Northern Heroes With Grit

A review of the Heroes of the North webseries produced by Christian Veil (http://www.heroesofthenorth.com/index.php )
By Derek Newman-Stille

Heroes of the North Logo courtesy of the producers.

Heroes of the North Logo courtesy of the producers.

There has been an increase in Canadian speculative fiction shows lately with programmes like Lost Girl, Sanctuary, and Orphan Black, and they have been fantastic… but I have found myself searching for a really good Canadian superhero show. Although only a webseries at the moment, running on a shoestring budget, I have been excited about the work that has been put into the Heroes of the North series. Rather than creating the typical Canadian superhero group bound together already, Heroes of the North begins with individual tales of superheroes, each showcasing bits and pieces of their personality.

Unlike most Canadian superhero stories, Heroes of the North is a series that explores the violence of crime fighting and the idea that sometimes the line between superhero and supervillain is thin and it is only by calling them “heroes” that we keep them fighting against villains rather than the public.

Dressed in pleather and spattered in blood, these heroes challenge traditional assumptions about the Canadian superhero – the hero that says “please”, “thank you”, and “excuse me”, while politely bringing criminals to justice. However, this team, incorporating a particularly Canadian aesthetic, brings together Francophone and Anglophone team members and incorporates Canadians across the country into its roster… as well as former criminals. From The Canadian, based in Ottawa with super strength, stamina and an electrostatic shield to 8-Ball, the Montreal-based martial artist/ weapons expert, to Fleur de Lys, the Quebec City-based martial artist with Electricity-generating gauntlets, to Nordik, from Fermont Wall, possessing immunity to cold and bracelets that freeze enemies, to Black Terror, the drug-addicted, nanotechnology enhanced super-strong Griffintowner, to Pacifica, the super-speedster from Victoria, BC, to Acadia, the Moncton-based invisible woman with carbon-fiber blades this is a team that is diverse in ability, origin story, and locale… and they are all willing to go to extreme ends to facilitate their vision of justice. These are morally ambiguous heroes.

Heroes of the North photo courtesy of the producers

Heroes of the North photo courtesy of the producers

Sometimes it takes the morally ambiguous when you have to go up against a pharmaceutical/ weapons manufacturer who is interested in worldwide conquest.

Blending the comic and the macabre, this series questions the superhero genre at the same time as it presents some canon features of the genre. This is kink meets heroic… complete with latex and pleather outfits.

You can discover more about Heroes of the North and watch the webbisodes at http://www.heroesofthenorth.com/index.php .

Here is a link to their indigogo campaign to fund season 2 of the shot https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/heroes-of-the-north-season-2–2 .

Heroes of the North  DVD cover photo courtesy of the producers

Heroes of the North DVD cover photo courtesy of the producers

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Speculating Canada on Trent Radio Episode 6: Canadian Queer SF

As a queer man, do you know what I want to see:

a sci fi novel in which one of the typical space bros says “yo fags, no homo” and instantly has his head bitten off by a glitter-wearing, feather boa carrying alien, who instantly spits it out and says “No hate, bro”;

or a femmbot who decides that since he has been denied the right to transition to a male robot, he is going to take matters into his own hands and solders a vibrator onto his body;

a fantasy novel in which the evil queen finally gets her princess love;

a white knight who realises that the black knight keeps kidnapping princesses to get his attention;

a horror novel in which the werewolf reveals that she is only biting women because she wants to create a female-only pack

OR a sparkly vampire… oh wait, that’s been done before… and with a straight vampire at that.

There is an under representation of queer people in genre fiction, but this episode of Speculating Canada on Trent Radio explores Canadian queer, LGBTQ2 or QUILTBAG (Q – Queer and Questioning, U – Unidentified, I – Intersex, L – Lesbian, T – Transgender, Transexual, Two-Spirited, B – Bisexual, A – Asexual, G – Gay, Genderqueer) fiction.

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.

Make sure to allow a few minutes for the file to buffer since it may take a moment before it begins to play.

Nikola Tesla on TV’s Sanctuary

For those of you who watch the Canadian SF show Sanctuary, have you ever noticed that the actor who plays Nikola Tesla (Jonathon Young) looks nothing like Tesla himself?… This is not unusual in television portrayals of historical figures. HOWEVER, the really odd thing is that the man who plays James Watson on the SAME SHOW (Peter Wingfield) looks ALMOST IDENTICAL to the historical Nikola Tesla.

Here is an image of Sanctuary’s Nikola Tesla character (played by Jonathon Young):

From Sanctuary Network Wikia: http://sanctuary.wikia.com/wiki/Nikola_Tesla

Here is an image of the historical Nikola Tesla:

AND here is an image of Sanctuary’s James Watson (played by Peter Wingfield):

 

This boggles my mind. Why not have Peter Wingfield play Nikola Tesla? The resemblance is remarkable.

I probably wouldn’t have noticed the similarity if it weren’t for my weird obsession with Nikola Tesla. And since Sanctuary had a vampiric Nikola Tesla, it certainly caught my attention!

If you are not familiar with the Canadian television series Sanctuary, you can find out more at http://sanctuaryforall.com/ . Sanctuary is about a group that creates a safe space for the supernatural races, a monster reserve  if you will.

Interview with Kelley Armstrong

An Interview with Kelley Armstrong by Derek Newman-Stille

Photo of Kelley Armstrong (centre) with Ellen Bentzen (left) and Derek Newman-Stille (right) at a lecture at Peter Gzowski College, Trent University.

Kelley Armstrong was the first Canadian author of the fantastic that I found and enjoyed. A few years ago, I was able to have Ms. Armstrong visit Trent University to be an author in residence for Trent’s Champlain College and Gzowski College. It was an incredible experience for our students and an amazing experience for myself. I want to thank her for this opportunity to do an interview.

Kelley Armstrong is the author of the Otherworld series and the Nadia Stafford Series.

Spec Can: Could you tell us a little bit about yourself to begin the interview?

Kelley Armstrong: I’m the author of the “Women of the Otherworld” paranormal suspense series and “Darkest Powers/Darkness Rising” young adult urban fantasy series, as well as the Nadia Stafford crime series.  I grew up in Southwestern Ontario and I still live there with my family.

Spec Can: One of the things that really impresses me about your work is your ability to get into the psychology of the monster and really understand what feelings and hopes they have. Do you feel that your background in psychology helps you to explore the minds of your characters?

Kelley Armstrong: I like to think it helps me with character development.  If I want a character to turn out a certain way, I can come up with a back-story to explain her personality.  Likewise I can start with a life experience and decide how it could affect a character.

Spec Can: What aspects of your Canadian identity have influenced your authorship?

Kelley Armstrong: It makes it easier to do Canadian characters and settings [smiles] On the other hand, it makes it harder to do American ones, and that’s where a lot of my stories are set, for the simple fact that I can have a larger cast of supernaturals that way—it’s easier to speculate that so many supernatural beings go unnoticed if the population is much larger. Beyond that, I don’t feel it’s had much impact on my opportunities as an author or how I’m treated.

Spec Can: What is different about Canadian stories of the supernatural from those of other nations?

Kelley Armstrong: There are differences in the markets. What is a bestseller in the US will not necessarily be a bestseller in Britain. That’s the same for all geographic areas—Canada also has differences from both. The literature produced in our country reflects the differences in regional taste. I’m not sure it affects the supernatural aspects of the story as much as the general ones—the tone, the themes etc.

Spec Can: What teaching role can speculative fiction have?

Kelley Armstrong: Speculative fiction helps expand the world of possibilities. Readers—and students—see new possibilities for new ways of thinking and living. The fact that it takes place in a fantastical world often makes it easier to consider those challenges and issues, divorced from the emotional baggage of a reader’s own world or experience. For example, science fiction novels often include elements of racism—how does one alien race treat another—and that allows readers to consider the issues in an abstract way and then transfer those ideas over to the realm of their own world and experience.

Spec Can:  What challenges and opportunities did you have when beginning to expand your writing interests into YA / Teen Fiction?

Kelley Armstrong: I’d had an idea for a YA novel for a while (arising from the plot of Stolen) But I didn’t feel ready to tackle a teen narrator until my own daughter was old enough to help me with establishing the voice. Few things are uglier in YA than getting the point of view of a “teen” from an author who obviously hasn’t been a teen in a very long time! That was the biggest challenge. The biggest opportunity was the chance to write for a whole different market, which included my own children.

Spec Can: What were the key differences in writing characters for YA than for adult fiction?

Kelley Armstrong: While I cover a lot of narrator ages in my adult series, teens are much different.  There’s the dialogue of course—making the characters sound like teens.  But when I’m writing adults, whether they’re 25 or 45, they’re dealing with a similar set of issues (jobs, finances, marriage & children). Teens are at a different place in their lives, and the characters need to reflect that.  They also have a limited set of tools for dealing with problems.  If I have an adult character on the run, they can empty their bank accounts, get fake ID, hop on a plane and rent a hiding place.  Fifteen-year-olds can’t.

Spec Can:  What drew you to write about the supernatural?

Kelley Armstrong: I’ve been fascinated by the paranormal since I was a child.  I blame it on too many Saturday mornings watching Scooby-Doo.  By now, I have no idea why I’m so attracted to it—I just know that I love writing in this genre.

Spec Can:  What myths of the monstrous and magical do you draw on when you write?

Kelley Armstrong: I cherry-pick from as much existing folklore as I can find, to create creatures that best suits my vision, always looking at which traits would make the most logical sense if such creatures really did exist undetected in contemporary society.

Spec Can: What is distinct or different about the supernatural characters you create?

Kelley Armstrong: Nothing is uniquely my own.  Where I deviate from the more common myth (like needing silver bullets to kill werewolves) I make those decisions based on what I consider most plausible.  If werewolves needed silver bullets to die, what happens when they’re involved in what should be life-ending situations, like being run over by a transport truck?  Do they just get up and walk away?  Wouldn’t someone notice?  For me, in the world I created, it made more sense if they could be killed by any means a human can be killed. But there’s plenty of folklore where werewolves can be killed by any means, so I’m not distinct there. I’m just selecting a less common trait.

Spec Can: What werewolf myths do you create and how are they different than the werewolves of other authors?

Kelley Armstrong: The most common werewolf in the twentieth century was the “man-killing beast,” some guy who changes into an ape-like or bear-like creature every full moon and ravages the countryside killing everything in sight.  That’s scary, as monsters go, but it doesn’t really explain why such a creature is a werewolf.  Wolves avoid humans.  Wolf attacks on humans are extremely rare. I chose the portrayal that re-asserted the “wolf” in “werewolf.”  Variations on it have been done many times, so it’s nothing new.

Spec Can: Where do you think Canadian supernatural fiction is heading from here?

Kelley Armstrong: I don’t think it’s heading anywhere different than supernatural fiction in general, which is beginning a downswing. It will never go away completely, but the market will be smaller.

Spec Can: What is the role of “Otherness” and the figure of the outsider in your work?

Kelley Armstrong: Well, the series is called “The Otherworld.” [Smiles] That’s a common term for a supernatural subculture within a contemporary society. It emphasizes the otherness of the people there. They form their own culture, based on that which makes them different from others.

Spec Can: What is the role of gender in your Otherworld series?

Kelley Armstrong: My goal is to let it play as small a role as possible. Of course characters are male or female, and shaped by that, but otherwise, as characters, they are equal—just as likely to be strong or weak, good or bad, intelligent and capable… or not.

Spec Can: Your character Elena is the only female werewolf in the world of the Otherworld. What significance was there in creating a single female werewolf? What issues did you want to explore by focusing on her femininity?

Kelley Armstrong: In a lot of the folklore, werewolves are male. This seems to arise from the use of werewolves to explain brutal behavior by people—they did it because they’re really part beast. Women represent a small percentage of serial killers and mass murderers (and, if they are responsible for multiple deaths, they usually use less bloody methods, like poisoning). So most werewolves in folklore are male. That made it easy for me to postulate a male-line genetic basis for it, and therefore have a single female, then explore what it would be like to be a woman in that very male-dominated world.

Spec Can: What is the role of characters hiding themselves and ‘passing’ as human?

Kelley Armstrong: My characters struggle with the same problems as everyone else–family, romance, career, friends.  While it’s fun to create a vampire rock star, it takes a fantastical being and puts him in a “fantasy” lifestyle.  Readers can relate better to supernaturals who are programmers, lawyers, journalists, professors etc.  It’s also possible to create a world where everyone knows about the supernaturals, but that opened up problems and scenarios that didn’t really interest me. I was more interested in the identity issue of hiding one’s true self rather than the issues of fitting into society when you are openly different.

Spec Can: Even though your characters are supernatural, they reveal a lot about the natural and the human experience. What is the role of the supernatural for revealing things about human beings and society?

Kelley Armstrong: The supernatural can be a way of showing people dealing with issues in a larger-than-life fashion. I often have issues of identity in mine—finding one’s true self, accepting the self, finding one’s place in society. Having a character deal with being, for example, a werewolf lets me do that in a fun and entertaining way.

Spec Can: Do your characters ever take you to places that you didn’t intend to go? Do they take on personalities of their own?

Kelley Armstrong: I’ve had several characters that didn’t turn out the way I envisioned them in the plotting stage, usually minor characters.  One was Zoe, the vampire thief in Broken.  I’d originally pictured her as a possible romantic interest for my bachelor werewolf, Nick.  Their personalities would have gone well together.  Except that once she came alive on the page, she was a lesbian…which was a bit of an obstacle to my matchmaking plans [Smiles]

Spec Can: What is the role of race and ethnicity in your work?

Kelley Armstrong: My work is more concerned with supernatural race—how does being a witch or a sorcerer impact your life, how do you deal with those prejudices and expectations. Otherwise, it’s like sexuality. The characters are what they are, as they appear to me when I create them. They aren’t homogenously white and heterosexual, but I’m not checking off boxes either, to make sure I’m accurately representing modern society. In these books, it’s the supernatural type representation that’s more important for the stories I’m telling.

Spec Can: What is the virtue of creating characters outside of the mainstream?

Kelley Armstrong: They’re more interesting! [Smiles] You can explore different types of situations and explore them in unique ways. Of course, it’s also interesting to take a mainstream character and put them into those “outside of mainstream” situations, but I’ve found that my readership responds better to the outsiders.

Spec Can: What do you hope your readers will take away from reading your novels?

Kelley Armstrong: I hope they enjoyed it. That’s really all any writer can hope for—that a book did what it was supposed to and entertained them.

Spec Can: Several of your characters express a desire to learn about themselves and the feeling of not belonging. What makes characters who feel that they don’t belong so interesting?

Kelley Armstrong: I think it’s an issue that many readers deal with themselves. Most people feel that they are different from the mainstream in some way, which I think just means that mainstream is a far more narrow category than mass media would have us believe. Even the simple act of fiction reading isn’t often depicted in mainstream media—how often do characters seem to sit down with a book. Even if they do, it’s usually literary or “book club” not genre.

Spec Can: Your book Bitten has been picked up as a television series. How involved will you be in the writing process?

Kelley Armstrong: They’ve been keeping me informed and asking my opinion on various matters, but I’m well aware that this is their version of my story rather than a televised copy of it.

Spec Can: What makes supernatural characters so interesting to today’s audience?

Kelley Armstrong: They allow us to stretch our imaginations and ask “what if” beyond our normal reality–what if we could change into wolves, what if we could speak to the dead?  With supernatural fiction, it’s less of a stretch than traditional fantasy because we’re dealing with concepts most of us already understand (werewolves, vampires, ghosts)

Spec Can: What is the most challenging thing about writing the supernatural?

Kelley Armstrong: I used to say the world-building, because that’s a huge part of the work. It’s fun, but it is a challenge. Now, though, I’d say that an equally big challenge is standing out in a crowded market. In a way, that’s tougher. With world-building, I’m in control. I just need to do the work. I can’t control the market, though.

Spec Can: What was it like to be an author in residence at Trent University? Is there anything that you want to share about the experience with other authors?

Kelley Armstrong: I loved it! I always enjoy the chance to speak to young writers, and this was the

Photo of Kelley Armstrong with Jess Grover at Trent University’s Alumni House.

perfect opportunity. Everyone was wonderful and eager to learn, and that made it a very positive experience that I won’t forget.

Spec Can: What new projects are you currently working on? What new and exiting things should we be looking for from you over the next few years?

Kelley Armstrong: I’ve sold a new adult trilogy that has some supernatural elements, but is more mystery. The first book, Omens, comes out in October 2013. I’m also trying my hand at middle grade, having just sold a Norse-myth-based trilogy that’ll be co-written with Melissa Marr. Both will start in 2013.

You can find out more about Kelley Armstrong at her website http://www.kelleyarmstrong.com/ . You can read some of her free online fiction at http://www.kelleyarmstrong.com/free-online-fiction/

 I want to thank Kelley Armstrong for taking the time to do this interview and for letting readers know about her current projects. It has been a pleasure to talk to her again.

Cruising for Blood

A Review of Tanya Huff’s Blood Price
By Derek Newman-Stille

Tanya Huff’s books never disappoint me. I am always impressed with her ability to work in multiple genres of Speculative Fiction from hard Science Fiction to High Fantasy, to Urban Dark Fantasy and Horror.

Blood Price, the first of Huff’s Blood Books is perhaps one of my favorite books of all time, so it took a long time for me to develop the courage to review it. One of Huff’s protagonists in the series, Vicki Nelson, is a strong female detective character, willing to take risks to get the job done. She doesn’t rely on preternatural strength or dark magic but instead counters these in her opponents with her own gift at detective work. Huff uses this character to undo the notion of ‘female intuition’ that often pervades urban fantasies featuring female protagonists. Instead, Vicki’s intuition often leads her away from the truth, and it is only through solid detective work and a mind that is open to far-fetched possibilities that she is able to uncover the root of crimes.

Vicki is also a character who is going blind due to retinitis pigmentosa and has already lost much of her night vision. Unlike the disabled characters in many novels, this does not create a sense of vulnerability in the representation of Vicki. If anything, Vicki feels the need to take greater risks and be stronger and more self-reliant than all of those around her to compensate for her own issues with her reduced vision. Vicki is a figure at the intersection between her identity as a former female police officer (who therefore has to prove that she is more ‘ballsy’ than the male cops around her), and her new identity as a disabled person (which she frequently sees as a personal vulnerability that she needs to compensate for by being confrontational with the forces of darkness around her).

Huff’s other protagonist, Henry Fitzroy, is the vampire bastard (i.e. illegitimate) son of Henry VIII. He has become a romance author in the series because of the ability for romance authors to pass as eccentric and therefore explain his late-night hours, his unpredictable personality, and the frequent male and female visitors to his apartment (all for research, of course). Henry shows a sexual interest in both men and women, and, unlike the portrayal of many bisexual characters, his sexuality is not formative to his identity, it is merely another part of his character along with his authorship, his vampirism, and his advanced years (none of which show on his frozen-in-time face). He is arrogant, self-assured, but also incredibly likeable and human, and willing to accept diversity.

My favorite Henry scene involves him waiting for unspeakable evil in the park and getting distracted when he is cruised by a man who assumes that he waiting for something else in the dark. This scene aptly captures Huff’s sense of humour and the need for interjections of joy in the depths of the darkness of her plot.

This first of the Blood Books series primarily focuses on misunderstandings and misinterpretation of the facts. Characters are led to make assumptions about the nature of crimes that have been occurring in Toronto and have to face both their own limited ideas about the nature of the world, while similarly battling a dark force that relies on this misunderstanding and confusion to achieve its goals. It is only through challenging assumptions and developing a more complex and diverse understanding of the world that Vicki is able to approach an incomprehensible darkness that is spreading through the city.

Huff’s Blood Books were made into the Lifetime series BloodTies, and the television drama was not able to capture the richness of Huff’s characters or the depth of her storylines. Unlike the TV series, which often perpetuated rather than deconstructed stereotypes, Huff’s characters defy stereotypical or limited portrayals. The Lifetime series actually got rid of my favorite character, the homeless, gay friend of Vicki and later lover of Henry, Tony. Tony’s potency as a character was that he was able to show the reality of queer existence for many men – he was forced to be homeless (there is an inference that this may be due to homophobia he experienced), had to engage in risky activities due to his homelessness, but is ultimately a good person who wants to have a long term, positive relationship and get off the streets.  Huff illustrates that understanding and giving someone a chance can be formative in their identity and provide a chance for them to contribute to the world around them.

My only desire for a change with this book series… is that I wish I had purchased the books now with their new, impressive covers instead of years ago when they had the terrible “TV tie in” covers. Huff’s characters and narrative style create a direct line to my heart…

To explore more about Tanya Huff, visit her site at http://andpuff.livejournal.com/ .