Drawing Attention to Oppression

A review of Jerome Stueart’s “You Will Draw This Life Out to Its End” in The Angels of Our Better Beasts (ChiZine, 2016)
By Derek Newman-Stille

As much as Jerome Stueart’s “You Will Draw This Life Out to Its End” is a love story between an artist and a man involved in the mining union of a distant moon, it is a commentary on the power of art to bring attention to issues of oppression. Renault relies on his celebrity status as an artist to bring issues of oppression of miners to the attention of the solar system, pointing out that they rely on people skilled in mining for their water and air, but don’t guarantee the safety of miners. 

Through painting the lives of everyday people, Renault gains an understanding of the struggles that miners are expected to go through and the lack of support they have to survive in hostile conditions. He refuses to leave their mining colony because he realizes that his celebrity status means that certain protections are provided to the colony that wouldn’t be if he weren’t there. Renault engages in a form of Artivism – art-based activism – to advocate for safer conditions for the miners by first illustrating their everyday lived experience and letting the solar system see the conditions they live under, illustrating their humanity, and by making the miners art themselves, transforming their lives into powerful stories about human ingenuity and survival. 

Stueart brings attention to the role of art in sharing under-represented stories, making marginalized people’s lives noticeable in a world that likes to pretend that oppressions don’t exist, and the transformative power of art.

To find out more about Jerome Stueart’s work, visit https://jeromestueart.com

To find out more about The Angels of Our Better Beasts and other ChiZine publications, visit http://chizinepub.com

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Speculating Canada on Trent Radio Episode 30: A Discussion About Performing Speculative Fiction with Kate Story

In this episode of Speculating Canada on Trent Radio, Kate Story joins us back in the studio to talk about the other part of her multifaceted spec fic persona – her role as a performer. Kate talks about the experience of being both a writer of novels and a theatrical performer and how the two can connect and interweave with one another. In this show, we are able to get a behind the scenes view of a few of Kate’s performances and hear about how she has been able to adapt her own speculative fiction for the stage.

Kate demonstrates her love of Shakespeare in her theatrical piece “Romeo and Juliet: Superstar Ice Miners of Europa!!” a science fictional take on Romeo and Juliet by Shakespeare. Kate talks about Shakespeare and how apt Shakespeare’s works are for speculative re-imaginings, her ability as a writer to adapt the gender expectations about Shakespeare, and about how a good text is flexible and can be creatively adapted.

You can listen to this episode of Speculating Canada on Trent Radio at the link below

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.

 

Quote – Feeling the Universe Spinning Loose

“Secretly, late at night, I would feel the universe spinning loose around me: boundless, nameless, a vortex of darkness within which my life became less than a speck of dust. The night sky would tilt toward me, yawning. And I would lie there breathless, waiting for the roof to peel away, waiting to lose my grip. To rise and rise forever into that great, inescapable Nothing, to drift until I disappeared – not only as though I no longer was, but as though I had never been.”

-Gemma Files, “The Narrow World” in Queer Fear II

Speculating Canada on Trent Radio Episode 15: An Author Reading With Kate Story and Suzanne Church

Magic Dwelling on the Edges: An Author Reading by Kate Story and Suzanne Church
Hosted by Derek Newman-Stille

Tune in to “Magic Dwelling on the Edges: An Author Reading by Kate Story and Suzanne Church” broadcast on Trent Radio and preserved here as an audio file.

Edges are interesting places. They define boundaries and barriers. They occupy the fringes, those unventured places that stretch our ideas of the familiar. They are places of adventure, mystery, and secrets to be discovered… but they are also places of abjection, rejection, places that we ignore and pretend don’t exist.

Fascinating things happen at those tucked away little corners, those shadowy hidden places.

Kate Story and Suzanne Church write from and about those places, people, and ideas on the edge. They cast searchlights into the murky areas that we have made murky because we want the comfort of being away from the edge, at the centre of things. They seek what we deny. Perhaps this is why their fiction often encompasses the queer, the fringe, the abject, the marginalised, the ignored.

Their characters are richly complex, their genres difficult to attach a singular ontology to, and their settings beyond, within, above, other than, beneath, adjacent to, and out of this world. And yet, they speak to this world, offer insights, ask questions of it, and challenge it.

This is edgy fiction, powerful in its ability to break down boundaries and glimpse something beyond the mainstream, something that challenges our preconceptions, our entrenched ideas about the world, and maybe even our comforts.

Edges are interesting places, places on the boundaries of the world where things can be hidden or revealed. So, let’s set aside the normal, disrupt the normative, question what we believe is true, and let ourselves touch the edge.

From Shakespeare’s The Tempest re-written into space and the cosmos to a bestiary about Unicorns to addictive music, to love between a human and a storm deity, to a closet filled with amber tears, this reading bridges the genre boundaries between science fiction, fantasy, and horror… and between hilarity and sorrow. Click below to listen to Kate Story and Suzanne Church share stories from the edges of imagination.

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.

Poster from the Author reading "Magic Dwelling on the Edges: An Author Reading by Kate Story and Suzanne Church"

Poster from the Author reading “Magic Dwelling on the Edges: An Author Reading by Kate Story and Suzanne Church”

Sci Fi Author in Space

A review of Gary W. Renshaw’s “Vacation” in OnSpec #92 Vol. 25, No. 1

Cover for OnSpec Spring 2013 courtesy of OnSpec

Cover for OnSpec Spring 2013 courtesy of OnSpec

By Derek Newman-Stille

Most SF authors write from their offices or living rooms, venturing into space in the realms of the mind, touring imaginary landscapes…. but what happens when an SF author ends up on an alien world? According to Gary Renshaw’s “Vacation”, odds are he or she would be very annoyed.

Harlan Smith is a SF author who, while travelling through space, ends up in a life pod escaping a rapidly exploding starship. He crash lands on an alien world and is immediately met with the irritation of adapting to an alien environment. Surrounded in flies that squash onto his face like snot, followed by loud and obnoxious wildlife, and generally beset with the irritations of trying to adapt to a new environment with very little awareness of what to expect… Harlan finds himself incredibly annoyed.

Sci Fi authors often portray delving into the unknown, seeking out new life and new civilisations as fundamentally an exciting process. Motivated by curiosity and the desire for adventure, protagonists jump into their new worlds with the skills to survive. Through the eyes of Harlan Smith, Gary Renshaw points out the flaws in these assumptions. He shows the danger of mundane things on alien worlds, where seemingly normal things can be deadly and when they aren’t deadly, they can be irritating enough to wish for the more deadly aliens. Who wants to seek out new life when it turns out that those new lifeforms are not quite fascinating, but more irritating than anything else.

In this cruel twist of fate, Renshaw puts a sci fi author in the position that they often put their protagonists and allows him to be subject to the irritations that sci fi authors often visit upon their characters.

To find out more about OnSpec, visit their website at http://www.onspec.ca/ .

If you are curious about Gary W. Renshaw’s other work, visit his website at http://trilunar.ca/index.php .

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/ .