Sharing Darkness

A review of Marie Bilodeau’s Destiny’s Blood (Dragon Moon Press, 2010)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Cover for Marie Bilodeau's Destiny's Blood courtesy of http://mariebilodeau.blogspot.ca/p/destinys-blood.html

Cover for Marie Bilodeau’s Destiny’s Blood courtesy of http://mariebilodeau.blogspot.ca/p/destinys-blood.html

The motivation to find home, to create a sense of belonging shapes much of our experiences. We are tied to ideas of family, place, and community. Marie Bilodeau’s Destiny’s Blood is an exploration of home from the perspective of loss, need, warring desires, and conflict. Even when venturing through the dark depths of space… we still keep getting called home, returning to a place of memories and we are always searching for a selfhood that is attached to the notion of connection.

Layela and her twin sister Yoma have been on the streets since youth, surviving through theft and constant movement to avoid any legal troubles, but after Layela was assaulted by a Kilita who ripped into her thoughts to see her visions, Layela’s life has been shaped by trauma. Seeing the future in her visions, she is nonetheless constantly mentally returning to the past, to that moment of pain and horror that has shaped her. Seeking to create a future for herself that is calm, that contrasts with the horrors she sees in her visions at night, she decides to create a flower shop, to settle down amid the relaxing scent of vegetation and create a sense of belonging, a place to be home.

But the future persists and Layela is ripped again from the calm she attempts to forge around her pained heart when her sister disappears, she is arrested without warrant, and the police destroy the home she tried to create for herself. She is uprooted, pulled from the planet that she hoped to turn into her home and is once again tossed into the abyss of space and a future that is not as uncertain as it should be.

Destiny’s Blood asks whether home can be a place one has no memory of, whether a distant star can call to one’s blood and stir up a restlessness that can’t find a home no matter how much one tries to create one. Layela is being called by the star around which she was born, a star that is linked to myth… and more personally to her own origins and sense of belonging and it is a star that feeds the universe with ether, a substance that several alien races depend on and that has dwindled in recent years, leaving many of them all but extinct.

Marie Bilodeau’s space fantasy maps out ideas of destiny and the longing for home that shapes people, propels them into the void, searching for something constantly and unable to settle. She charts the way that that need to belong lets people react with extremes: willing to sacrifice the present for a past that lingers, willing to kill to create home. Longing is like pain, like the emptiness of space waiting to be filled by a sense of the familiar, a place of belonging. Her characters are motivated by a persistent sense of loss, and yet they experience it in unique and nuanced ways, illustrating the complexity of loss: urged toward a desire to escape, to forget, to hold on to anything possible, to protect, or even to hate, to delve into the seemingly endless pit of vengeance that the persistence of loss can create.

Destiny’s Blood conveys a transient aesthetic, a constant searching that would be evoked by being tossed out across a cosmic void.

To find out more about Marie Bilodeau’s work, visit her website at http://mariebilodeau.blogspot.ca/ .

To discover more about Destiny’s Blood and other books in the destiny series, visit http://mariebilodeau.blogspot.ca/p/destinys-blood.html .

If you want to hear Marie Bilodeau do a short reading from the Destiny series, visit her author reading at https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2014/06/24/speculating-canada-on-trent-radio-episode-9-a-mythic-night-an-author-reading-by-marie-bilodeau-and-karen-dudley/

Marie Bilodeau and Derek Newman-Stille at Sadleir House for the author reading A Mythic Night

Marie Bilodeau and Derek Newman-Stille at Sadleir House for the author reading A Mythic Night

 

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Darkly Dislocating

A Review of Eileen Kernaghan’s Sophie, In Shadow (Thistledown Press, 2014).

Cover Photo of Sophie, in Shadow courtesy of Thistledown Press

Cover Photo of Sophie, in Shadow courtesy of Thistledown Press

Suspended in the icy waters of the Atlantic Ocean after the Titanic was pulled beneath the waves, Sophie’s life was forever marked, forever suspended between life and the icy, shadowy depths of death. Re-living her brush with death in her dreams, Sophie brings visions of tragedy into her waking world, piercing the veils of the present to experience tragedies and horrors of the past, present, and future, moments steeped in death.

Death chases Sophie like an impenetrable miasma, thickening in moments of dislocation from the quiet life and English gentlewoman is supposed to experience, and drifting in clouds of horror into Sophie’s perception.

Eileen Kernaghan creates a sense of wondrous dislocation for the reader, a darkly beautiful reminder that every place is haunted, every locale filled with ghosts of memory from the past. Sophie, In Shadow reminds readers that we dwell in a place of fantasy, of wonder and excitement, and that those dreamy places of magic and mystery are always steeped in the shadows of past horrors and veiled in secrets. We are always one step through the veil of time away from tragedy.

Kernaghan reveals landscapes written about as darkly mysterious in the era of British colonialism and scarred by that process of colonial control, made dark by the tragedies committed to maintain colonial control and mysterious by the secrecy and denials of those in power. Sophie’s sense of dislocation from a life marred by tragedy and her ability to see tragedies of the past, present, and future at a distance is mirrored bin the colonial world around her where British subjects try to create an English landscape overtop of the locations they seek to control, building “home” in other territories where they are forever reminded that these places are not home and any sense of home is fiction maintained by harsh regulation, segregation, secrecy, and violence.

Set in the early 1900s, Kernaghan creates a novel of secrecy, espionage, violent resistance, and the exercise of power (both within the body through the regulation of psychic abilities, and throughout India through British governmental control).

To discover more about Sophie, In Shadow, visit Thistledown Press’ website at http://www.thistledownpress.com/html/search/genre/Young_Adult_Fiction/sophie_in_shadow_p586.cfm

To read more works by Eileen Kernaghan, visit her website at http://www.eileenkernaghan.ca/ .

Life Drained by Residential Schools

A review of David Jon Fuller’s “Sin A Squay” in Tesseracts Seventeen: Speculating Canada from Coast to Coast (Edge, 2013)

Cover Photo for Tesseracts Seventeen: Speculating Canada from Coast to Coast courtesy of http://www.edgewebsite.com/books/tess17/t17-catalog.html

Cover Photo for Tesseracts Seventeen: Speculating Canada from Coast to Coast courtesy of http://www.edgewebsite.com/books/tess17/t17-catalog.html

By Derek Newman-Stille

Residential schools were a real life horror for indigenous Canadians. Taken from their homes, punished for speaking their own language, forced to abandon their own culture and lifestyle, subject to abuse and starvation, Canadian aboriginals from the late 1800s to the mid 1900s endured victimization by very real monsters.

David Jon Fuller’s short story “Sin A Squay” takes the very real horror of residential schools and overlays it with modern mythical monsters. Jenny and Marion were both subject to torture at a residential school – beaten, starved, cut off from their family and their heritage they had their lives drained from them… literally. While at the MacDonald Indian Residential School in Saskatchewan, the girls were subject to both psychological and physical draining by the vampiric Miss Harrow.

Trained through violence to submit to others, Marion lost the empowerment that her werewolfism brought to her, her alpha status, and it is only through her confrontation with the person who subjected her to violence, Miss Harrow, that she is able to discover herself and her own power.

David Jon Fuller brings attention to the historical issues around the treatment of aboriginal people in Canada, particularly aboriginal women. He highlights the violence of the residential school system by showing two women drained of their lifeforce by a vampiric other, here representing a system that sought to drain aboriginal people of their heritage (their blood). Using the figure of the werewolf, Fuller brings attention to the way that the residential school system claimed that its role was to “tame” aboriginal Canadians and force them to submit to a white domestic culture in which they were treated as pets. Marion’s werewolf side has suppressed its role as an alpha to others because of this depriving of independence and freedom of thought.

He highlights the continued and very pressing concern about the disappearance of aboriginal women in Canadian history and its continuity today. When Miss Harrow is feeding on children and killing them, stashing them in the basement, they are ignored by the police who believe that any white woman working for the residential school system would be above reproach.

You can explore David Jon Fuller’s work at http://www.davidjonfuller.com/ .

Read more about the collection Tesseracts Seventeen: Speculating Canada from Coast to Coast on Edge’s website at http://www.edgewebsite.com/books/tess17/t17-catalog.html .

Speculating Canada on Trent Radio Episode 3: An Interview with Greg Bechtel

As part of the Ontario leg of his tour for the collection Boundary Problems (Freehand Books), Edmonton author Greg Bechtel was able to swing by the Trent Radio studio to discuss his own work and some overall trends in Canadian Speculative Fiction.

In our interview we postulate that reality is a set of social conventions, a creation and that therefore speculative fiction is partaking in an overall realm of fictive subjects. We discuss the way that good realist fiction, like good SF, should complicate notions of reality and estrange us from taken for granted assumptions about “the way things are”.

Bechtel’s work blends and mixes the speculative and the realist in his collection Boundary Problems and this contributes to his overall sense that reality is a blend of experience and fiction.

Greg Bechtel brings attention to the short story as a focus of interest, not as a stepping stone to the novel. He discusses the potential of the short story as a place for experimentation since readers are more willing to take short ventures into experimental media.

Bechtel is interested in stories and letting stories tell themselves. He reminds listeners that the world and the self are both collections of stories. We discuss memories as stories –  flexible, changeable, and suspect. In our overall discussion of memory as it appears in his stories, Bechtel brings attention to the notion of trauma and the idea that trauma is a place where stories can be pulled into a black hole, a place from which nothing escapes. But, telling these stories of trauma, sharing them,  means that they are no longer black holes because the story escapes and proves that things can escape.

In our conversation, Greg Bechtel directly faces a challenge many authors who are also academics have – analyzing his own work.

Check out our radio interview by clicking on 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.

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

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 .

Between Coping and Addiction

A review of Brandon Crilly’s “Remembrance” from OnSpec # 95, vol 25, no 4

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

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


By Derek Newman-Stille

Set in the future, Brandon Crilly’s “Remembrance” is a venture into the results of war, not on nations, but on one family. Since returning from war, Anna’s father has used an assemblage of assistive technology including a bionic prosthetic leg, but more importantly, a new technology that is purported to help soldiers cope with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). This technology allows a soldier to visit friends lost in war by simulating them in a virtual world.

Anna fears that the assistive tech her father is using is causing him to lose touch with reality and become addicted to his technology. She feels him slipping away from her as he engages more and more with his virtual world. She ponders whether the technology is helping or hindering his metal health.

It is only when Anna is able to think about her own experience of loss, the trauma that she suffered when her mother died, that she is able to understand her father. This common experience of loss lets her enter into a shared space of longing and constant coping.

Crilly provides no easy answers or simple resolutions, but rather shows that trauma and loss are always negotiated, ongoing processes for families to work out.

To read more about OnSpec, visit their website at
http://www.onspec.ca/

To find out more about the work of Brandon Crilly, visit his website at brandoncrilly@wordpress.com

Interview with Lynda Williams

An interview with Lynda Williams
By Derek Newman-Stille

It is always refreshing and exciting to have the opportunity to talk to a writer who is willing to really interrogate and question the world around them through SF, and I am glad that Lynda Williams is willing to share her insights and observations with readers and help us to step out of our taken-for-granted observations of the world around us. I am happy that she was willing to do an interview here and help us to debate and question our world. I hope that you enjoy this interview as much as I enjoyed talking to Ms. Williams about these complex topics.

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

Author and family photo courtesy of Lynda Williams

Author and family photo courtesy of Lynda Williams

Lynda Williams: I’m a nice middle-class girl who went to university, got a good job, got married, raised three great daughters and once led a grass-roots movement to get internet connectivity for the general public. Anyone interested in more about my work as an applied technologist and teacher of computing is welcome to check out my profile at LinkedIn http://www.linkedin.com/in/lyndajwilliams

My intellectual life has been equally important to me as a person. In some ways, I’ve always been an observer of life requiring a conscious effort to mimic what comes naturally to others, and felt most at home in fiction where everything has some kind of meaning. On the whole, in antithesis to the deconstructionist era in literary studies, my goal has been to construct meaning wherever I find pre-existing maxims unsatisfying. Writing is the necessary by-product.

Spec Can: In your Okal Rel Saga you explore two civilizations, the Reetions and the Gelacks, who both descended from Earth populations but were cut off from each other and Earth and culturally drifted over the years. Now, upon re-encountering one another, they are confused by different cultural customs that have developed. What inspired your interest in cultural drift and change?

Lynda Williams: Perhaps it started with the arguments about religion among my fathers’ siblings. They were all religious but could never agree with one another.  It made me think. So I read about dozens of religions. I also joined Amnesty International, became a volunteer crisis counselor and read a lot of anthropology, mythology, history, popular science and stuff like theories of culture and social order down the ages. I remember being deeply impressed by the ancient Greek play, Antigone, in which the heroine accepts a death sentence in order to honor her brother’s corpse, motivated by cultural imperatives that make no sense to a modern reader. But the dilemma is no less real.

Spec Can: What got you interested in the idea of culture contact?

Lynda Williams: Star Trek, originally. The old TV show. I branched out to history where I discovered most of the injustice surrounding culture contacts arose from an imbalance of power. That’s what got me thinking about methods of social control and what might happen if the tribal culture, like the neo-feudal Gelacks, had one kind of power (reality skimming prowess) while the culture that considers itself more advanced and sophisticated, like the Reetions, had another (medical and information science, and political infrastructure). But neither side is more powerful in an absolute way, so they have to work out their differences.

Spec Can: The topic of taboos is one of the areas where the Reetions and Gelacks differ from one another. What interested you in the idea of conflicting taboos and conflicting religious and social patterns? How can this help readers to think differently about cultural and religious difference?

Lynda Williams: I grew up with the Canadian mosaic idea of celebrating differences. Then I encountered things like a father justifying the murder of a daughter over her choice of husband and realized I was not okay with complete cultural relativity. None of the cultures of the Okal Rel Universe are without blemish. Rire is where I’d prefer to live, but Reetions can be obnoxiously superior.  In Part 5: Far Arena, for example, they are so resistant to viewing Gelacks as their equals that not even living in a transparent society prevents them from lying to themselves. Most Gelack cultures discriminate between classes of Sevolite and the Nesaks practice genocide toward “non-eternals”, which means any human less than highborn in the court biological hierarchy.  Yet there are good people in all these cultures, and individuals who think for themselves. My hope is that by examining fictional cultures in conflict, readers might learn to think through situations in their own world on a case by case basis.

Spec Can: The Reetions and the Gelacks each have different ideas about sexuality (the Reetions encouraging acceptance of sexual difference whereas the Gelacks have created a fundamentally homophobic society). What inspired your interest in sexuality? What do you hope readers will take from this interaction?

Lynda Williams: I knew nothing about homosexuality until first year university, where I spent hours discussing it with a couple of gay acquaintances in my favorite study spot, the Raven’s Wing Café. Di Mon became a homosexual the minute I learned a tough guy could be. This move gave the very principled Di Mon, who was already a well-loved main character, the same problem as Amel’s whiny abuser, H’Reth. So naturally it struck me as a perfect thought experiment.  If there’s a message in this for readers it’s a complex one about responsibility for one’s actions while, simultaneously, registering the non-trivial nature of finding oneself on the wrong side of a cultural norm.

My initial interest in sexual differences sprang from something like rebellion against male and female stereotypes. Hence the extremes, among the Gelacks, of Vrellish woman, like Vretla, and Golden Demish men, like Amel.

Spec Can: When I was younger, there were very few science fiction novels that had queer characters (unless they were portrayed as villains). How is this shifting, and what can we do to encourage more representation of LGBTQ characters?

Lynda Williams: Let the LGBTQ characters be fully realized, even if that means they won’t always be perfect role models. I’ve had readers express impatience with Di Mon, for example, because he can’t “get over” his dislike of being homosexual. Really? Given what’s at stake for him? When the idea of Di Mon jelled for me, back in the 1970s and 80s, it was radical to contemplate a gay hero. Now, it sometimes feels as if he’s lost the right to be a character with hang-ups because he has to represent something. If readers need proof that the Okal Rel Universe can also harbor a well-adjusted homosexual character, Ranar is right there. Di Mon is Di Mon, and that’s all there is to it. And Vretla is a female-chauvinist pig who believes there aren’t really any “girl-sla” women, just horny ones suffering a shortage of available males. But we love her anyway. Real people aren’t perfect. Neither are believable characters.

Spec Can: Your work often explores notions of compassion, and, particularly the point at which compassion shifts from being beneficial to almost self-harming. What inspired your interest in the complexities of compassion?

Three Versions of Amel by Yukari Yamamoto.

Three Versions of Amel by Yukari Yamamoto.

Lynda Williams: I think I’ve always admired the combination of great sensitivity and great strength, but recognized it could lead to an undesirable martyrdom.  If I’d discovered Dostoyevsky’s novel, The Idiot, at an earlier age, I might have saved myself the work of creating Amel. Amel’s history in the Okal Rel Saga also dramatizes the question of whether science should be used to “fix” people. For example, my father used to hate being on anti-depression medication because it altered his sense of who he was. But he couldn’t cope without it, either. As we become more and more able to directly intervene to change ourselves, medically, the questions Amel and his Reetion doctor, Lurol, dance around in books 1 and 5 will get nothing but more important.

Spec Can: I was at a conference recently where a speaker (Robert Runte) discussed the incredible work that you are doing including and encouraging fan participation in the Okal Rel world that you have created. What inspired you to encourage fan participation and what are some of the benefits of involving fans in the worlds you create?

A photo from Lynda Williams' Teen Years - The origins of the Okal Rel universe

A photo from Lynda Williams’ Teen Years – The origins of the Okal Rel universe

Lynda Williams: The Okal Rel experience evolved out of playing with others http://okalrel.org/i-promised-my-dolls/ , so it invites participation naturally. But it’s a misconception to assume it is easy to get involved. The very first prerequisite is to learn the Okal Rel Universe. It isn’t light reading. And it isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. I’m arriving at a stage of life where I’m losing interest in complying with marketing imperatives to make out that one’s work is “just like” something better known in order to ride on its coattails, or to define an audience niche and conform to its standards for acceptance. I count among my favorite readers high school students and university professors. What they share is a love of rich cultural settings, intense human relationships, and well-plotted stories that are sometimes funny, sometimes dramatic and always emblematic of some dilemma or concern that preoccupied the writer. When I find people among this audience who have the talent and mind-set to play with me, I welcome them. I never called them fans but collaborators. People are welcome to write fan fiction if they want, too. But that’s not the same thing. The benefits? The Okal Rel Universe is nearly as old as I am, and has matured with me under the influence of constant challenge and stimulus from others. It feels like a lived-in place for a reason. And I love collaborating, as an adult, as much as my youthful self loved playing make-believe.

Spec Can: Your encouragement of fans shows that you view readers as valuable participants in the process of creating worlds. Are there any drawbacks or challenges to fan participation?

Lynda Williams: The Okal Rel Saga is the sum of my life’s work of making meaning of my world through fiction. So I am sometimes frustrated to see it branded as a shared-universe as if all that mattered was the rule-book for how to write about Sword Law, or arbiters, or reality skimming physics.  I suppose this is a fate I brought upon myself by blurring the distinction between “pro” and “fan” that writer-culture fights to maintain. At the same time, I am proud of the people who engage with me, from the professional writers and artists to the amateurs who walked a mile with me in the ORU during an important stage of their lives, crossing the “line” between fan and collaborator. I embrace both ways of making meaning. But I sometime cringe at the label “fan” because I fear it may be taken as an insult by the professional participants. The truth, I think, is this: many (but not all) readers have the potential to be creators, but most are discouraged by what pilots in the ORU might characterize as the hard rel of doing any kind of art for a living. So they stop. I can’t help but love the creative engines of the ORU for being a micro-environment where a greater-than-usual diversity of skills, styles and even genres thrive under one “roof”. In the end, like many things about the Okal Rel phenomenon, the role of collaborators in its creation is a complex and evolving business.

Spec Can: In addition to being an author, you also work in higher education at Simon Fraser University. In what ways do these roles complement each other?

Lynda Williams: A day job makes it harder to commit time to promoting one’s work, but it’s a rich source of material. I’ve seen and participated in big changes brought about by information technology, for example, which makes me sympathetic to both Erien’s drive for progress and the resistance of conservative Demish society. The politics of Fountain Court are as much informed by life as a “nobleborn” in post-secondary institutions as by my reading of history. And my crisis centre work was an eye-opener. But my use of real life in fiction is always a mash up. Colleagues, friends and family will be hard pressed to identify themselves in any particular character. It’s the essence, not the details, of a real life problem that I abstract into fiction to examine.

One great thing about having a good day job is the freedom to write what you want. I worked as a professional writer for a few years, as a journalist. It was a great experience. But the Okal Rel Saga was what I always wanted to write and being able to do it as a part-time job meant I could take my time to get it right, over the years.

Spec Can: How is Science Fiction a process of education and learning, and how can it encourage readers to think in new ways?

Lynda Williams: It makes us think outside the box. People can have petrified attitudes about a topic due to past associations which aren’t necessarily part of the package. In science fiction, we can alter the stimulus. We can identify exactly what we want to show the reader and see if he/she has the same reaction without the usual triggers. Take the Nesaks. They loom, throughout the Saga, as the war-mongers who periodically invade the empire. Their religious motivations might suggest a jihad, and, in fact, Part 9 of the saga is called Holy War. But if there’s a touch of Islamic warriors about the Nesaks there is also a touch of American family-loving Christians who believe the rest of the world has got it all wrong. The combination of real family values and militaristic theocracy is something I’ve always had trouble reconciling. But it happens. Readers can weigh what’s right and what’s wrong about it in their reaction to the Nesaks without automatically applying beliefs they might otherwise be unable to avoid falling back on.

Spec Can: Many of your characters have been visited by trauma or have been heavily influenced by traumatic events of the past. What encouraged you to involve characters that are coping with and learning from trauma?

Lynda Williams: I think I needed to believe anything could be survivable when I was young. The more I found out about just how awful “anything” could be, the harder it was to believe. So I invented a hero, Amel, whose job was not only to survive it all but to retain the ability to love. I read up on the topic, a little, and saddled him with some of the problems suffered by abuse victims. I didn’t want him to just get up, dust himself off, and be emotionally whole. Putting yourself back together after trauma is a lot of very hard and scary work. But there’s an opportunity to learn about how to do it, or how not to do it, in studying the lives of characters. Eler, in Part 2: Righteous Anger, is messed up by the implosion of his family over religious and political differences. He reacts by spending the rest of his life poking and prodding people to prove they aren’t what they seem. Di Mon suffered a trauma in the loss of his first lover, Darren, and responds with iron self-denial and devotion to duty which, arguably, kills him in the end. But the interpretation of Di Mon’s suicide haunts the series to its conclusion. Was it a maladaptation to his homosexuality, or a rational act motivated by the desire to die with dignity?

Spec Can: In The Courtesan Prince, the Reetion civilisation is fundamentally socialist and has gotten rid of class divides, whereas the Gelack civilisation is entirely based on class distinctions and has been shaped by a strong belief in the differences between classes. Why did this idea of competing class systems interest you? What shaped your fascination with classes and how they orient societies?

Cover photo of The Courtesan Prince courtesy of Edge Publications

Cover photo of The Courtesan Prince courtesy of Edge Publications

Lynda Williams: I think I became fascinated by class distinctions because at some fundamental, instinctive level at which most people ‘get’ who is important and who isn’t, I just didn’t. I therefore found myself, from a young age, in the midst of a never-ending social game of hierarchy where I had to keep figuring out the rules. It still bewilders me why anyone would be excited about spotting a celebrity on the street, for example. But I did come with a conceit of my own. My upper class English heritage. Or, at least, the sense of it conveyed by my mother and grandmother. It made perfect sense to me that Oliver, in Oliver Twist, was a different kind of being from his fellow orphans who were what my grandmother would have termed “common children”. How my family managed to simultaneously instill in me an impression that being half-Welsh was a little bit magic, is a mystery, given what the English think about the Welsh. But I do know that one of my early mental images of Amel was as an Oliver Twist kind of character, so obviously better than those around him that it leaps out at the reader, even though it is invisible to other characters. The blindness of social systems, in other words, is revealed by the participants’ failure to see the very truth they most profess to value.

Spec Can: Your work engages with tough social questions and complex ideas. In what ways can Canadians SF ask those tough questions or help people to challenge their social situation and think outside the box?

Lynda Williams: We profess to be above class distinctions in Canada. I don’t believe it. People are always pegging each other in some hierarchy or other. The saving grace, I think, is that there are now multiple hierarchies in which to participate and we can choose which we prefer to take to heart. Just like Ilse Marin, a merely nobleborn woman of the Midlord birth rank, takes pride in being Blue Demish, we can chose to measure our own self-worth in terms of our education level, income, family, professional distinctions, volunteer roles, creative skills, etc.  We can build our identities in our chosen spheres of influence while still respecting other people’s worlds. But to be truly happy, I think, we have to make peace with the idea people just aren’t equal in all things. No amount of wishing is going to make us all equally attractive, strong or smart. Writing about how people negotiate the class system of Sevildom, within and across cultures, gives me toys to play with for dramatizing hierarchy issues of all sorts. For example, in the fourth Okal Rel anthology there’s a brilliant story by M. Alexis Pakulak about a woman who defines herself as a Sevolite, finds out she isn’t, and has to decide whether it matters. In her case, it’s mostly a psychological affair because she’s a Fractional Sevolite, but for this dilemma the question of actual differentiation of abilities wasn’t an important issue. But what if, like Gadar, in my story “Going Back Out”, it is physical? Gadar, as a natural human, will never be able to outfly a highborn. Ann’s answer is “so what!” That only means we need you all the more for Reetion purposes. “Fly for your own reasons,” says Ann. Good advice, not always easy to follow. But there’s something deeply gratifying about pursuing one’s own, particular rel, no matter what.

Spec Can:  In addition to your work as an author, you also are known for running blogs about Canadian SF. What can blogs add to the developing nature of Canadian SF? How can they help people to think differently about SF?

Lynda Williams: For many years, writing was a bizarrely private experience for me, shared primarily with a few special friends. But I wanted to get my characters out there in the world and felt the pressure to promote. Most of the ways of doing this rankled. And, let’s face it, if something goes against the grain of your soul, you aren’t apt to do it very effectively. The pleasure in writing, for me, has always been about creativity and ideas. The heroes. The questions. The larger-than-everyday feel of SF.  Blogging let me extend that preference to a wider public. It’s a social thing for me, letting me collaborate with kindred spirits in a way that feels good. It is also an outlet for my surplus thoughts and idea about life, which prevents me driving my family nuts. I enjoy inviting fellow authors and thinkers to appear on Reality Skimming. And since I’m a Canadian SF author, it is true that a good number of the guests are Canadians but that’s more an accident of overlap than a real intent to focus on Canadian SF. Some writers are fiercely national in their outlook but international in their audience. I’m probably the opposite. A would-be citizen of the world in my outlook, but Canadian by default.

Spec Can: Is there anything further you would be interested in including in this interview?

Lynda Williams: Just to thank you for the opportunity to respond to such insightful questions. People keen to talk about themselves are legion. Those game to bring their heart and mind to the task of encouraging another to explore her inward halls of thought are rarer stock.  The Okal Rel Universe is proud to count you among its readers, and I hope additional books in the series have the pleasure of your visitations there. Ack rel.

I want to thank Lynda Williams for being willing to do such deep analyses of her own work and of the world around her. I am honoured that she was willing to let me participate in this interrogation of the deeper issues expressed in her SF and to share this conversation with readers who may be interested in the worlds she creates and the potential of SF to not only create different worlds, but to question this one and encourage readers to be comfortable questioning their own worlds and their own perspectives.