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

 

 

 

 

Speculating Canada on Trent Radio Episode 31: An Interview with Marie Bilodeau About Nigh

In this episode of Speculating Canada on Trent Radio, I interview the wonderful Marie Bilodeau about her new series Nigh, a series about the Fairiepocalpse. In our conversation, Marie and I discuss the power of myths and legends about fairies, the relationship between the natural world and human occupation, the power of unsettling norms and expectations, and the nature of apocalyptic narratives. Marie recognises the magic of the apocalyptic and the idea of The End as a place of speculation.

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.

Coming of Age in the End of Days

A review of Brent Hayward’s Head Full of Mountains (ChiZine Publications, 2014)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Cover Photo of Head Full of Mountains courtesy of ChiZine Publications

Cover Photo of Head Full of Mountains courtesy of ChiZine Publications

The end is a concept that brings hyper attention onto ideas of the body, memory, and the notion of permanence versus change, and Brent Hayward’s Head Full of Mountains constructs a society who, in trying to fend off the end, to preserve humanity, ends up creating a post-human world. Through the figure of Crospinal, raised on distorted memories of the ‘old world’ and confused perceptions of the new, the reader is cast into a realm of confusion and change, uncertain about the various ‘truths’ being given through Crospinal’s encounters with various human and mechanical groups, each staking their own claim on interpreting the world around them.

Crospinal experiences the world in a mix of dreams, experiences, and haptics (computerised learning programmes) which blend together in a distorted reality that allows him to live in ambiguity, perpetually a stranger in a strange land. Despite being born into this new world, Crospinal’s isolation with his father means that the world outside of his father’s realm is one of inconstancy, and a series of challenges to his beliefs about the world around him.

Environment, body, and belief system are all in flux in Head Full of Mountains as the ship that the last remnants of humanity are travelling through space on constantly changes configuration, recycling old parts while building new ones. Crospinal’s body alters from a disabled body in a space suit that recycles his nutrients, to a gradually stripped body exposed to all of the biological contaminants and biological wonders around him, and constantly rebuilt by machines to match an able-bodied expected norm. Crospinal and others are constantly haunted by a past that they can’t recall, erased from the minds of the passengers who came from old Earth and not taught to the new human beings who are born on the ship from embryos.

A father and son text, Head Full of Mountains manifests the uncertainty and confusion following the death of a parent and the re-shaping of one’s understanding of the world as one realises that their parent’s viewpoint is singular and does not encompass the range of potential ‘truths’ about interpreting the world. This is a coming-of-age text wrapped in the end of days, a coming of the end.

To discover more about Brent Hayward, visit his website at http://www.brenthayward.com/

To find out more about Head Full of Mountains and other ChiZine Publications books, visit their website at http://chizinepub.com/books/head-full-of-mountains

An interview with Kathryn Allan about “Accessing the Future”

An interview with Kathryn Allan about “Accessing the Future” by Derek Newman-Stille

I had a great opportunity to interview friend and colleague Kathryn Allan, who shares my love of exploring representations of disability in Speculative Fiction. Kathryn and I have presented at several conferences together and I am excited to be able to share her insights with you today. Kathryn and her co-editor Djibril al-Ayad are currently running an indiegogo campaign to create a new collection of disability themed science fiction called Accessing the Future, which you can explore at https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/accessing-the-future .

Speculating Canada: To begin our interview, could you tell readers a little bit about yourself?

Kathryn Allan: I wear a bunch of hats—all of which are really flattering. I operate an academic copyediting and coaching business, Academic Editing Canada, and I’m an independent scholar of science fiction and disability studies. Since I left university at the completion of my PhD in 2010, I’ve been following my love of science fiction into interesting places: I’m the inaugural Le Guin Feminist Science Fiction fellow (2013-14) and the editor of Disability in Science Fiction: Representations of Technology as Cure (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013). As of this year, I’m also an Associate Editor and Reader of The Future Fire. I write for both scholarly and fan venues, and you can find me blogging and tweeting as Bleeding Chrome.

Speculating Canada: What inspired your interest in disability in science fiction?

Kathryn Allan: I’ve always had an interest in the relationship between technology and the human body. When I was in my second year of my PhD studies, two significant things happened: one, I discovered a deep love of science fiction (I’m a late bloomer), and two, I became quite ill. SF was not only a comfort to me when I was too tired and unwell to do much of anything other than read cyberpunk novels or watch Star Trek episodes, it also spoke to my curiosity about technology’s ability to transform, modify, and adapt the human body to new environments and events. I became acutely interested in reading feminist and disability study theories of the body (by wonderful scholars like Margrit Shildrick, Susan Wendell, and Rosemarie Garland-Thomson), and so I ended up writing my dissertation on technology and the vulnerable body in feminist post-cyberpunk. I recognized that there was a huge gap in science fiction studies: very few scholars were addressing disability in SF. I wanted to—and still strive to—contribute to the necessary conversation about how disability is taken up in science fiction.

Speculating Canada: You are currently working on an anthology of disability-themed speculative fiction with Djibril al-Ayad titled Accessing the Future. Could you tell us a little bit about this anthology?

Kathryn Allan: The anthology is an intersectional one, focusing on disability, but also considering race, ethnicity, nationality, gender, sexuality, and class in SF stories that explore the imagined physical and virtual spaces of the future. One of our pitch lines for Accessing the Future is: “We want people of all abilities to see themselves, as they are now and as they want to be, in our collective human future.” We want stories that think about how humanity will modify the future world, ask what kinds of new spaces and technologies we will create, and, above all, answer the question: What does an accessible future look like? Both my co-editor (and publisher) Djibril and I love cyberpunk and feminist SF, so we’re hoping to see some stories that are inspired by those SF traditions. We’re currently running an crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo, which ends on September 17th. The call for stories will open immediately after this fundraising campaign ends.

Speculating Canada: What inspired this collection?

Kathryn Allan: My desire to see SF stories where people with disabilities are represented as people and not as props or lessons! As much as I love SF, it’s tiring and upsetting to see people with disabilities being vilified, “cured,” or simply erased from the future (through things like genetic engineering). The community I live in is not homogenous; the friends and family I love are not all able-bodied. I want to read stories that express my reality and the reality of my chosen community. By editing a anthology of disability-themed stories, I hope that we can provide a space to as many voices as possible.

Speculating Canada: What are some of the problems that you have seen in the representation of disability in speculative fiction of the past?

Kathryn Allan: Ah! There are so many problems! Most of the representations of disability out there in SF are not good. As I mentioned above, people with disabilities are constantly being “cured” through medical interventions (whether they want it or not, rarely does the character in question have a choice in the matter). Prosthetics are idealized as a way to become super human…and then turn the person with a disability into an even greater threat to “normal” people. Visions of genetic engineering in SF are particularly awful: if a writer imagines a future world where disability is erased before birth, then that sends a terrible message to people with disabilities today (i.e., “you shouldn’t exist”). These kinds of representations are not only rampant in SF of the past, they continue to be proliferated today, which is why I feel so strongly in making sure that we encourage writers to create and engage with realistic depictions of disability.

Speculating Canada: What are some examples of science fiction that has done a good job of representing disability?

Kathryn Allan: The old standby answer is Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan saga, but I try to direct readers to more recent novels that they might not think of as being about disability. Just a few weeks ago, I wrote a guest post on Pornokitsch [link: http://www.pornokitsch.com/2014/08/friday-five-5-positive-representations-of-disability-in-sf.html%5D “Five Positive Representations of Disability in Science Fiction,” where I talked about the Larissa Lai’s Salt Fish Girl, Laura J. Mixon’s Up Against It, Jacqueline Koyanagi’s Ancension, James Patrick Kelly’s “The Promise of Space,” and Nalo Hopkinson’s Sister Mine. All of these stories take up disability in a way that does not reduce a character to their disability, their characters are both interesting and flawed (not just one-dimensional “inspirations” or villains), and they situate disability as a social construction (not as a personal “flaw”).

Speculating Canada: What do you hope to see more of in the representation of disability?

Kathryn Allan: Basically, I just want to see characters who have disabilities being awesome, boring, kickass, thoughtful, arrogant, funny, sexy, stubborn, clever, etc. I think you can see where I’m going here: I want representations of disability to be realistic and dynamic. Like, please, SF writers, stop curing everyone!

Speculating Canada: Disability Studies tends to focus a lot on realist fiction. What are some of the important things that can come out of looking at the representation of disability in science fiction, fantasy, horror, and other speculative genres?

Kathryn Allan: SF is a like testing ground for viable visions of the future. Writers get to try out new ideas in SF, as well as imagine possible futures that might come to be from the politics and events of the current day. Since so many people read speculative genres, I think it’s really important that the representations of disability in our “pretend” worlds have positive, realistic roles in them for everyone to identify with–and it’s also easier, in a way, to notice when those realistic roles aren’t present. When a writer creates a monstrous character, for example, what features are they using for monstrosity? When we start to read for and with disability in SF, all of the cultural assumptions about what makes a “good” worthwhile person comes to the foreground.

Speculating Canada: What things have really gotten you excited so far about the Accessing the Future volume you are working on?

Kathryn Allan: We’re still in the crowdfunding stage, but I’m excited about the level of interest we’ve had from both people with disabilities and able-bodied allies: stories are already being prepared for submission! As well, I’m quite happy that we’ve helped boost the level of conversation about disability in SF. Several able-bodied people have told me that they never thought about disability before at all, and are now reflecting on what they are writing and reading in terms of disability representation. More voices and more awareness means the better future(s) we can work towards!

Speculating Canada: Is there anything further you are interested in adding at the end of this interview?

Kathryn Allan: Signal boosts of all kinds are welcome. The more tweets, Facebook shares, and blog posts that people put out there, the greater visibility our campaign receives. We’ve done a solid job of speaking to the “diverse SF” community so far, but we need to the signal to be going out every day in creative ways, and to other genre communities as well. One of the ways that people can also participate is through our blog hop—you reflect on a short series of questions about disability and power in a current/recent story that you’re writing (or reading). You can find out more information about the blog hop here: http://djibrilalayad.blogspot.ca/2014/08/blog-hop-accessing-future-fiction.html

Accessing the Future Campaign image courtesy of Kathryn Allan.

Accessing the Future Campaign image courtesy of Kathryn Allan.

I want to thank Kathryn Allan for this brilliant interview and for all of her work looking at representations of disability in science fiction. I particularly want to give thanks to her for running an indiegogo campaign to fund Accessing the Future.

Upcoming Interview with Kathryn Allan About Accessing the Future on September 17

Kathryn Allan is an academic editor, an independent scholar of science fiction and disability studies, and has just launched an indigogo campaign to create a collection of science fiction featuring disability and people with disabilities titled Accessing the Future. As you can imagine, Kathryn Allan and I share a tonne of interests and I feel very fortunate to be able to interview her here on Speculating Canada.

Here are a few teasers from our upcoming interview:

Kathryn Allan: “I’ve always had an interest in the relationship between technology and the human body.”

Kathryn Allan: “SF was not only a comfort to me when I was too tired and unwell to do much of anything other than read cyberpunk novels or watch Star Trek episodes, it also spoke to my curiosity about technology’s ability to transform, modify, and adapt the human body to new environments and events.”

Kathryn Allan: “We want stories that think about how humanity will modify the future world, ask what kinds of new spaces and technologies we will create, and, above all, answer the question: What does an accessible future look like?”

Kathryn Allan: “As much as I love SF, it’s tiring and upsetting to see people with disabilities being vilified, “cured,” or simply erased from the future (through things like genetic engineering).”

Kathryn Allan: “if a writer imagines a future world where disability is erased before birth, then that sends a terrible message to people with disabilities today (i.e., “you shouldn’t exist”).”

Kathryn Allan: “I want representations of disability to be realistic and dynamic.”

Kathryn Allan: “More voices and more awareness means the better future(s) we can work towards!”

Check out our full interview on September 17th and check out the Accessing the Future campaign at https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/accessing-the-future

 

Accessing the Future Campaign image courtesy of Kathryn Allan.

Accessing the Future Campaign image courtesy of Kathryn Allan.

 

“That they should envision themselves greater than nature, that they believe they can control eventualities with their industries both amazes and amuses you, the latter in a grim way. You survey the skyline of London, blotted with inky smoke from their factories, fumes that choke the air, and you wonder: are they insane? They cannot breathe. They die of illnesses brought about by their own wicked habits, and yet they place such childish faith in science”

-Nancy Kilpatrick – Berserker (in Vampyric Variations)

Quote – Considering Ourselves Greater than Nature

Is it Literary if it has Social Commentary?

A review of OnSpec #95 vol 25 no 4 Edited by Diane L. Walton
By Derek Newman-Stille

Cover photo from OnSpec  # 95, courtesy of http://www.onspec.ca

Cover photo from OnSpec # 95, courtesy of http://www.onspec.ca

 

This review is well- timed since I recently posted something about ableism, sexism, homophobia, and racism at fan conventions and have been thinking about ways to make SF fandom more inclusive. When reading OnSpec #95 vol 25 no 4, it occurred to me that the OnSpec editors are definitely doing their part to be inclusive by featuring stories that engage with a variety of different bodies and identities. One way that we can open fans to new ways of including diversity is to make sure that diversity is reflected in the SF works that we produce. OnSpec’s recently produced winter issue features works that engage with aging characters, LGBTQ2 or QUILTBAG populations, people in poverty, physical and psychological disability, and they do so in a way that raises questions about ableism, classism, and homophobia by giving the reader the opportunity to enter into the headspace of people who are often treated as abject by a society that discriminates against them.

Fiction provides us with an opportunity to exercise our skills in empathy, flowing in to the minds and experiences of characters as we read about them. Empathy is something that we all need to develop further and SF has the ability to let us venture into a variety of highly diverse minds and experiences.

Susan MacGregor begins this OnSpec with a discussion of the notion of “literary merit” and a reminder that a lot of the people who defend the notion that there is a “high literature” and that science fiction, fantasy, and horror cannot be it will often say that SF doesn’t make social contributions. Susan reminds the reader of the kinds of contributions that SF makes and mirrors some of the perspectives I have often espoused here on Speculating Canada that speculative fiction by its very nature opens things up to speculation, to question, and that by venturing into the weird realms of other worlds, other realities, and strange places, we can come back to our own world with questions, pondering the things we take for granted. It is very appropriate that this volume follows from her editorial with stories that feature characters who are often socially ostracized and exploring ideas about people in our own society who are treated like aliens and monsters. This exploration of those who are so often treated as ABnormal in situations that are abnormal (because they are set in the future or on other worlds or alternative histories) lets us question the idea of “normal” and come back to our own reality with a question about why so many people want to maintain a “normal” that excludes so many others. OnSpec 95, like other good works of SF opens OUR world to questions and lets us reassess it.

In addition to the -isms, OnSpec 95 invites readers to think about the damage caused by war whether it is physical injury to the body, environmental damage, psychological trauma, or damage to the community and notions of trust. The reader is encouraged to question our relationship to technology, deal with issues of addiction, plague, family violence, community secrets, memory, and the loss of selfhood itself. The fact that it does this social interrogation in a plague city of the future, in an alternative past full of necromantic powers and political intrigue, a future of prosthetic limbs and VR technology for coping with PTSD, a future of resource scarcity following international war, and a small town with a man who can sense truth makes it both incredibly entertaining and engaging.

OnSpec 95 binds narratives of loss together, creating a space for the interaction of future and past to talk about things that have become memory, things that we pine for, and things that we will feel the loss of in the future…. but these stories are ultimately about the present, about where and how we live NOW… and the authors ask us to question The Now to gain new insights about ourselves and the human experience.

We talk a lot about fantasy, science fiction, and horror as escapes, but I think that good speculative fiction is not an escape, but a temporary abstraction from reality that lets us come back to our own world with new insights, new ideas, and new ways of questioning the “norms” that we take for granted. Send me to an alien world any day if I can come back from it with a spaceship full of questions for this world!!

To read reviews of some of the individual stories in OnSpec 95, see:

https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2014/04/23/performing-reality-living-fiction

https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2014/04/27/between-coping-and-addiction

https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2014/04/30/a-necromantic-disregard

You can discover more about OnSpec at onspec.ca .