Through Other Eyes

Here is my review of Barbara Gowdy’s “Little Sister”, a novel that explores the transferrance of consciousness from one woman to another during lightning storms.

Dis(abled) Embodiment

Through Other Eyes

A review of Barbara Gowdy’s Little Sister (HarperCollins Publishers, 2017)

By Derek Newman-Stille

Barbara Gowdy’s Little Sister explores ideas of normative minds and constructions of normative psychology. Fiona has gradually been experiencing progressive dementia, experiencing changes in her memory and perception of the world around her. Her daughter, Rose, begins to experience what she calls “episodes” during every storm. She begins to have breaks in consciousness where she seems to be seeing the world through the eyes of another woman, Harriet. She is uncertain if she is having delusions, hallucinations, migraines, or whether she is actually experiencing the life of another woman and seeing the world through her eyes.

Gowdy examines the plasticity of the mind and questions ideas of the “normal” functioning of the mind by illustrating that the mind is changeable and always shifting. Rose had buried the memory of her sister who died when…

View original post 227 more words

Advertisements

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

You Are What You Eat

A review of Nalo Hopkinson’s “Slow Cold Chick” in Northern Frights 5 (Mosaic Press, 1999)
By Derek Newman-Stille

We are shaped by what we eat, by what we consume and Nalo Hopkinson’s “Slow Cold Chick” is an examination of the relationship between food, identity, and selfhood. Food is transformative. When Blaise finds rotting eggs and rotting hot sauce in her fridge and throws them out, but rotting is a process of transformation itself and the interaction of rotten egg and hot sauce breathes new life into the rotting fetus. A cockatrice is formed, with blazing eyes and incredible hunger. Like the hot sauce, the cockatrice is all fire – anger, heat and desire.

The cockatrice needs to eat and whenever it consumes something, it takes on the characteristics of its food, altering and changing to incorporate elements of its food into itself. Blaise also discovers that food shapes her neighbours, that the woman next door who reminds her of prehistoric Venus figurines eats flower petals and her stony companion eats raw earth, both of them taking on qualities of their chosen food.

Food can remind us of home and it can connect us to the landscape by providing us with nourishment from the locales where we collect it. Blaise, like her neighbours and the cockatrice that makes its home with her, is shaped by the foods she eats and her connection to the landscape. Eating allows her to connect with that part of herself that she has closed off, that she has alienated herself from, and the act of eating allows her to connect to parts of herself that she has denied: her desires, heat, anger, and passion.

To discover more about Nalo Hopkinson, visit her website at nalohopkinson.com

Masked and Changed

A review of Richard Wagamese’s Him Standing (Raven Books, 2013)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Cover photo of Him Standing courtesy of Orcabook.com

Cover photo of Him Standing courtesy of Orcabook.com

Lucas Smoke learned the art of carving from his grandfather and finds that his hands seem to move of their own volition to carve figures that he sees in everyday life…. but when he learned the art of carving, his grandfather didn’t teach him the deeper meanings behind his craft, the knowledge that would keep him safe from exploitation.

When Lucas’ grandfather dies, his family wars over the man’s possessions leaving Lucas feeling uncomfortable since all he wanted was his grandfather, not his possessions. Lucas leaves the reserve and decides to busk in the city, using his gifts at carving to make some money by carving images of tourists on the boardwalk. When he is approached by a man who offers him a substantial amount of money to carve masks as his grandfather does, Lucas can’t pass up the opportunity to get himself out of a situation of poverty and agrees. He quickly learns that he is being exploited and that his mask carving, meant to “bring a legend to life” is bringing something into the world that he would rather not invite.

Wagamese explores the experience of urban aboriginal youth feeling conflicted about their relationship to history and home. Lucas is tempted by the views into his people’s past that making his mask and entering into the dreaming place provides. There is something alluring for him about seeing his community before European settlement and he feels as though he has connected with some lost part of himself. Lucas feels fragmented, like parts of his own puzzle have been missing. Even his art, although providing a link to his grandfather, feels incomplete, as though some of the most important teachings are missing – as though he has learned the physical acts of carving but not the deeper spiritual meanings or teachings that should have accompanied it. This sense of incompleteness has left him vulnerable to manipulation by white men who want power and are willing to use him to fulfill their own selfish ends. The loss of teachings and ways of understanding create vulnerabilities for others to exploit – skill without cultural understanding is incomplete.

Lucas is asked to venture into dreams to carve what he sees and unintentionally connects with an ancient evil that seeks to use him to return to the physical world. Like an addict, he becomes obsessed with dreams, losing track of time, not eating, not sleeping, and being consumed from within. His feeling of incompleteness means that he seeks to fill himself with things that are external to him, trying to attain some sense of selfhood while actually leaving him open to be possessed by an ancient evil.

Wagamese looks at the interconnection between story-telling and carving, the ability to make tales into physical things, revealing truths within objects. He examines the power of art and stories to re-shape the world, to bring legends into the living world and change our understanding of the places we dwell in.

To read more about Him Standing visit the Orca Book Publishers’ webpage at http://www.orcabook.com/productdetails.cfm?PC=1865

Painful Intimacy

A review of Sean Moreland’s “The Rosy Boa” in Pavor Nocturnus: Dark Fiction Anthology (January, 2014 online at http://pavnoc.com/?p=419 )
By Derek Newman-Stille

Sean Moreland creates a fierce, almost painful intimacy with the reader in his short story “The Rosy Boa.” The reader is drawn into a conversation, sharing pains and desires with the text, folded into its papery arms, and kissed on the ears by the black tongue of dialogue.

Moreland invites the reader into the world of queer desire, a young man who has fallen in love with another young man in a small town of the 1980s. Like many queer youth, his life is a mix of fear of rejection and the desire to get away from all of the homophobic hate and the persistent threat of violence at home and in public. His desires are stretched between a want for a normal life and a deep drawing toward a potential love interest. The protagonist is perpetually guarded, mediating his feelings for fear of their reception, but he is hyperconscious of every touch of body to body, unsure if these moments of contact are embedded with meaning.

Like many queer youth in a small town, the protagonist is hyper aware of the levels of surveillance that gossip and the vigilant enforcement of normalcy have written over the community – everyone is watched, and everyone’s normalcy is policed. He feels watched in his neighbourhood, forever in fear and needing to manage and shape the perception of others about him – for queer youth, a small town is a horror story, a place of threat, observation, and control. Yet, his queerness also puts him in a position outside of the mundane, separate from every day life.

When the protagonist is able to visit the house of Cyan, the young man he loves, both are able to indulge in an escape from the norm through costume, wearing an antique feather boa that lets them both dance and play, yet this act of play is heightened by one of fear as darkness rolls in and strange sounds appear. In this place of heightened feeling, the protagonist is able to discover more about himself, opened to the world, where transformation and change are possible and where categorical meanings are disrupted. Love and fear meet in a place of desire that is a “mad mix of heaven and hell”. This heaven and hell create an intimacy beyond the mundane, the normal, the unquestioned. Hunger and desire play together at the edge of fear… and death does not know gender.

You can explore this story online for free at http://pavnoc.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/Pavor-Nocturnus-Dark-Fiction-Anthology-Vol.-1.pdf

Opening the Mysterious

A review of Randy McCharles, Billie Milholland, Eileen Bell, and Ryan McFadden’s The Puzzle Box (Edge, 2013)

Cover Photo of The Puzzle Box courtesy of Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing

Cover Photo of The Puzzle Box courtesy of Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing

By Derek Newman-Stille

When I first came across The Puzzle Box, the first image that came to mind was Hellraiser (1987), so I was prepared for my entire reality to be distorted and changed by opening the pages of this book. Like the puzzle box itself, opening these pages changes one, alters perceptions, and changes one’s views of the world. But, it is not a Hellraiser form of change – nothing that utterly obliterates one’s sense of comfort, rather it is a creeping kind of change, a gradual insertion of a new context to reality and a series of questions that opens the mind to new perceptions. There were no ultimate horrors within, merely mysteries, enigmas, riddles…. puzzles.

Mysteries are pedagogical and solving puzzles can sometimes be more about figuring yourself out than it is about solving the puzzle itself – it can be about unlocking your own mind. The puzzle box is a nexus for various intertwining stories in this novel, tying together disparate and unconnected lives, all linked by the need to discover something new about themselves and the freeing process of self discovery. Like our memories, the puzzle box can be unlocked, finding worlds of meaning within.

Opening the box unburies secrets, particularly those that characters create for themselves by hiding things deep within their own minds. The characters in the various stories in The Puzzle Box are outsiders, people struggling for belonging. The box helps them to discover complexities within themselves that they have ignored and hidden within them.

Danger and destiny intertwine when the puzzle box is opened and the box like life itself is a mystery with no answers but also simultaneously filled with essential truths.

To find out more about The Puzzle Box, visit Edge’s website at http://www.edgewebsite.com/books/puzzlebox/pzbox-catalog.html .

You can explore reviews of the individual stories that made up The Puzzle Box at:

https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2013/08/26/ch-ch-ch-changes/

https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2013/09/16/immortal-complacency

https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2013/09/18/i-dream-of-djinn

I Dream of Djinn

A review of Eileen Bell’s “Angela and Her Three Wishes” in The Puzzle Box (Edge, 2013)

Cover Photo of The Puzzle Box courtesy of Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing

Cover Photo of The Puzzle Box courtesy of Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing

By Derek Newman-Stille

The Puzzle Box overall is a collection of stories about the hidden within, and Eileen Bell creatively employs the notion of the puzzle box as a genie’s lamp, holding within it the power to grant wishes.

Wishes open paths to our secret desires, open doorways to our wants, and ultimately ourselves. When Angela encounters a genie from within the puzzle box, she confronts notions of her selfhood, her identity. She discovers secrets about her origins and deconstructs the lies that have been told to her “for her protection”. The walls that have been placed around her by the lies that have been told are opened, torn down, but the revelations within may be even more painful.

When genies bring truth instead of wishes, the whole foundation of our ideas of ourselves may be opened up.

To find out more about The Puzzle Box, visit Edge’s website at http://www.edgewebsite.com/books/puzzlebox/pzbox-catalog.html .

To read more about Eileen Bell, visit her website at http://www.eileenbell.com/ .