UnBuried, UnSettled, and UnEarthed

A review of UnEarthed: The Speculative Elements Series Volume 3 Edited by Sherry Ramsey, Julie Serroul, and Nancy Waldman (Third Person Press, Cape Breton, 2012).
By Derek Newman-Stille

Cover Photo of UnEarthed Courtesy of Third Person Press

Once again Third Person Press has illustrated the incredible speculative work of Cape Breton authors with the third instalment of their Speculative Elements Series: UnEarthed. This volume, focussed on the element of earth, demonstrates the diversity of speculative stories that can originate from something as simple as the theme of “Earth”. Stories in this volume range from horror, to science fiction, to fantasy, and all of the genre-crossing points between them. Earth in this volume are related to themes of life and death, the hidden, buried things that resurface, notions of home and diaspora, and the general unsettling that can occur when the foundations of the world we live in are shaken, making Earth a ubiquitous symbol for exploring ideas of selfhood and our relationship to the world around us. Although speculative in format, these stories explore classic Canadian themes such as the unearthing of family secrets, unearthing hidden social issues, and unearthing buried memories.

The Earth theme serves as a great platform for the classic speculative quality of questioning the hidden aspects of the world around us, and encompasses the horror element of turning the normative, the predictable, the familiar into an unpredictable quality, an unsettling of the norms around us. The stories in this volume range from stories that feature alien mud worlds, spirits of the landscape, zombies crawling from their earthen graves to question ideas of conformity, threats from and to the natural world, buried memories, things hidden beneath the earth, social issues that are buried to make society seem more civilised, the animal buried beneath the surface of human civility, the haunting nature of the past, and notions of home made unfamiliar or violated.

This volume explores different forms of knowledge and many of the stories contained within it explore the idea that folklore and story-telling is itself a valid system of knowledge. This is made all the more clear based on the quality of the stories contained in this volume and the ability for these story-tellers to evoke new thoughts and ideas in the reader, unsettling the taken-for-granted notions that they have built around them.  UnEarthed illustrates the pedagogical value of story-telling, reminding readers that stories are told to educate and teach the reader that nothing is as it seams and that everything should be questioned, uncovered, and unburied.

After reading this book you will never look at things as normal as grass, mud, herbs,  or even your own home the same way again. Prepare to have all of your hidden thoughts, worries, and questions unearthed.

You can discover more about UnEarthed and the Speculative Elements Series at Third Person Press’ website: http://www.thirdpersonpress.com/ . You can also find a review of one of the short stories in this volume on Speculating Canada posted on September 10th.

Animal Cruelty and the Animal in the Human

A review of Stephanie Snow’s “Dog Fight” (In Unearthed: The Speculative Elements Series Volume 3, Third Person Press, Cape Breton, N.S., 2012).
By Derek Newman-Stille

Cover Photo for UnEarthed Courtesy of Third Person Press

Werewolves are traditionally figures of excessive masculinity – excessively hairy, excessively aggressive, and excessively woodsy. They often embody characteristics associated with masculine stereotypes. It is therefore exciting that Stephanie Snow presents queer werewolves in her short story “Dog Fight”. Unlike a lot of authors who write about queer subject matter, she does not make the queerness the defining feature of these werewolves, but rather an aspect of their wider identity. Also, unlike many authors, she does not feel the need to feminise gay men, but rather presents them as highly masculine figures – a werewolf who engages in the sport of dog fighting and his partner who negotiates with others involved in the dog fights.

Snow uses the werewolf narrative and the context of the dog fight as a method of critically engaging with the idea of animal cruelty and the human disregard for animals. By using the figure of the werewolf, a figure in the body of an animal, but with a human viewpoint and subjectivity, she allows the reader to engage with the animal perspective as it and other animals are pushed to engage in competition for human enjoyment. Although focused on animal cruelty in dog fights, Snow encourages her readers to think about the way we submit animals to our needs and desires overall, making them incidental casualties to human greed and the oppression of nature. She illustrates that animalistic figures are not the monsters of our society, but are rather oppressed victims of human control.

Like many werewolf narratives, Snow uses the werewolf to explore notions of human civility and the thin veneer of human civilisation that allows us to ignore all of the monstrous subcurrents of human nature. She illustrates that it is not the animalistic, instinctual part of human nature that should be feared, but the repression of that nature, the systems of chains and controls that we place on our perceived animalistic side that actually only provide a mechanism for justifying our cruelties.

To read more about the Speculative Elements Series, visit Third Person Press at http://www.thirdpersonpress.com/