A Wilde Ride Through Time

A Review of Sean McMullen’s “The Life and Soul of the Party” in Lazarus Risen (Bundoran Press, 2016)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Sean McMullen’s steampunk tale “The Life and Soul of the Party” imagines a world where the dead can be brought back to life through the use of atomata, letting their spirits inhabit the bodies of machines. McMullen plays with that classic philosophical question – who deserves immortality. 
“The Life and Soul of the Party” focusses on two spirits brought back from the grave – Oscar Wilde and the Lady Avondale, two people whose lives were shaped by social censoring and gossip. These are two people whose lives have been challenged and changed by their peers ultimately are given the experience of separation from the human experience of death. 

McMullen explores why Wilde and Avondale would be chosen for immortality, examining questions of science and what it means to be human while also reflecting on the potential losses to humanity that occur with extreme age in a non-human body. 

To discover more about Lazarus Risen, visit Bundoran Press’ website at http://www.bundoranpress.com/product/1/Lazarus-Risen

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Class Constraints

A review of Rebecca Diem’s “The Stowaway Debutante” (Woolf Like Me Publishing, 2014)
By Derek Newman-Stille

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Rebecca Diem’s “The Stowaway Debutante” is a steampunk story of disruption, shaking up the class divides of the Victorian Era. Diem writes a tale of escape from the boundaries, barriers, and confinements placed on gender and class. This is a tale of change and one of questions.

Clara is a woman from upper class society, confined by assumptions about her gender and by the roles placed on her behaviour by her family. She desires adventure, wants to change, and she is able to stow away on an airship to escape into the sky and away from everything holding her down. When she is discovered by pirates who offer her an opportunity for a new life, she leaves behind her debutante clothes and jumps into new adventures. She believes in the freedom of the sky, yet even in the sky she is underestimated, treated as a delicate flower in need of protection. She has to not only change herself, but also change the perceptions of those around her.

But she is not the only one to change. The pirate captain was formerly a Duke, giving up his role and status to share wealth with the poor. He is a steampunk Robin Hood, and like that other rogue, he has created a family of misfits. Clara is able to find her own family amongst these rogues and they provide the ability for her to choose her own path.

In order to free herself from the constraints placed upon her, Clara must play roles, clothe herself in identity. Rebecca Diem recognizes that clothing provides restraints on identity, shaping the way that we are read by people around us. Clothing wraps us up in assumptions, becoming a costume where others read us.

To find out more about Rebecca Diem, visit http://www.rebeccadiem.com

Putting the Punk Back in Steampunk

Putting the Punk Back in Steampunk
A review of Clockwork Canada: Steampunk Fiction Edited by Dominik Parisien (Exile Editions, 2016)
By Derek Newman-Stille

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Steampunk has often struck me as a genre that has tended toward overly rosey views of the Edwardian and Victorian Eras. The steampunk tales I have read have often uncritically represented colonialism as adventure, portrayed technology divorced from the horrible conditions of the factories, ignored massive wealth disparity and troubling social conditions. It is a genre that is ripe with neo-futurist possibilities to invite critical engagements with ideas of historicity and presentness, but often forgets the “punk” aspect of itself, the part that invites critical questions and instead pulls down the goggles of nostalgia.

Clockwork Canada: Steampunk Fiction does that critical questioning, inviting a history filled with possibility. The stories in this collection invite critical questions about the way that we view history and the relationship we have to the past. While inspiring an interest in local histories and tales, it also reminds the reader of all of those stories that get stuck in the cogs of the machines of nation-building and invites us to oil the machines and seek out new stories and new ways of viewing the past.

The regionalism of Clockwork Canada, its setting within a national boundary, invites readers to question canonical tales of history and our founding origin myths by asking who benefits from the history that we tell ourselves and what erasures have been part of the construction of this thing we call “Canada”. These tales question the stories we tell ourselves by providing alternative stories, stories that highlight people and groups that are under-represented in our national myths.

Rather than representing the historical tales that we see in Heritage Minutes or CBC specials, the stories in Clockwork Canada highlight the oppression of indigenous peoples in Canada, border conflicts, representations of disabled people, labour conflicts, the exploitation of Chinese labourers on the railroad, Canada’s head-taxes and borders closed to immigration … all of the narratives we erase in constructing ourselves as a Just Nation. These are tales that speak back to erasures and the editing of Canadian history to include only canonical narratives that focus on Canada as a place of tolerance, acceptance, and openness.

Clockwork Canada reminds readers that the idea of “nation” is itself a story that we tell ourselves to hold us together and that that story, that history, can be divisive, damaging, and harmful. The multiplicity of stories in Clockwork Canada invite readers to think of our nation as a storied space, filled with a multiplicity of voices. These steampunk stories punk canonical narratives and invite readers to question the history they encounter. This isn’t nostalgia fiction, these stories are all about gearing up for a critical take on history.

To read reviews of individual stories in Clockwork Canada, explore the links below:

https://speculatingcanada.ca/2016/05/06/putting-monsters-on-the-map/

https://speculatingcanada.ca/2016/04/28/signing-the-electric/

https://speculatingcanada.ca/2016/04/26/disability-and-immigration/

https://speculatingcanada.ca/2016/04/24/working-in-the-industrial-revolution/

https://speculatingcanada.ca/2016/04/21/steampunk-multiculturalism/

https://speculatingcanada.ca/2016/04/20/of-maps-andmonsters/

https://speculatingcanada.ca/2016/05/04/a-seance-evoking-future-horrors/

https://speculatingcanada.ca/2016/05/02/frozen-wooden-with-steampunk-horror/

To find out more about Clockwork Canada, visit https://dominikparisien.wordpress.com/clockwork-canada-anthology/
OR http://www.exileeditions.com/singleorders2016/clockwork.html

To discover more about Dominik Parisien, visit his website at: https://dominikparisien.wordpress.com

A Seance Evoking Future Horrors

A Seance Evoking Future Horrors

A review of Tony Pi’s “Our Chymical Seance” in Clockwork Canada: Steampunk Fiction edited by Dominik Parisien (Exile Editions, 2016)

By Derek Newman-Stille

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With “Our Chymical Seance”, Tony Pi plunges us into a world of Victorian spiritualism, a world filled with mediums, ectoplasm, haunting devices, and complete with the obligatory skeptic who brings a rational lens to the experience and seeks to understand the deeper meaning of the experience rather than to surrender himself to the etheric.

 

Pi explores the relationship between mourning and an interest in spiritualism, bringing us into the world of the De Bruins who are grieving the suicide death of their son. Pi explores the power that guilt has for those who grieve for a person who has committed suicide – the self blame, the belief that they should have seen the signs, and above all the question of ‘why?’. In seeking an answer to the question, the DeBruins have employed a medium who promises to connect them to the otherworldly and allow them to ask the questions that are occupying their grieving minds.

 

Yet, it isn’t fraud that Tremaine, our skeptic, uncovers, but something far more horrifying, the lack of critical thought that goes into building new technology in our desire to explore the unexplorable, to examine the unimaginable. Tremaine is faced with the speedy progression of technology and the notion that technological development will continue even when there has been proof of the horrors that certain inventions can evoke. He explores the power of the rhetoric of progress and the threat that unchecked technology can unleash on the world and the technology explored by the medium, Madame Skilling, threatens not just the status quo but the nature of the human experience and the human spirit.

 

Toni Pi invites us into a darkened room filled with strange vapours and the magic of transformation where we can imagine our own futures and the potential repercussions of our desire to change without investigation.

 

To discover more about the work of Tony Pi, visit his website at https://tonypi.com/

 

To find out more about Clockwork Canada, visit Exile’s website at http://www.exileeditions.com/singleorders2016/clockwork.html

 

And Dominik Parisien’s website at https://dominikparisien.wordpress.com/clockwork-canada-anthology

 

 

 

 

Frozen Wooden With Steampunk Horror

Frozen Wooden with Steampunk Horror

 

A review of Kate Heartfield’s “The Seven O’Clock Man” in Clockwork Canada: Steampunk Fiction, edited by Dominik Parisien (Exile Editions, 2016)

By Derek Newman-Stille

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As much a horror tale as it is a steampunk story, Kate Heartfield’s “The Seven O’Clock Man” evokes the powerlessness of youth. Heartfield constructs a community where the late mayor had built a clock with a clockwork automaton in it who seeks out any children who are awake past 7 o’clock to turn them into wood. The mayor had viewed order and control to be central to his city, believing that the best means of exerting control was to create a persistent threat to the children of the community, punishing them for disobedience of community rules that are imposed on them. Like many communities that use fear as a means of securing power, the mayor made certain that any of the children who were turned to wood would become part of the clock, peaking through the clock’s doors when the clock struck the hour. The children held within the clock were frozen in horrified immobility, able to see the world, but controlled by the mechanisms of the clock, exhibiting the horror of absolute powerlessness.

 

As much as “Seven O’Clock Man” is a discourse on the powerlessness of childhood it is also a narrative about systems of colonial power. The mayor of the city was particularly interested in controlling aboriginal children, viewing them as a threat to the order of the city. He constructed the clock in order to force his notion of decorum onto the population of aboriginal children, symbolically representing the horrors visited upon aboriginal children in the residential school system where children were similarly taken away, locked up, and subject to threats and violence all in the attempt to force children to conform to colonial cultures. Most of the children frozen in the clock were Mohawk and the man who the mayor forced to wind the clock was also a man who came from a Mohawk family – Jacques. Jacques is forced to continue to wind the clock because his son has clockwork gears installed in him that wind down if the clock is not wound.

 

Heartfield brings attention to the depression and post-traumatic stress that comes from systemic colonial control and threats when Jacques’ wife Marie-Claire (a former slave) experiences regular depressive episodes, freezing in catatonia while her husband winds the clock. Her life of horrors shapes her ability to interact with her family and her frozen state mirrors the frozen state of the statues subject to the punishment of the figure in the clock.

 

Heartfield creates a sense of creeping horror with “The Seven O’Clock Man”, evoking the fear of being made powerlessness, subject to someone else’s will, and the emptiness that flows from being denied expression.

 

To find out more about Kate Heartfield’s work, visit her website at https://heartfieldfiction.com/

 

To find out more about Clockwork Canada, visit Exile’s website at http://www.exileeditions.com/singleorders2016/clockwork.html

 

 

And Dominik Parisien’s website at https://dominikparisien.wordpress.com/clockwork-canada-anthology

 

 

 

Signing the Electric

Signing the Electric

A review of Terri Favro’s “Let Slip the Sluicegates of War, Hydro-Girl” in Clockwork Canada: Steampunk Fiction edited by Dominik Parisien (Exile Editions, 2016)

By Derek Newman-Stille

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In “Let Slip the Sluicegates of War, Hydro-Girl”, Terri Favro creates a technologically advanced steampunk Canada in the midst of the war of 1812, using the hydro-electric dam at Niagara Falls as a barrier to American invasion. Favro’s tale follows the life of Laura Secord-inspired character as she navigates the complexities of life on the margins. Setting her narrative on the edge of the Canadian border with the United States, Favro’s tale is edgy for more than its geographical setting. Favro brings attention to populations that are generally pushed to the fringes of our own society. Laura is reinvented as a sex worker whose live has been devoted to providing pleasure to the men who work on the Hydroelectric dam. Laura is chosen for her role as a sex worker because of the geography of her birth, growing up in a racialised neighbourhood with people from groups that are considered disposable.

 

Laura is able to distinguish herself by her use of fingerspelling, which allows her to communicate with the workers on the dam, many of whom have become deaf due to the loud sound experienced at the turbines and when drilling. Because of the huge amount of the population that are employed in working in the dam in Favro’s reimagined Niagara, a large amount of the population is deaf and have developed fingerspelling to communicate with each other. Despite the fact that they do not use formal sign language, this community has adapted fingerspelling into a form of text speak, using abbreviations for common phrases. This idea of a sign language developing from a large deaf population mirrors the origins of ASL (American Sign Language), which partially developed from the large population of deaf people on the island of Martha’s Vineyard, where a sign language developed to allow for the communication between members of the deaf population and was used by the hearing population.

 

Like sign language, the fingerspelling of the workmen is largely ignored by the hearing community and is dismissed by the officer Laura reports to as “a language for girls and idiots” (214). Also similar to the treatment of the deaf population by the hearing population, sign language is only adopted by the hearing community when it is seen as having a use for them. Laura’s fingerspelling is observed by a military officer who sees the potential use of her signing for military applications, using the fingerspelling created by this community as a means for covert message transmission. Favro explores the complexity of language as both a facilitator of communication (and thus something that has the capacity to bring understanding) and as a tool of exploitation (only acknowledged as significance when it has value for the dominant population). Laura’s sign language gives her the ability to escape from the exploitative sex work she was forced to experience (which involved physical abuse and non-consensual sex) and was able to find new possible roles for herself.

 

Favro’s narrative explores the links between bodies, communication, exploitation, and geography, examining the complex networks of identity that shape existence. In addition to her exploration of underrepresented racial and linguistic populations, Favro examines a diversity of sexual identities, exploring lesbian and trans identities in a genre that tends to erase queerness. This is a boundary tale, and one that is able to draw in the complexities that thrive in those borderlands where everything is in flux and where explorations begin.

 

You can discover more about Terri Favro’s work at http://terrifavro.ca/ .

 

To find out more about Clockwork Canada, visit Exile’s website at http://www.exileeditions.com/singleorders2016/clockwork.html

 

And Dominik Parisien’s website at https://dominikparisien.wordpress.com/clockwork-canada-anthology

 

Disability and Immigration

Disability and ImmigrationA review of “Crew 255” by Claire Humphrey in Clockwork Canada: Steampunk Fiction, edited by Dominik Parisien (Exile Editions, 2016).

By Derek Newman-Stille

In “Crew 255”, Claire Humphrey uses steampunk to comment on the interrelationship between immigration, disability, and ethnicity. After an explosion of an airship in Toronto, people are brought into the city from other countries to clear the rubble and begin the rebuilding process. Emiliana is brought in along with immigrating populations from an Azorean village. The villagers are all men and Emiliana feels as though she is an outsider amongst the men not only because of her gendered difference but also because she is the only one among them with a disability. Emiliana has had prosthetic arms called “graspers” for over a decade before coming to Toronto. The graspers are made of brass, and they provide extra strength for lifting, allowing her to be a strong worker, but she needs to deal with the process of being ‘Othered’ by the able-bodied, male crew. 

Like many people with disabilities, Emiliana is faced with the challenge of staring, being constantly looked at for her physical difference. Staring is more than a passive act of looking, but is, instead, an act of treating someone as an outsider and treating their body as something that can be viewed and treated as a specimen. The act of staring tries to render the disabled body as something that is passively looked at. At times, Emiliana finds herself gazing at others who use prostheses, but when they react as though they are being stared at, she shows her own prostheses to convey the idea that she is looking at them to create a sense of community rather than staring at them. 

Unlike some narratives of steampunk prostheses, “Crew 255” is not about the prosthetic creating a superhuman. Rather, Claire Humphrey illustrates the extra time and effort Emiliana has to go through to maintain her prosthetic arms – having to regularly clean the rubble out of them, polish them, prevent them from freezing by using mittens, and keeping the joints nimble. Despite their fictional nature, her graspers convey some of the complexity of prosthetic use.

By exploring the role of Emiliana as a worker who is female and disabled, Humphrey brings attention to the current issues facing people with disabilities seeking to immigrate to Canada. Many people with disabilities have historically – and continue to be – considered to be undesirable immigrants to Canada. Tied up in this un-preferential treatment of people with disabilities are assumptions that the disabled are unable to contribute meaningfully to the Canadian economy. Governmental bodies assume that the disabled represent a potential economic drain rather than economic assets and a large part of this assumption is related to the belief that people with disabilities can’t work at the same levels as the able-bodied and therefore can’t contribute to the economy of the country. “Crew 255” resists this portrayal by instead presenting a person with disabilities working hard and organizing the labour of her colleagues. Emiliana is portrayed as a person who not only contributes to her new country, but also works in the jobs that other Canadians consider undesirable. In doing so, Humphrey points out that when people immigrate to Canada (especially when they are people with disabilities), they are often underemployed and only given jobs that are un-preferred. Emiliana and the rest of Crew 255 are working to rebuild Canada and reconstruct it, re-shaping a decimated Toronto to create a space where they can live alongside other Canadians. 

To discover more about the work of Claire Humphrey, visit her website at http://www.clairehumphrey.ca
To find out more about Clockwork Canada, visit Exile’s website at http://www.exileeditions.com/singleorders2016/clockwork.html

And Dominik Parisien’s website at https://dominikparisien.wordpress.com/clockwork-canada-anthology