A Spectacle of Beauty and Estrangement

A Spectacle of Beauty and EstrangementA review of Marie Bilodeau’s Nigh Book 3 (S &G Publishing, 2015)

The third book of Nigh by Marie Bilodeau brings the reader into the realm of fairy itself, a land hostile to human life but simultaneously an object of desire. Bilodeau’s fairy realm is a land that is changeable between one moment to the next from a space of growth to a landscape of decay. It is a realm of uncertainty and this poses a problem for Al, a mechanic who always wants to know how things work and wants to take things apart and figure out the mechanisms for them to run. The fairy realm resists the very notion of being understood. It resists logic and the more Al probes into the world, the more she is met with confusion and disorientation.

Bilodeau, always an author who plays with the complexity and power of stories to shape human lives, explains the history of telling fairy tales as a way for human beings to prepare later generations for the experience of entering into the fairy realm. She plays with the notion of speculation as a way of understanding another reality and suggests that story-telling has historically been a survival mechanism for human contact with other realms. In this way, Marie Bilodeau invites us to question the way story-telling tells us about our own world, about ourselves, and about the way we understand our relationship to the world. Nigh Book 3 plays with the landscape in a unique way, experimenting with a question that Northrop Frye suggests much of Canadian literature deals with: “Where is here?” The fairy realm represents a space entirely defined by uncertainty. The uncertainty of the fairy landscape is not divorced from human responsibility. We are partially responsible for that shifted, changed, hostile landscape where the fairies have dwelled. We are told by the fairies that human actions have fragmented the fairy world and that damage and changes to our environment have meant that the fairy worlds (parallel to our own) have been torn apart, families ripped asunder. The altering of our world has similarly altered and changed the realm that has become harmful to us. 

In this third book of Nigh, Bilodeau gives context to the fairies, greying their morality instead of presenting them as entirely ‘evil’. The fairypocalypse is made more complex by adding the complexities of fairy voices to the experience, giving them the opportunity to explain their position and challenge that view of them as entirely other to human experienc eand hostile to human existence. 

The human presence in the fairy landscape is marked by loss, by a change so hostile to humanity that the human beings themselves begin to slip away, losing elements of their identity. While in the fairy world, characters experience the infiltration into their bodies of difference, strangeness, and, in some cases, the loss of memory and selfhood. Bilodeau’s characters are need to question their identity, their memories, and the things that make them who they are as they submerge into a strange, foriegn, and hostile land. In Nigh book 3 Marie Bilodeau examines our complex relationship to our landscapes and the way that our environment changes and alters us.

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

Advertisements

Sands of Time and Landscapes of Memory

Nigh-book-2-completed

Cover image of Nigh Book One, Courtesy of the author

A Review of Marie Bilodeau’s Nigh Book Two (S&G Publishing, 2014)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Memory, made of time and place and story, shapes Marie Bilodeau’s Nigh Book 2, a tale about the return of the faeries and the collision of human and faerie cultures. Like the first book of Nigh, this book explores the power of the slippery landscape, changing and shifting with the will of the faeries, but the fluidity of the landscape evokes a need in her characters to hold on to their identities, to hold more tightly to family, memory and what makes their lives meaningful and resist the changes that they are plunged into.

Humanity has been displaced by the intrusion of faerie into our world, but so have the faeries who have ventures from their kingdom of centuries into the human world that had cast them out and changed over time. Nigh Book 2 mixes ideas of place and belonging with a sense of uncertainty.

The faerie world runs on a different time than our own, and this mix of two times and two landscapes allows Bilodeau to explore the relationship between memory and times, places, connections, and the stories that shape our identities. The intrusion of faeries into the human world is accompanied by their intrusion into human minds and bodies – their exertion of control over humanity through their melodic voices and powerful gaze – but the allure of faeries pulling humanity in also offers an escape from memory, from guilts of the past. This second book of Nigh offers the chance for readers to look at how memory is connected to our needs, fears, anxieties, desires, and that it too is changeable like the fairy world. Bilodeau disrupts the idea that memory can be preserved and that by holding on to our memories we can resist change because encounters with faeries are always encounters with instability and fluidity.

To discover more about Marie Bilodeau and the books of Nigh, visit http://mariebilodeau.blogspot.ca/p/nigh.html

To listen to an interview I conducted with Marie Bilodeau about Nigh, visit https://speculatingcanada.ca/2015/03/28/speculating-canada-on-trent-radio-episode-31-an-interview-with-marie-bilodeau-about-nigh/

To read my review of Nigh Book One, visit https://speculatingcanada.ca/2015/03/08/not-tinkerbell-welcome-to-the-fairypocalypse/

Cover Images of The Books of Nigh, courtesy of Marie Bilodeau

Cover Images of The Books of Nigh, courtesy of Marie Bilodeau

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

Definitely Not A Chameleon.

A Review of Jason Loo’s The Pitiful Human-Lizard Issue 1 (May, 2014)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Few superheroes call themselves “pitiful”. Most tend to hypermasculinize themselves to try to make themselves seem beyond the human, more powerful, further beyond moral critique, but Jason Loo’s The Pitiful Human-Lizard plays with the superhero genre and opens it to critique, question, and, yes, pity.

Jason Loo brings a distinctly Canadian aesthetic to the superhero genre and challenges the notion of moral ease for heroic work. His superhero The Pitiful Human-Lizard has few powers at the start – glue that allows him to stick to walls, but no super strength, no laser vision, no power ring… and he keeps failing his Brazilian Jujitsu classes. Also… he has to hold on to a regular day job… and, with transit time on the subway, that doesn’t give him much time to engage in the superhero business. In order to make ends meet and pay for the repairs to his costume, he even has to undergo drug trials.

Loo creatively takes on the hypermasculinity and intense gender divisions of the superhero genre by creating a superhero who is nominally pitiful, and minimally powerful. He is incredibly outclassed by Toronto’s female superhero Mother Wonder, who has all of the powers (super strength, invulnerability, laser vision) of Superman AND is also a mother with children. The Pitiful Human Lizard just wants to have a chance to collaborate with the big leagues, which is a nice change from the majority of the comic industry which generally leaves the superheroine in the support role. The Pitiful Human-Lizard dwells mostly in the shadows around greater heroes, often serving as a distraction for villains rather than a key threat.

Most superheroes are created by a fundamental loneliness, which is constructed as the necessary setting for creating a figure dependent on no one but themselves to emphasize the superhero’s personification of the American dream of ultimate independence and self reliance. But, he is not a self made man. The Pitiful Human-Lizard relies on his (very much living) parents, piecing together various networks of support in order to conduct his acts of superheroism.

Jason Loo is comfortable expressing the fallibility of superheroes, disrupting their certainty, and in so doing, pointing out the arrogance of the “regular” superhero and our need as a society to have a superhero who is uncertain.

Loo has created a Toronto superhero, putting him in battles at Toronto scenes like the Royal Ontario Museum to counter the habit of Hollywood for trying to create Toronto as the Everycity, filming in Toronto but then calling it New York, Seattle, or whatever city they need for the plot of their film. He has created a superhero who talks about the issues of Toronto life as he travels from place to place on the TTC (subway) and, at the end of this first comic, encounters a supervillain who bears a striking resemblance to Toronto’s Mayor Rob Ford.

This is a lizard who is not a chameleon… he is fundamentally at odds with his place, uncertain, and questioning. He expresses the diasporic feeling of many people in large cities, lost to obscurity but wondrously awkward.

To find out more about The Pitiful Human-Lizard, visit the facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/PitifulHumanLizard or the kickstarter page at https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/761064731/torontos-new-superhero-the-pitiful-human-lizard-is