What About The Ageing Vampire?

What About The Ageing Vampire?

A review of Carolyn Charron’s “Knit One, Purl Two” in Nothing Without Us edited by Cait Gordon and Talia C. Johnson (Renaissance, 2019).

By Derek Newman-Stille

There’s nothing that says ageing like a vampire, yet vampires are often a personification of eternal youth, so they present a conflicted image of age… and simultaneous youth. For some reason, most vampires in our fiction tend to be involved in relationships with young people. This suggests the idea that the physicality of age and the appearance of age are more important in our society than the experiential knowledge of age. Vampires are rarely in relationships with older adults in the stories told about them, yet they should have more in common with an older adult, having collected many years of experience and knowledge.

In “Knit One, Purl Two” Carolyn Charron writes a tale of an older woman who is in a relationship with a vampire, shifting the trope of the vampire story to one that makes more sense – a relationship based on the common experience of age. Along with adorable scenes of Edmund flinching away from the narrator’s wooden knitting needles, Charron writes a tale of a sexually empowered older woman. Older adults, and older women in particular tend to be de-sexualised as they age. Their sexuality is viewed as transgressive. Disabled ageing women are particularly de-sexualised in our culture. Yet, women tend to hit their sexual peak at around age 40, which, although not very aged, is far later than most popular culture represents. Charron’s protagonist is a grandmother, and is sexually active and sexually empowered in her relationship.

Charron brings attention to the way that disabled sex is often different than able bodied sex, requiring a lot more conversation about what works, what doesn’t, what hurts, and what feels right. She needs position her hip in just the right way to make sure that she enjoys sex and that she doesn’t do damage to her body. Charron tells the reader “He always seemed to know when her pain needed quiet and when to end the silence with a dirty joke, making her groan even while she laughed.” Edmund is portrayed as someone who navigates his lover’s body, checking in with her to ensure that he is pleasing.

Charron challenges dominant images of sexuality that associate it with youth and uses the figure of the vampire to critically question the relationship between ageing and sexuality. Vampires are symbols associated with eternal youth, yet Charron’s vampire is grey haired. He reveals that if he doesn’t bite two or three people per month, he ages. Indeed, her protagonist notes “bent and frail-appearing, she’d thought he was a decade older, but now she had no idea. Vampires were supposed to be young, powerful” and by doing so, she brings attention to the way that her narrative challenges dominant notions of age and youth in the vampire narrative, making room for new possibilities that embrace the sexually charged image of the vampire along with its age.

To find out more about Carolyn Charron, visit http://carolyncharron.blogspot.com

To discover more about Nothing Without Us, visit https://nothingwithoutusanthology.wordpress.com and to buy your own copy, go to Renaissance Press’ website at https://renaissance-107765.square.site/product/nothing-without-us/117?cp=true&sbp=false

Graphic (Novel) Sex

A Review of Chip Zdarsky and Matt Fraction’s Sex Criminals Volume 1: One Weird Trick (Image  Comics, 2014).

By Derek Newman-Stille

Premised on the idea that when someone orgasms, time stops for them for the moment, Chip Zdarsky and Matt Fraction’s Sex Criminals needed its graphic format to be as effective as it was. As much as sex can be a textual, ideological experience, it is graphic and the art of this comic shapes its aesthetic engagement with the idea of sex. Along with the beautiful visual quality of creating the scenes of the space after an orgasm (called either The Quiet or Cumworld) which is characterised by sparkling lines of luminescent colour and fluid bands of light, the visual aesthetic of the comic is also shaped by a backdrop filled with sexual humour – posters that are as much pun as porn. Zdarksy and Fraction set out to bring sex as a topic into the area of play, a space for ridiculing anything that takes itself too seriously.

Starting with a girl’s attempts to discover her own sexuality in a world that casts girls into the role of “slut” if they even ask about sex and sexuality and culminating with the discovery that there are sex police, Sex Criminals explores the idea that sexuality is policed and that the culture of shame around sexuality can do harm to our social fabric. Sex Criminals portrays sex as an act of joiusence, a sparkly, beautiful, time-stopping adventure that pushes people out of the realm of mundane, confined reality and into a space between. This space between, that magical liminal space, allows the characters to resist the controls placed on their world and to exist in opposition to social controls. However, even the sex police push boundaries and Zdarsky and Fraction blend cop with kink in a brew of mockery, challenging the idea that there can be an authority on sex or that sex can ever really be policed.

In addition to the humour of this graphic novel, the characters are complex, revealing their own multiplicity and defiance of a singular, easy interpretation. As much as it is a humorous romp through the world of sexuality and ideas of sexual control Sex Criminals is an exploration of loneliness and the desire to find a way to be in The Quiet together, a way to not feel alone after each orgasm. 

To find out more about Toronto comic artist Chip Zdarsky, visit his website at http://stevetastic.com/chip 

To read more about Sex Criminals, visit Image Comics at https://imagecomics.com/comics/series/sex-criminals 

Speculating Canada on Trent Radio Episode 18: An Interview with Gemma Files

Gemma Files and I have been on a few panels together in the past and I have always found her incredible fun to talk to, so I was really excited that at Fan Expo Canada this year she managed to have a bit of time to do an interview that I could share with all of you listeners. Our interview is hilarious and simultaneously covers serious issues, marked with laughter and also important social questions. In our chat on Trent Radio, we discuss the use of Toronto by the film industry as the “EveryCity”… and the potential for horror in that anonymity and shapeshifting ability. We talk about Queer or LGBTQ2 content and kink communities and how these have lent themselves to the development of her fantastic fiction… particularly her Hexslingers series which features gay cowboys who use magic. We discuss the use of family and history in CanLit and how these can be factors making for a speculative story that is just as powerful for questioning ideas of ‘traditional families’. Gemma lends her insights about using characters who are morally ambiguous as well as the general problems with creating a ‘perfect hero’ and questioning of the whole social idea of ‘The Hero’. Overall, we venture into questions about subversive writing and the power to turn tropes on their heads as a way of empowering readers and authors.

Gemma talks about functional bisexuality in her characters, trans characters, and the general fluidity of gender and sexuality as a way of illustrating that change is powerful and that characters do change and transform and question notions of identity over time.

As part of her discussion of the subversive potential in literature, Gemma examines the wonderful world of fan fiction and the ability of fan fiction to insert questions into narratives that may not have otherwise asked them. She explores the ability of fan fiction to assert an otherwise ignored voice or people who are generally erased. She also examines the ability of fan fiction to serve as a queer medium allowing for gender or sexual transformations for characters.

Overall, our interview is a lot of laughs, a lot of fun, and a lot of social questions. At the end of this interview, you will find yourself being fairy-led to the bookstore to get some of Gemma’s books while simultaneously plotting out your next fan fiction story!

Explore Trent Radio at www.trentradio.ca

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

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.

 

Sexy Shiftings and Stirrings

A review of Greg Bechtel’s “The Smut Story (III)” in Boundary Problems (Freehand Books, 2014)

Cover photo from Boundary Problems from http://gregbechtel.ca/

Cover photo from Boundary Problems from http://gregbechtel.ca/

By Derek Newman-Stille

We are made up of stories. We are created from sex. In “The Smut Story (III)” Greg Bechtel interweaves the sexual with notions of the construction of self through narrative. After an erotica reading series at a bookstore on Mother’s Day, the media is driven wild with interest in a situation that seems to defy explanation. It has all of the earmarks of a good media story – sex, scandal, confusion, and hype from right wing pundits…. the only problem is that none of the narratives about the events from this particular night align.

Tales of the night are slippery (and not just with lube). Each participant describes a person named T. Boop differently – man, woman, trans, androgynous… but all agree that T. Boop is the most beautiful person they have ever seen. His/Her/Their appearance shifts depending on the teller, and the story T. Boop tells changes with the re-telling.  The story told is intensely sexual, and incredibly personal to the listener. Starting in the second person, each reader hears a story that speaks directly to them, evoking their deepest sexual fantasies… even ones they don’t care to admit to themselves or others. The stories and T. Boop’s appearance shift with the sexual preferences of the listener, slide with the performance of erotica.

This narrative and identity slippage points to the power of stories to shift in the act of perception, to become more than a single narrative, a unitary utterance.

Bechtel illustrates the power of the re-telling of fantasies to draw the listener in, constitute them, but also to challenge them, particularly those who fear the revelation of their sexual fantasies, the desires that they hide from themselves and others.

Character Peter Smith launches a media campaign against the events of that Mother’s Day and the sexual excesses he believes occurred (because he likely participated in them). His retreat into hate doctrine and intolerance comes from his insecurity about the slippage that occurs when he confronts something about his own psycho-sexual identity.

Bechtel draws gender categories into his work, using the body of T. Boop to illustrate the permeability of sexual identities, the ability for narrative and individuality to challenge traditional assumptions about gender binaries, and the perception that sexualities are fixed and unchanging. T. Boop evokes the power of a shifting voice, literally because each audience member hears a different tone, and socially because each telling of a singular story is different, shifting with the diverse perceptions, the different ears, of the audience. Narratives shift because each sexual telling is both intensely personal and private, but also collective and public since sexuality is something that is socially created and shaped by social mores. This slippery story is one that invites the reader to play with notions of gendered identities, question the social messages that have been projected upon our society, and challenge any identity of fixity.

To discover more about the work of Greg Bechtel, visit his website at http://gregbechtel.ca/ .

To read more about Boundary Problems, visit Freehand Books at http://www.freehand-books.com/authors/greg-bechtel

Necrosexual

A review of Gemma Files’ “Kissing Carrion” in Dead North: Canadian Zombie Fiction (Exile Editions, 2013)

Cover Photo of Dead North: Canadian Zombie Fiction

Cover Photo of Dead North: Canadian Zombie Fiction


By Derek Newman-Stille

Gemma Files’ “Kissing Carrion” contains the kind of gross sexuality that will mean that you will never quite enjoy sex the same way again. She sexualises the grotesque and grotesques the sexual in a journey into the taboo and forbidden. There is something about hearing about sex with a dead body and the glistening mixture of lube and puss that haunts one’s nightmares for a long time after reading this short story. Files brings the reader into the taboo world of necrophiliac fetishists and to questions about life, death, and the sexual.

Pat wants to make a form of disturbing dark art, and in her desire to go to the extremes and to entertain bored ultra-fetishists, she creates carrionettes, bodies animated by wires and levers like some disturbing dead, rotting Pinocchios. When Pat meets Ray, a porn star who wants to be penetrated by death, believing that this is the ultimate interplay with universal powers, she unintentionally enters into a macabre love triangle – puppeteer, fetishist, and corpse. As the puppeteer, she is the one having sex with Ray, using her levers and pulleys to push the dead body’s penis into him… but things are less easy than they seem when the body’s soul, forced to watch his body used as a sex toy, an appendage on display, finally takes a leap into his desiccating flesh and decides to penetrate Ray in another way… with teeth.

Files not only brings up the disturbing image of necrophilia, but makes the body a victim of rape, a powerless spirit that has to watch his body being forced into sexual acts. Files reverses the assumptions about rape by having the victim of the rape instead of being the penetrated body becoming the penetrator, though not of his own volition or desire. Files unsettles her readers, pushing them out of their comfort zone and pulling them along on the wild fetishistic ride along with the disembodied spirit of a carrionette.

You can explore more of Gemma Files’ work at http://musicatmidnight-gfiles.blogspot.ca/
Find out more about Dead North: Canadian Zombie Fiction at http://www.exileeditions.com/singleorders2013/deadnorth.html

The In-Between Space

A Review of Lynda Williams’ The Courtesan Prince (Edge, 2005).
By Derek Newman-Stille

Cover photo of The Courtesan Prince courtesy of Edge Publications

Cover photo of The Courtesan Prince courtesy of Edge Publications

The Reetions and the Gelacks, two branches of the human race that were separated from Earth due to temporary losses of space travel. The Reetions developed from the first group of people to leave Earth and settle in a colony. Connections to Earth were lost, and they developed into a divergent civilisation. They developed an egalitarian system of government with open policies, public access to information, and general public engagement in decision-making processes.

The Gelacks developed from a second wave of human space travel. They too lost contact with Earth. The Gelacks were a civilisation that had been changed by the intervention of genetic technology, technology that changed certain people to better sustain the biologically damaging effects of space travel. This group became stronger, smarter, and better at healing than the regular human population. Because Gelack population had both genetically modified humans and unmodified humans (as well as interbred populations), a class system developed along feudal lines. The genetically modified populations attained positions of superiority and hegemonic control.

The Reetions and Gelacks had met before, and the results were devastating, with misunderstandings and miscommunications on both sides. Now, both sides have discovered that traders are making jumps between their civilisations and it has become clear that they may need to make formal contact again. In The Courtesan Prince, Lynda Williams explores the diversity of cultures and the misunderstandings that can come from cultural difference. She illustrates to readers that a large part of conflict comes from misunderstandings and the more diverse the populations are, the more effort needs to be put into understanding the cultural gap and communicating effectively with others.

The Courtesan Prince follows the life of Von, a courtesan who seems to be more than he appears to be. Von’s life and understanding of the world is challenged when he encounters the Reetions, and, in particular Ann, who encourages him to understand her on a deeper level and get rid of some of his xenophobic fears and beliefs that human social relations can only be understood through a Gelack lens.

Simultaneously Ranar, a Reetion anthropologist is left among his research subjects, the Gelacks, and is forced to understand their way of life, even if it is both fundamentally different and even hostile to his own. The Gelacks are a fundamentally homophobic people, with a deep and violent hatred for queer-oriented people. Often this homophobia erupts into public torture of gays and lesbians, followed by their murder and the murder of any children they may have had. Ranar, a gay man, is left in a vulnerable position, having to hide his sexuality for the first time in his life. Among the Reetions, sexual diversity is respected and people are encouraged to accept themselves and there is never a question of sexual interest being either bad or problematic in any way. It is simply another form of relationship. With this openness of sexuality, Ranar has to quickly shift his own openness about his sexuality in order to keep himself safe. When one of the Gelack leaders Di Mon develops an attraction for him (an attraction that he hates in himself and that encourages violence from him), Ranar is confronted with the idea that his own sexuality could be harmful to a lover who is part of a system that systemically oppresses queer-oriented people. He has to keep his sexuality hidden not only for his own protection but to preserve the life of his lover, Di Mon.

Unlike many SF authors, Lynda Williams does not just stick to heteronormative SF, but presents homophobia as something that is socially created and that can be resisted. By contrasting two cultures with different treatments of queer-oriented people, she illustrates that our own homophobic culture has been created by our own social issues and is not something that is taken-for-granted (as it is often portrayed by people who espouse homophobic beliefs). By having one culture that has a healthy, open approach to sexual diversity, and another that has a deep-seated hatred of queer people, she illustrates that homophobia is a choice, not homosexuality.

Lynda Williams is willing to do deep cultural critiques, exploring the development of different cultural ideas and contrasting them in societies that essentially descended from the same roots. She is willing to interrogate politics, ideas of social equality, the complexity of sexuality, ideas of privacy, biological change, and technology. And she is unwilling to give the readers simple answers, but encourages them to interrogate these issues, think for themselves, and develop their own ideas. The Courtesan Prince is a pedagogical text in the best sense of the word, not because it gives answers (as many think that teaching does), but because it asks questions, opens things to debate, and encourages readers to be uncomfortable with any easy answers.

Gelacks and Reetions are contrasted with one another in a way that pushes readers into an uncomfortable intergalactic, in-between space, stuck in the limbo between different ideologies. And this is a hugely powerful creative space where readers are made aware of how much their ideas and thoughts are socially defined and they are encouraged to get rid of cultural trappings and question things freely. The Reetions focus on the idea of honesty, and everything being public… but with that comes the limitations on privacy and the sense of living in a panopticon where everything can be easily seen. The Gelacks are more private, but lying is culturally entrenched to maintain secrets. The Gelacks have a population with bodies that are stronger, heal faster, and survive better… but the power of these bodies have meant tight restrictions on mating practices and the social control of “common” people by a small minority of physically stronger people. The Reetions don’t genetically modify people to be stronger, which means they are able to attain an egalitarian civilisation… but because of this their pilots often have short careers, damaged by the ravages of space travel which destroys normal human bodies. The Reetions are more comfortable with technology… but this means that they are also willing to modify people’s minds through psychotherapy. Whereas the Galecks consider certain forms of technology taboo, which prevents healing adaptions… but they are able to reduce the construction of any weapons of mass destruction. Nothing is easy in The Courtesan Prince and neither civilisation is portrayed as the model of perfect human society. Both have flaws, and these challenges make Lynda Williams’ novel more complex, more rich in substance, and portray the idea that the struggle for perfection is culturally defined and that one person’s ideal may be another’s horror.

The Courtesan Prince is book 1 in Lynda Williams’ Okal Rel Saga, to find out more about it and other books in the series, visit Edge’s website at http://www.edgewebsite.com/index.html . To find out more about Lynda Williams and the Okal Rel universe, visit her site at http://okalrel.org/ .

Illustrating Speculative Fiction

An Editorial By Derek Newman-Stille

"Persephone" by Derek Newman-Stille. http://dereknewmanstille.ca/works.php

“Persephone” by Derek Newman-Stille. http://dereknewmanstille.ca/works.php

As an artist, I have always been fascinated with the art that accompanies Speculative Fiction novels. So many readers focus on the cover art when making their decision about which books to read, and often the author has little or no say about which art is attached to their book.

The art of a book is often the first thing that a reader encounters when picking up a book. They see it as they open the cover and it shapes (in sometimes subtle and sometimes significant ways) their experience of the book and what they read.

Various articles keep popping up in my Facebook feed about gender and SF, and particularly the gendering of book covers and how this influences which books for teens are considered “boy books” and which are considered “girl books”.  I gave a paper about 7 years ago on the role of cover art in sexualising books of urban ‘dark’ fiction, particularly the use of cover art that largely focuses on representations of parts of women’s bodies, and what this suggests about the bodily focus of these paranormal novels. The art of book covers can significantly shape the experience of the book, and yet, it is often something that is disconnected in many ways from the author’s experience of creating a book. There is not a back and forth conversation between visual artist and author, but rather a mediated conversation between publisher and artist that only occasionally (and in limited ways) involves the artist. Book covers often follow marketing trends and interests rather than the desires of the author or their focus.

As an artist, I often wonder what processes artists go through to create their cover illustrations. For some, I wonder if they have read the book at all (since the cover is often so dissociated from the plot and general feel of the book).

"Cosmic" by Derek Newman-Stille, http://dereknewmanstille.ca/works.php

“Cosmic” by Derek Newman-Stille, http://dereknewmanstille.ca/works.php

I was recently asked to do an illustration for a Canadian SF volume, and had to go through the process of figuring out how I would approach it. I can’t reveal details yet until the book is closer to publication. I had to consider how I would approach illustration and how I would both include my own stylistic trends (which were what attracted the publisher) while also making sure to capture the significance of the story and its general feeling. I read through the story I had been given to illustrate several times, feeling through the general experience of it, waiting for certain ideas and images to surface. I jotted down these images – writing text about dominant ideas that surfaced and sketching the various images that bubbled up through my brain as I read. I noticed that my creative mind was having a conversation with the text of the story, responding to the words I was seeing and sending back images that I then checked against the overall experience of the story.

My art work is complicated and difficult to define with a singular paradigm or easy categorisation, but I tend to approach my work through the feeling that various experiences evoke. When painting natural scenes, I try to capture the conversation that is happening between the environment I am seeing and my own feelings. I watch the land and then close my eyes and see how the land changes as I imbue it with myself, with my feelings.  Similarly, when I am trying to capture a theme or idea, I pull the images that filter through my mind out and pour them through my brush (or pencil or pen) into the canvas (or paper), letting ideas flow with feelings. I often capture images that obsess me, a particular curve of a branch or the way snow has drifted, but don’t try to confine them, rather letting them participate in the art, filter through myself as the artist. In a similar way, I approached illustrating a short story as a conversation between the story and myself as an artist, exploring the sensations that it drew up through me: Rorschach patterns, the play of light and dark, hooded figures, conflict, the image of the fist. The story was complex, and I wanted to bring that complexity through into my art, creating a representation that captured the feel of the work rather than a snippet of the action. I wanted my work to explore the complexity that the story represented, the weirdness of it.

Painting a story is a process of estrangement, entering a world created by the author and feeling yourself dissolve into it as ideas and thoughts surface. It is a meeting between artist and text, the strange terrain betwixt one person and another. It was an incredible experience and one that I would like to participate in again at some point.

"Smoke and Shadows" by Derek Newman-Stille, http://dereknewmanstille.ca/works.php

“Smoke and Shadows” by Derek Newman-Stille, http://dereknewmanstille.ca/works.php

I would love to see more conversations between various art fields – writing inspired by a painting, stories inspired by songs, drama adapted from poems, dance inspired by novels. I am fascinated by intertextual communications, when one type of artistic text speaks to another.

You will be able to see my art work in the upcoming volume of Postscripts to Darkness 4, and I will post further details closer to the release date. You can find out more about Postscripts to Darkness at http://pstdarkness.wordpress.com/

My artistic work tends to be speculative in nature, so readers of Speculating Canada might be interested in it. You can check out my artist page at http://dereknewmanstille.ca/ . Click on Artwork to see some of my paintings.