Bordered by Change

Bordered by Change

A review of Shades Within Us edited by Lucas K Law and Susan Forest (Laksa Media Groups Inc, 2018)

By Derek Newman-Stille

Borders are complex spaces of change and uncertainty where identities are made and also complicated. Lucas Law and Susan Forest’s Shades Within Us: Tales of Migrations and Fractured Borders examines this complex space of border crossing, that ultimate liminality that invites questions about categories. The stories in this collection invite us to interrogate the ways that we divide up our world including, but not limited to geography. These tales ask how borders try to limit us and what it means to transcend those limitations, to question them, and to defy them.

These are tales of displacement, loss, and cultural assimilation, but they are also tales of coming together, of community formation beyond limits, and of speculating the new borders of the future. These tales explore the way that border-crossing can be a painful process, a process of losing person freedoms, having to navigate new ways of defining identity, and interrogating what ideas like “home” and “belonging” mean when we move.

In an era of globalization and yet also an era of increased border control and hegemonic control over who can and cannot come into a country, Shades Within Us is a timely collection that invites us to ask whether we still do (or still should) live in a space of national borders and national definitions of identity. It invites us to use our speculative imagination to think through new ways of understanding selfhood in relation to the borders, boxes, and categories that are placed around us.

As much as Shades Within Us is about the physical crossing of borders, it is more about the psychological borders that we cross, the way that we reconceptualize ourselves and imagine ourselves differently.

To discover more about Shades Within Us, visit

To read reviews of a few of the individual stories in this collection, see these posts:

Tonya Liburd’s Superfreak

Kate Heartfield’s Gilber Tong’s Life List

Rich Larson’s Porque El Girasol se Llama El Girasol

Karin Lowachee’s Invasio


Abuse and Ideas of Home

Abuse and Ideas of Home

A review of Tonya Liburd’s “Superfreak” in Shades Within Us: Tales of Migrations and Fractured Borders Edited by Susan Forest and Lucas K. Law (Laksa Media Group, 2018).

By Derek Newman-Stille

Tonya Liburd’s “Superfreak” is an intensely powerful and intensely painful tale that examines ideas of safety, security, and home. I should start my review by adding a trigger warning that “Superfreak” contains discussions of sexual assault and abuse as does this review.

In a world where people develop Gifts as they age, Danielle is a character who hasn’t developed a gift. She is told that this makes her part of a vulnerable population and she is also teased by other youth about her lack of Gifts. Despite this, when Danielle is called “Superfreak” by other young people, she decides to take on the name, to use the language that was meant to disempower her to instead give her strength. The name allows her to fight back against some of the horrors that she has seen in her life.

Danielle moved from the Caribbean to Canada to escape an uncle who was sexually assaulting her, only to be sexually assaulted by the uncle she was living with in Canada as well. She is able to escape and get to a youth shelter where she is able to start developing a sense of community.

Shades Within Us is a collection of tales about migration and border crossing, and while Liburd does deal with a literal crossing of a border into Canada, her story is more about the philosophical and emotional ideas of “Home”. Liburd explores the unsettled feeling of people in situations of abuse, the total inability to find a sense of safety and security in the notion of “Home” that non-abused people feel. Danielle is a character who is seeking some sort of sense of being free of threat, and Liburd uses the character to explore the idea that a notion of “Home” always takes time for abused people. It is not something that can be secured by a certain place – by four walls. It is something that is constantly being negotiated, something that is constantly sought after and constantly disrupted by past trauma. Liburd examines the complexities of home that non-abused people ignore and highlights the conflicted nature of homes.

“Superfreak” is a story that cuts to the quick, but it also reveals a great deal about the sort of lasting pain that comes from abuse and trauma.

To discover more about Shades Within Us, visit

To find out more about Tonya Liburd, visit



A review of Kate Heartfield’s “Gilbert Tong’s Life List” in Shades Within Us: Tales of Migrations and Fractured Borders Edited by Susan Forest and Lucas K. Law (Laksa Media Group, 2018).

By Derek Newman-Stille

Kate Heartfield writes a tale of ecological refugees and birding in “Gilbert Tong’s Life List”. Initially these would seem to be disconnected themes, but she uses the cataloguing of birds as a way to explore notions of migration and global movements. Birds are frequently treated as symbols of freedom and perhaps that is what they represent for Gilbert’s father, who became an avid birder when he and other Kiribati moved into a refugee camp in Canada after their island was submerged in rising waters. The Kiribati people are confined in a refugee camp, keeping their spirits up with the possibility of Canadian citizenship even though the Canadian government fears the economic impact of their refugee status. They are denied health care, access to Canadian education systems, and freedom of movement outside of the camp.

Although the camp is on Canadian territory, it is treated like a foreign nation and fenced off. Refugees are treated as prisoners in the enclave and left without a sense of home or connection to their own territory and culture. They are encouraged to assimilate, but not given access to the country that they are assimilating to. Everyone is given an RFID tag to prevent them from accessing Canada. They are aware that they are living as fugitives, forever homeless.

Within this environment, where refugees (especially young ones) are aware that compliance with Canada’s rules won’t actually benefit them or protect them in any way, so they seek out other ways to cope with their imprisonment, engaging in illegal activities just to survive in their exiled and imprisoned nation. Gilbert has to deal with the disconnection he feels with home, the need to bend the rules to survive, and his father’s compliance with rules that don’t benefit anyone in the Kiribati community. He is engaged in a struggle between maintaining a sense of Kiribati culture and family identity as he has become migrational like the birds his father studies.

To discover more about Shades Within Us, visit

To find out more about Kate Heartfield, visit



A review of Karin Lowachee’s “Invasio”in Shades Within Us: Tales of Migration and Fractured Borders Edited by Susan Forest and Lucas K. Law (Laksa Media Groups Inc., 2018)

By Derek Newman-Stille

Telling a tale of mass migration after an apocalyptic invasion, Karin Lowachee’s “Invasio” explores the confusion associated with diaspora and the search for a new home. Although her narrator never describes details of the invasion, there are inferences of an alien invasion that has resulted in a scattered few escaping out of cities and major populated areas, relying on their survival skills to survive.

Lowachee explores the “I will do anything to survive” motif that is popular in a lot of survival stories, particularly apocalyptic ones, however, her narrator repeatedly questions whether she is the villain. Rather than telling herself she is a good person for putting her own survival first, the narrator relates her experiences and actions to the various science fiction and fantasy books she has read and realizes that she can’t justify the actions she has taken to survive and the impact that it has had on the lives around her.

This is not a straightforward tale, but rather it is stream of consciousness, illustrating the confusion of memory, current experience, and speculation that occurs when people are in situations of desperation. Her character is without a touchstone, without a connection to home or family that can keep her identity intact and instead experiences a slipperiness of identity and experience, an uncertainty that accompanies major lifestyle changes and loss of land. The narrator’s experiences are so unlike the privileged life she has led that she can only relate them to the fiction books and films she has experienced, understanding herself through speculation and imaginative works.

Lowachee creates a tale that dissociates the reader, makes the reader uncertain, uncomfortable, and evokes a need to pay attention deeper to the transformative actions the narrator is undergoing. This is a tale of profound loss and confusion. As much as it is a tale of aliens, it is also a tale of alienation.

To discover more about Shades Within Us, visit

To find out more about Karin Lowachee, visit

Valuing Care

A review of Susan Forest and Lucas K. Law’s The Sum of Us: Tales of the Bonded and Bound (Laksa Media Group, 2017)
By Derek Newman-Stille

As a society, we undervalue care and undervalue care workers. We tend to assume that people who do care work are doing it because they like helping people and we assume that the job is compensation enough. Even in the home, we de-value family members who provide care, viewing their care work as something that doesn’t need compensation. Care work is consistently treated as though it is not real labour and isn’t valued or compensated for. 

Part of this lack of value for care work stems from patriarchal beliefs that position care work as a feminine labour and therefore de-value it the same way that patriarchy de-values anything viewed as feminine. 

Care work has been in need to reimagining for some time. It has needed a fundamental disruption of social assumptions and a re-evaluating of the meaning of this labour. Using the medium of speculative fiction, a genre devoted to asking questions, Susan Forest and Lucas K. Law’s The Sum of Us: Tales of the Bonded and Bound brings together stories that critically interrogate the way that we imagine care and care-giving. These stories take a broad exploration of what care can mean, looking at parental care, long term care homes, social responsibilities for care, foster care, maternal care, elder care, medical care by doctors and nurses, the care relationships of pets, and even the care roles of insectile species’ (since care isn’t just a human trait). These stories examine complexities of care that are critical to this culture moment such as what is the value of care?, what difference does quality care make?, what is quality of life?, is care the role of home or the state?, what are the gendered dynamics of care-giving?, why do we de-value care-givers?, how much responsibility should parents have in the care of their children?, and what is the role of robotics in care? These are all critical questions that are in need of complex and creative answers and The Sum of Us invites readers to think critically about them. It doesn’t introduce easy answers about care-giving, but instead invites readers to explore often contrary ideas about care, asking readers to come up with their own critical questions and creative answers to the meaning of care.

These are tales of robots, aliens, insects, future wars, supervillains, nanites, other worlds, plagues, and mutants, but at their core, these are all tales about what caring means, and these are real, human questions. They may be explored through the lens of the alien, but they are fundamentally about human values and what care means to us. Sometimes the only way to get us to ask critical questions about the way that we value (or de-value) caring labour is to project our modes of care onto another, onto the future, onto another society, onto the inhuman so that we ask ourselves “if this makes us upset when we see an alien doing it, what does it mean that we are doing the same thing?”

To read some of the reviews of individual stories in this collection, see my review of:

Claire Humphrey’s “Number One Draft Pick”

Juliet Marillier’s “The Gatekeeper”

Edward Willett’s “The Mother’s Keeper”

Sandra Kasturi’s “The Beautiful Gears of Dying”

A.M. Dellamonica’s “Bottleneck”

Caroline M. Yoachim’s “Dreams as Fragile as Glass” 

Kate Story’s “Am I Not A Proud Outlier”
To find out more about The Sum of Us: Tales of the Bonded and Bound, visit 


A Review of On Spec #89 Vol 24, No. 2 (Summer 2012 issue)
By Derek Newman-Stille

I have been a fan of On Spec for some time. I enjoy the quality of their stories, the diversity of their authors, and their ability to play with diverse characteristics of the speculative medium. I enjoy the fact that On Spec combines short stories with poetry, essays that provide insights into the nature of speculative fiction and trends in the speculative genres, interviews with authors that provide insights into the authorial process and the thought that goes into a creative work, and I am impressed by On Spec’s willingness to bring in artistic works that play with ideas of the speculative rather than focussing on the textual. Perhaps one of the reasons I enjoy On Spec so much is that its ideologies match so well with my own. Like this website, On Spec is interested in both exploring speculative authorship at the same time as it is aware of the incredible insights an author can provide and the complex issues that speculative fiction authors bring into their works to evoke thought from their readers. As a speculative artist (you can check out my art work at ), I particularly enjoy that they are willing to engage in multiple media of the speculative, not just sticking to short stories, but displaying an interest in works of photography, painting, pencil and ink sketches. It is great to see a recognition of the diversity of media that people operating in the speculative can bring out. On Spec also displays an interest in quotations, and an incredible aptitude for pulling out the most poignant and thought-provoking quotes in a story. I always find it exciting when I look at the quotes that they have pulled out of a story and notice that they match the ones that had drawn me in.

Normally I like to review a selection of short stories from On Spec volumes, but I thought I would do a quick overview of the Summer 2012 issue to look for binding themes and ideas that pull the volume together. This volume taps into an interest I have noticed recently in the theme of displacement by Canadian speculative fiction authors. There is a sense of loss that permeates this volume, a sense of homes forgotten, the search for a new place, the feeling of being left behind by people, by time, and by places that shift and change in such a way that we can no longer fit into them. Memories fade and we are lost in a place between them. There is an edgy sense that knowledge and wisdom can be alienating and that, perhaps… sometimes ignorance, while not very fulfilling, can at least keep one from the horrors of knowing about the loss of everything that can be valued.

The volume begins with an essay on Steampunk, a genre or aesthetic that plays with notions of the displacement of time and uses elements of past worlds and the notion of nostalgia to create a place of adventure outside of the normal course of time. In the words of Mike Perschon, Steampunk “is the way the present imagines the past seeking the future.” It is a complex interweaving of times and notions of time that both plays with notions of nostalgia for the past, while also complicating notions of the past and the way we see the past from our present perspective.

That sense of the defamiliarisation of time itself carries over into the first story, 7:54 by Susan Forest, a story about the ability to see into the future, and the inevitability of the future that opens moral questions about the way we envision ourselves moving forward. Shen Braun’s Village of Good Fortune is set in the past in the world of Japanese shintoism where spirits and demons are part of the landscape of the world. Here, the displacement shifts to a man who has had to leave his home and searches for a new place to call home, a place of belonging and comfort.  But, these things are not easy to find and even the most pleasant village can have a dark undercurrent running through it, a shaky ground of ambiguity between ideas of right and wrong.

This place of metaphysical and moral ambiguity brings us to another story about questions of morality and the nature of good and evil, Peter Darbyshire’s The Only Innocent Soul in Hell. The terrifying thing about hell in this story is that it shows a remarkable similarity to the bureaucracies of our everyday experience…. and this reminds us that although we believe we are living in a world of familiarity and normalcy, there really is hell lurking in every government building. Darbyshire portrays the typical impatient, self-righteous customer as the archetype for the sociopathic personality, and, reminds the reader that people who play the system too well… a pretty hellish system at that… are probably devils in sheep’s clothing… or at least expensive wool suits. Through hiding his memories… and a few other tricks, a sociopath tries to trick a demon into letting him out of hell.

The theme of memory and the loss of memory follows into E.J. Bergmann’s Penultimate, a poem about the process of aging and the loss of memory and selfhood that can be seen to arise from the experience of getting older. It is a crushing poem about the systematic loss of the self, a story being unwritten with pages torn out of the autobiography of the self.

Paul Kenneback’s In Which Demetri Returns the Elgin Marbles takes the notion of loss to an international level and shows the horror of a world that has decided to forget its own history, emptying museums to fill them with the less controversial and less diverse Disney. It represents the ultimate Disneyfication and Touristism of the world: turning the world into a spectator’s gaze reflecting itself – everywhere cultural specificity is erased so that every nation is just a mirror of the United States with slightly different climates. Kenneback shows the horror of a world that has been systematically erased in the name of social control and propaganda, a place that has been neutralised and whose art has been rendered bland and undifferentiated. Kenneback wields his narrative of an artist working for museums trying to promote Disney in order to evoke in his audience a desire to question the focus on the modern and the systemic loss of cultural memory and artistic past that defines civilisations.

Canine Court by Tyler Keevil, takes away the notion of familiarity in one’s family. He portrays a typical Canadian small town with a secret and a displaced city boy who soon discovers that things may not be as they appear in the town or in his own family. Keevil’s tale features werewolves, but the kind of predators that lurk in small towns may not all have fangs.

Kevin Shaw’s Bespoke explores the lack of familiarity that can be evoked by a changing body, a body that has been mutated into a shape that is responded to by onlookers with horror. But, although often body changes are portrayed in stories as tales of the loss of the self, an inability or lack, in Shaw’s narrative, this body change can distance someone enough from their familiar patterns that they can be encouraged to develop new behaviours, new relationships and when slight changes are made to accommodate their bodily difference, a new respect and love for their changed body.

This volume of On Spec was an amazing adventure into the unfamiliar territories that lurk hidden in the shadows of the familiar. The reader finds him or herself lost, disassembled, made strange to her or himself and then brought back together with a new understanding of the world around them and appreciation for the weird places that lurk between the cracks of the normal.