation. Math is a language, a coded system, and reality imposes strict rules upon it, but math is also something that is seen to govern reality, a system that provides guidelines for interpreting the world. What happens when those guidelines shift? What happens when technology changes the basics of math? Does reality itself shift? “Delta Pi” explores technology that fundamentally questions and alters the nature of Pi, the mathematical constant that represents the ratio of every circle’s circumference to its diameter. When that number shifts, when technology alters it, the world, a fundamentally circular space changes and shifts. Our universe is left in a state of question when things that are structured as constants begin to change – the altered Pi is a gateway to the unknown.

Matt Moore sets his story at a research lab where new technology is being tested. His protagonist is a teacher for the children of the lab techs and researchers in the experimental lab attached to the school. Gradually, through an experiment with the children, he finds out that Pi is shifting, the number ramping up from 3.14159 to 3.26, and then to 3.71… the coding underlying the universe’s constants is changing and this could have meaning for the entirety of reality. Moore explores the danger of experimentation and the power of math as a coded system, a language that has the capability for describing the nature of reality.

In particular, Matt Moore’s protagonist fascinated me because of his disability, since few SF narratives deal in depth with disability. His disability is not revealed until later in the story unlike many narratives about disabled people that generally reveal disability early on and structure the entire person and their personality around their body. The significance of his protagonist’s disability is revealed most prevalently when the plot makes it relevant – when the nature of the circle, and thus the wheels on his wheelchair, are fundamentally shifted.

To find out more about Matt Moore, you can visit his site at www.mattmoorewrites.com . To find out more about the Prix Aurora Awards, visit their website at http://www.prixaurorawards.ca/

Zombie Soldiers

A review of Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s “Cemetery Man” in This Strange Way of Dying (Exile Editions, Forthcoming 2013).

By Derek Newman-Stille

Cover photo courtesy of Silvia Moreno-Garcia. Artwork by Sara K. Diesel

Cover photo courtesy of Silvia Moreno-Garcia. Artwork by Sara K. Diesel

When you are in a battle against an enemy that keeps bringing forth the resurrected dead, the worst thing that can happen is when you find yourself tended to by their doctor. In “Cemetery Man”, Catalina finds herself under the ministrations of a Frankensteinian doctor, affectionately called Cemetery Man. Pain runs through her body as Cemetery Man conducts experiments on her, changes her to suit his own ends and those of the military units that support him. He is the ultimate expression of the ability of science to be forced to express political ends. Research is placed above patient needs and the push of politicians for results causes a total abandonment of the statutes of medical care.

In a civil war, like in any war, bodies become disposable, food for the war machine, and Catalina finds herself trapped between allegiances, being used in multiple ways and having her agency ripped from her while struggling to maintain some form of selfhood separate from the political agencies that rob her of power. The zombies surrounding her in Cemetery Man’s lab are the ultimate expressions of the disempowerment of people that often accompanies war – they become the ultimate soldiers, feeling no pain, unable to question their circumstances or their orders, and relegated to the position of murderous machines. But no one is really free of the zombieism that accompanies war, the march with one foot in the grave and control taken into the hands of another.

To find out more about Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s work, you can visit her website at http://silviamoreno-garcia.com/blog/ . To read this story and others from This Strange Way of Dying, you can explore it athttp://silviamoreno-garcia.com/blog/this-strange-way-of-dying/ . This collection will be available in the fall.

Spectral Reality

A review of Sandra Kasturi’s Come Late to the Love of Birds (Tightrope Books, 2012)
By Derek Newman-Stille

In her poetry collection Come Late to the Love of Birds, Sandra Kasturi creates a spectral reality, an assemblage of words that makes the familiar strange and the strange familiar. She reveals the extraordinary in the natural, taking scenes of everyday life and introducing an otherworldly quality, a nuance of language and image that breaks down the notions of what is real.

The figure of the bird provides a framework for this strange-making process, an animal that is both fundamentally natural and present, but also simultaneously distant, ethereal, coded with otherworldly flights of fancy.  She fixes the reader with the animal gaze, a gaze that is both common and completely Other, and that gaze finds humanity wanting. She helps to estrange us from our hegemonic ideas of humanity – our belief that we are superior to nature – and makes the reader question their taken-for-granted beliefs about the appropriateness of their impact on the environment.

Come Late To The Love of Birds is an interplay of the mythic and the evolutionary, revealing that neither in science nor in mythology can one find a complete picture, but it is through the interplay of the critically realist and the transcendently fantastic that we are able to see the complexity of the world around us.

She titled a section of the collection “Hieroglyphs of Wind”, and in that phrase, she reveals the key to her poetic craft – the infusion of her breath with an occult quality of words, beyond simple meaning or singular expression. Her words are imbued with complexity, multiplicity, and a deep interplay of meanings. Her poetic art is simultaneously completely natural and wholly transcendent.

To discover more about Sandra Kasturi and her work, visit her website at http://sandrakasturi.com/ .

Quote – Any Evil that Entered the World Contaminated the World

“No cure was worth torturing cats and mice. It was like arguing that inventing, then using, the atom bomb was justified because it ended the war and diminished suffering. Any evil that entered the world contaminated the world.”

-Scott Fotheringham – The Rest is Silence (Goose Lane Editions, 2012)