Demonthropology

A review of Marie Jakober’s The Demon Left Behind (Edge, 2011)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Cover photo of The Demon Left Behind courtesy of Edge ( http://www.edgewebsite.com/ )

Cover photo of The Demon Left Behind courtesy of Edge ( http://www.edgewebsite.com/ )

The world is full of invisible entities, entities affected by us and by the chaos of our world – demons. They aren’t evil, but rather morally grey, like us, varying in their outlook on the world. But because of the link between the visible and invisible worlds, they feel the need to study us, watch and observe us and ensure that no human (visie) action will affect them or their lives. Demons have become silent observers in Marie Jakober’s The Demon Left Behind, bound by a supernatural prime directive not to interfere with our world, but to observe it in case action needs to occur – particularly since human inventions like nuclear bombs could demolish demon life as well as human life.

When the young demon Wye Wye disappears, Melusine and her team are tasked to find him and bring him home. They discover that in his quest to discover threats to the world, he has become insatiably curious about militia groups who believe that the End of Times is upon them and believe that they have a role in protecting the world from things that they see as threats to Christian hegemonic control. Melusine and her group have to employ the work of a human informant and begin to re-trace Wye Wye’s steps as well as his research in order to find out what happened to him and how he became lost in his search to understand.

Jakober’s The Demon Left Behind plays with the image of ethnography, studying humanity from the perspective of an ‘Other’ that is so different from human experience that it does not have a bodily existence apart from the time the demons spend emulating humans in order to study us. Like in many early ethnographic texts, Melusine experiences the allure of the ‘Other’, feeling a desire to become more like the human beings she is observing. She feels a pull toward bodily existence, the desire to experience human sexuality, human desire, human food, and the complexities of bodily existence. Others in her group experience disgust at the idea of bodily existence, but as Melusine becomes closer to her human informant, Paige, she begins to better understand his experience and sees value in corporeality even though it would mean the loss of her immortality if she were to take human bodily form for too long.

The Demon Left Behind evokes in readers a sense of estrangement from the human experience, an othering of our own lives so that we can look at ourselves from an outside perspective and wonder at the strange things that occur in our world that we don’t question – that we normalise.

To explore this and other Edge books, visit their website at http://www.edgewebsite.com/ .

Frankenfoot

A review of Julie Czerneda’s “Left Foot On A Blind Man” (in Silicon Dreams Ed. Martin H. Greenberg and Larry Sergiff, DAW 2001)

As a scholar of disability studies, I am always excited to read a work of Canadian SF that really engages with ideas of disability. I have rarely encountered a short story that engages with so many disability issues as Julie Czerneda’s “Left Foot On A Blind Man”. Czerneda explores what it would be like for a robotic prosthetic to gain sentience, shaping its experience through interactions with different bodies and different roles it takes on. The RRP (Robotic Replacement Part) began its existence as a prosthetic foot for a blind man, acting both as a foot and also equipped with vision to assist the man in navigating his environment, then was retrofitted to work as an arm for a bricklayer, and finally as a nose for a chef. With each of these new experiences, the RRP gains diverse experiences of different individuals and different perspectives from the body parts it has taken over. As its exploration of diverse bodies increases, so does its awareness and personal experience.

This story explores an idea that is commonly of concern to people who have received transplants: the feeling that the new part of their body is separate from them and still maintains some connection to its original host. What would it be like to feel like part of your body is separate, and perhaps altering you in small and then later significant ways? Czerneda explores that feeling in a magnified way, giving the reader a visceral experience of the feeling of bodily betrayal, and a deep internal fear of the loss of bodily integrity and selfhood.

The fear of bodily control is strongest in the first host for the RRP, an elderly blind man. Though his doctors and his son try to get him to explore replacement eyes, he is reluctant – as a former artist, he wants to maintain the authenticity of his vision and sees the eyes as firmly connected to his selfhood. His son and doctors only partially respect his wishes and when he agrees to have a replacement foot made, they install it with an eye that they feel will help him navigate his environment better. Here, Czerneda explores a common trope in the experiences of elderly people with disabilities, the belief by medical practitioners and younger family members that they know better and can impose their will on the disabled body.

When the unnamed elderly blind man begins to feel as though his cybernetic foot has a mind of its own, rather than believing in the authenticity of his experience, his son and the doctors have him committed.

This short story is told from the perspective of the RRP after it has gained full sentience. Being an entity that has gained its sentience through being various replacement parts, the prosthetic has gained a composite selfhood from its composite bodily functions. The RRP sees itself as superior to human experience, but still enjoys and craves human interaction.

Czerneda explores the difference between people who want to be upgraded and see technology as a means of augmenting what is supplied by nature and those who feel a certain authenticity of their body would be lost through the process of technological change. She magnifies the social pressure to conform to bodily norms and socially-imposed ideas of ideal bodies by illustrating characters who want to augment aspects of themselves (including sexual enhancements) and people who require prosthetics to engage with the able-bodied world. The RRP itself absorbs some of these notions of enhancement and feels that everyone should augment themselves and augment themselves in significant ways.

This story is a fantastic digital biotext, exploring ideas of bodily integrity and the impact of the technological on ideas of selfhood.

You can explore more of Julie Czerneda’s work at http://www.czerneda.com/

Science and Speculative Fiction

An editorial on Science and Speculative Fiction By Derek Newman-StilleCanada Day

Although as a society, we often create an impenetrable barrier between the arts and sciences, seeing each as separate and distinct from one another, these barriers are historically created and are social inventions. The origin of science is through philosophy, remember. Science Fiction (or more widely, Speculative Fiction) is one of the arenas where there are still obvious bridges between the arts and sciences – being a production of artistic endeavor, but also dealing with ideas coming out of technology and sciences.

Several Canadian SF authors including Julie Czerneda, Scott Fotheringham, and Nina Munteanu have operated in the field of science, noticing the opportunity that SF provides to explore critical questions around science. Czerneda has even used science fiction as a mechanism for teaching students about science, allowing them to play out scientific ideas in a science fictional setting.

SF allows authors to explore the social implications of science, the social contexts and ideological underpinnings that accompany scientific endeavors. SF explores the social ramifications of scientific ideas and developments, exploring what could happen, where things could go, what social issues could develop in correspondence with technological invention, seeing the sociocultural aspect of science rather than viewing scientific ideology as separate from the social sphere and divorced from its ideological implications. SF can provide a critical lens to scientific pursuits, providing writers and readers the opportunity to insert the deeper questions into scientific explorations: asking “Why?”, “What happens if…?”, and “What could come from this?”.

So often, scientists are wrapped up in the act of invention, in the process of discovery, that they ignore what the implications of their research could be, how it could be used (and for whom), and how it could be made to serve purposes for which it was not intended. The research for research’s sake mentality sometimes cultivates an ideology that ignores social implications. SF can provide social warnings about where things could go, bringing ideas back into the world and seeing how they could play out within a political, societal sphere.

SF often displays scientific ideas magnified, extremified, exaggerated to illustrate possible implications, highlighting the dangers as well as the potentialities that could be embodied in the process of discovery, and the hazardous places that society could take scientific invention to. SF can be a place to explore moral issues in relation to technology – what are the implications of invention? How will inventions shift our consciousness and the way we view the world? Will we still capture what is fundamentally human if we switch our basic behaviours, our patterns of thought, or even our bodies themselves?

Writers can use SF as a medium for exploring whether the social or the technological will be a greater mechanism of change. Scott Fotheringham’s The Rest is Silence explores whether social change or technological change will be the thing that will deter the destruction of our natural environment and deal with the development of pollutants. Will we be able to shift our way of thinking about the world to be more ecologically safe, or will we once again try to rely on a technological invention to solve our problems?

SF can illustrate the limits of science to repair our social problems. We tend, as a society, to put a lot of faith in the idea that science will solve our problems, whether they be environmental (as illustrated by our trend to introduce new species into ecosystems as an attempt to control those ecosystems) or medical (believing that the medical profession can solve our bodily ills).We often take science as a given solution, as an ideology founded in concepts of “Truth”, rather than a set of theories that is open to challenge and is historically contingent (formed from a specific line of thought that has developed over time). SF provides a space to question the unquestioned authority of science and our social belief that science can solve our world’s ills.

One of the fora of scientific exploration that SF has been doing a great job of critiquing is the field of medicine, and, particularly, the ideologies that are created from viewing the body mechanically (as something that can be fixed through forced normalisation). One of the areas that is most affected by the medicalised ‘normalcy’ forced on bodies is the area of diverse bodies, and people with disabilities, who are often subjected to painful procedures in an attempt to normalise their bodies rather than shifting social ideologies to allow for more diversity and more accessible spaces for diverse bodies. Leah Bobet does a great job of critiquing the medicalised body in her YA novel Above, where she presents readers with a group of individuals who are mutated or bodily different in certain ways (either with crab arms, the ability to transform into a bee, lion feet, or the ability to speak to ghosts) who have escaped from medical facilities that broke their feet, cut off their arms, and subjected them to harsh medical drugs in order to force their bodies to resemble the human ‘norms’. These people created a community called “Safe”, a place of safety away from the “Whitecoats” (doctors, scientists, psychiatrists, and other medical practitioners). The ideas of healing used by the Whitecoats were shaped by the idea that only certain bodies are normal, and any others are threatening and would be changed (even in painful and destructive ways) to represent that norm.

Camille Alexa, in her short story “All Them Pretty Babies” (from OnSpec Vol 24, No 3) takes this idea even further, presenting a future in which the population is limited, and yet, the society that is fighting for its own survival is still willing to cast out those who are bodily different, those mutations that threaten ideas of the normal. Scientists cast bodies out into areas of intense radiation while they try to preserve their ideas of what is and should be human, allowing anyone who deviates from that idea of humanity to rot in radioactive woods.

In Sparkle Hayter’s naked brunch, a doctor tries to medicalise the werewolf. Rather than accepting it as a figure of legend, he ascribes a disease to this different body: “Lycanthropoic Metamorphic Disorder”. He treats these medically diverse bodies as threatening, trying to force the werewolves to pass as human, subjecting them to harsh treatments that lead to chemical addictions and often death in an attempt to have them be more like ‘normal’, ‘regular’ human beings. He and his society deny the possibility that diverse bodies are useful and even necessary in a social system, that this diversity can be healthy.

Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake illustrates the extremes of danger that could be involved in the economicisation of medical technology. Her future is one in which pharmaceutical companies have solved all of the medical problems, but periodically release viral epidemics to spur the social need to buy more advanced cures and spend more money on medical advances to fuel the pharmaceutical industry. She shadows the issues we see in our society now where a great deal is medically possible, but the access to that medical technology is often restricted by wealth, and where often research is focussed on treatment (which is a greater long term investment) than on cures.

Canadian SF can also point out our reliance on technology. Joseph Macchiusi’s The Betelgeuse Oracle shows a world after the release of a massive EM pulse and the challenges of a world without technology. Urban spaces become deserts cut off from the modes of production, and characters have to adapt to a world that is different from the one that suffused their existence since birth. One character is so dependent on his connection to technology and particularly to communications technology and the need to be connected that he carries his dead cell phone everywhere with him and spends precious moments alternating batteries to try to re-activate it. Scott Fotheringham’s The Rest is Silence illustrates the world’s reliance on plastic and the social breakdowns that occur when plastic is removed from our society.

One of the issues with science is that it often limits things into easy (and uncritical) categories (such as binary notions of gender), and good Canadian SF complicates these theories, disrupts this boundaries and categories and shows the complexity of the issues involved. It questions the foundations of categorization altogether.

SF doesn’t just critique scientific endeavours, SF also provides the opportunity for creative thought. So often people become limited in their outlook, navel-gazing within their own field and looking only at what is currently possible instead of what is impossible. Often it is in the sphere of the impossible where new ideas are found, new visions of things, and new ways of considering things outside of what is ‘normal’. Reading and writing SF allows for the development of insights into the impossible, the places of new innovation and new ways of thinking about the world.

SF explores the “what ifs” that are the foundation of scientific hypothesis building.

Science and SF can provide a powerful conversation with each other, changing, questioning, and challenging each other.

Here are some points that SF authors have raised about Science in their Interviews on Speculating Canada:

SCOTT FOTHERINGHAM

(https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2013/03/08/interview-with-scott-fotheringham/ )

Scott Fotheringham: I wanted to use what I had learned of biology to perform a thought experiment: What would happen if plastic began to disappear? Because

Author photo courtesy of Scott Fotheringham

Author photo courtesy of Scott Fotheringham

that probably won’t happen because we choose to make it happen, I wondered if organisms could digest plastic.

Scott Fotheringham: “much of science is goal-driven or product-driven. Scientists create things that are worth a lot of money but have little social value or actually harm us.”

Scott Fothertingham: “The questions I’d like to see asked – particularly by the scientists themselves – are, What value does the work I’m doing have to society? How will this be used and, if it has potential for harm, should we pursue the research at all? So often scientists shrug their shoulders and say it’s not up to them how their inventions and discoveries are employed. This is a grievous abdication of their responsibility.”

Scott Fotheringham: “Right now our intention is to use technology to make money. Only if that changes will we able to work to heal what we’ve wrought.”

Scott Fotheringham: “Reading gives us insight into how other people view the world. If all I had was my experience, and that didn’t include reading, my view of how the world works would be narrower than it is.“

JULIE CZERNEDA

(https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2013/02/28/interview-with-julie-czerneda/ )

Julie Czerneda: “From the beginning, to me, biology and science fiction differed in degree, not substance. Biology filled me with wonder and curiosity.  All science

Photo of Julie Czerneda by Roger Czerneda

Photo of Julie Czerneda by Roger Czerneda

does. The universe does. Reading science fiction did that. Writing it? Ah, there was the legal, moral, and fun way to answer my own questions.”

Julie Czerneda: “what I write, the stories I tell, come from what interests me. So there are cool real bits of biology everywhere in my stuff. I couldn’t make up the weirdness of real life.”

Julie Czerneda: “Because nothing lives in isolation, an ecological approach gives a writer the opportunity to fit the puzzle together. To have alternative points of view and unintended consequences. All the intricate and messy ways things happen.”

Julie Czerneda: “The more the merrier! Or, in the case of living things, the more stable and resilient the community. It’s interactions that interest me. The interface between any two or more creatures is full of change and adaptation and lovely icky bits. In storytelling — and real life — I’d rather toss a problem at a group of people (or whatever I have in mind at the moment) who’ll each have a different approach to a solution, if they see it as a problem at all.”

Julie Czerneda: “I believe, passionately, that science fictional thinking is a crucial survival skill. We all need to ask questions, to speculate about possible consequences in an imaginative, yet as close to real fashion as possible, and to become able to assess incoming  information in a critical, not cynical manner. Imagination is of immense use, too often undervalued. We who live and breath SF rarely appreciate what a strong and active muscle our minds have developed. I’d like everyone to have the same advantage. To ride society’s changes, rather than be swept away. To decide where and how technology best fits our needs, before it’s in our homes.”

Julie Czerneda: “I’ve had success using science fiction with students to get them “talking science.” SF provides useful vocabulary, presented in context.  Story dialogue gives examples of conversations centred about science as something immediately important to the characters.“

Julie Czerneda: “I’ve also worked with a professor who, for many years now, has used science fiction as an integral part of his first year astronomy course. Students take what they’ve learned about the science and apply it to alien world-building as an SF writer would do it. I’m proud to say this class has been using Beholder’s Eye (my second novel) as part of this process.”

Julie Czerneda: “We need people who can bring science to life, who can clearly express complex ideas in meaningful ways to a varied audience. SF? Does it all the time.”

Julie Czerneda: “What we can’t imagine, we can’t create, so there’s one. What we can’t imagine, we can’t prepare against or for, so that’s another. Imagination is essential to our survival, as individuals and as a species, and has been for eons. The sad thing is that it can atrophy from lack of use or be stunted by those who’ve lost their own. The best? The more it’s used, the stronger it becomes.”

Julie Czerneda: “What technology is to science, I suspect curiosity is to imagination.”

Julie Czerneda: “I take pleasure and pride in what makes science fiction a speculation about the real world, by asking that one “what if …” then building a story framework that lets me play with an answer, while keeping as much of what we know factual and true to life. I’ve no problem inviting a reader to play along with FTL and aliens, but I won’t mess with anything more and there’s always a science question at the heart of my plot. What if life evolved this way or that? How might biological imperatives affect technological civilizations? Who might we become in the future? What cost is too high or risk too great, when manipulating genetics? I love how science fiction gives me insight into these and any other questions I might have.

KARL SCHROEDER

(https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2013/01/23/interview-with-karl-schroeder/ )

Karl Schroeder: “We spend much of our lives programming ourselves to react automatically rather than to think. It’s faster, costs less energy. Part of that process involves the ossification of our basic categories: man/woman, human/nonhuman. SF deliberately blurs these categories in order to almost literally wake us up. It’s strangemaking, which is a very valuable capacity, especially in the present situation when the world needs innovative new solutions to some pretty dire problems. It’s not that SF presents, or even can present, the solutions to big issues like global warming or global poverty; it’s that it helps educate us in the kind of thinking that can lead to them.”

Karl Schroeder: “Realism, in literature, painting, and science, is just the rule of the lowest common denominator.  It’s not actually a successful stance in science, for instance; strictly realist approaches to quantum mechanics fall into paradox pretty quickly. Realism achieves some stability in understanding the world by simply discarding 99% of all the available data (whether that be measurements, opinions, or political stances). That’s what the muggles do in the Harry Potter stories… They only think about, and therefore can only see, those things they’ve decided are ‘real.’ What’s that saying? “If all you’ve got is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” That’s muggle thinking.”

Karl Schroeder:  “There’s lots of technologies that are flashy, or might have this or that big effect on the world. Nuclear fusion, augmented reality, nanotech… yeah, they’re all great. But we don’t need them. There’s only one development that we need at this point in our history: better methods and systems for decision-making, both individual and collective.”

Karl Schroeder: “We have all the technologies—all the tools and capabilities and understandings—to create a Utopia on Earth now. We can absolutely solve the problem of global warming, for instance; we even know how to reverse it with technologies we currently possess. What’s become abundantly clear in the past couple of decades is that the only thing we lack is the ability to make, and follow-through on, the right decisions. So much of my work right now is dedicated to asking what we need to do to get to such capabilities.”

Karl Schroeder: “Do you imagine or write a future where anything is possible except the invention of prostheses to compensate for the inadequacies of human decision-making? Does your worldbuilding encompass universes with star flight, robots and nanotech—yet accept royalty, corporations and bureaucracies as inevitable?”

NINA MUNTEANU

(https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2012/11/27/interview-with-nina-munteanu/ )

Nina Munteanu: “The literature of the fantastic: speculative literature, science fiction, fantasy… explore—nay—celebrate and bridge the gap between logic and

Author photo courtesy of Nina Munteanu

Author photo courtesy of Nina Munteanu

imagination, the mundane and the extraordinary, the known and the strange, order and infinite possibility.”

Nina Munteanu: “Speculative fiction predicts consequence to current conditions. It projects into the future or alternate reality from current paradigms in science, technology and society. Speculative fiction uses the premise, “What if?”:  “What if this continued?” “What if we used that this way?”; “What if this caused that?”. It provides the proverbial “canary in the mine” on society. Where realist fiction makes commentary on our current society, speculative fiction takes that commentary into the realm of consequence by showing it to us in living colour. It is the ghost of future, present and past to our Scrooge. The arm of speculative fiction reaches far. This is its power over realist fiction and why, I think, mainstream realist authors like Margaret Atwood have discovered and embraced this genre (her latest three books are all speculative fiction). Speculative fiction doesn’t just “tell us”; it can “show us”.”

Nina Munteanu: “Both ecology and science fiction explore consequence in a big way.”

Nina Munteanu: “My ecological interests and experiences have influenced my writing in every way: in providing me with ideas, in world-building, and in the interactive fractal nature of plot, theme, character and premise. For me, the two are intertwined. Writing science fiction has opened the doors of creative problem solving in my scientific pursuits; and my science has opened windows of possibilities in my writing. It’s a win-win situation, really.”

Nina Munteanu: “Most science and technology presents itself in literature through premise or plot, which influence various characters in their life journeys. Ecology—like setting—manifests and integrates itself more in theme. This is because, while most of the hard sciences study the nature and behavior of “phenomena”, ecology studies the consequences of the relationship of these phenomena and the impact of their behaviors on each other and the rest of the “world”.”

Nina Munteanu: “Environmental issues are largely a global phenomenon—concerns like water quality and quantity, air pollution, resource acquisition, allocation and sharing, wildlife extinction, etc. Science fiction is the literature of consequence that explores large issues faced by humankind; it can provide an important vehicle in raising environmental awareness. Literature in general has always served as a cultural reporter on themes important to humanity….The science fiction genre—and speculative fiction particularly—explores premise based on current scientific and technological paradigms. What if we kept doing this?…What if that went on unchecked?… What if we decided to end this?… These are conveyed through the various predictive visions from cautionary tales (e.g., Atwood’s “Oryx and Crake”) to dystopias (e.g., Huxley’s “Brave New World”).

JEROME STUEART

(https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2012/12/18/interview-with-jerome-stueart/ )

Jerome Stueart: “Speculation is about seeing natural consequences, about thinking about choices and figuring out where they will lead, and about large-scale

Author photo courtesy of Jerome Stueart

Author photo courtesy of Jerome Stueart

societal consequences.  I think speculative fiction is the reason we don’t condone cloning, or have nuclear war—science fiction showed us that there are no good ways of having those, and we believed them.”

Jerome Stueart: ““I would put MORE speculative literature in the classroom…. I would teach kids to imagine their own futures—what will they be doing 20 years from now, and what will society be like.  What do they WANT society to be like?  And where do they see the forces in control trying to lead us?  Kids can be taught to think speculatively and use it wisely. “

Jerome Stueart: “I think SF can help us get ready for change, and see change as positive and desirable.  We get in our ruts.  If we want the Star Trek universe—we’re gonna have to work for it.  LOL.  But I think it can examine multiple paths for us—examining all possible scenarios and showing us a positive path.

Jerome Stueart: “Maybe that’s the greatest strength of SF—it has a wide angled lens.  SF is about commenting on societal problems more than character problems.  Maybe that’s why the characters can be more universal, and sometimes flatter, because SF is interested in the “what if” of the story—the what if of the society.  It can handle a universal character because the society is what we want to examine in SF, and the choices a society makes.”

Jerome Stueart: “I think the current problems with getting the world to understand climate change is directly related to an inability to speculate—or see the future from the evidence you have.  Society has equipped scientists to extrapolate from their research, but we don’t take their recommendations because we don’t trust science anymore, or intelligence.  Unless the majority of the population respects knowledge, has a healthy speculative mind, they can’t see consequences.”

DOUGLAS SMITH

(https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2012/10/06/interview-with-douglas-smith/ )

Douglas Smith: “That’s the power of SF and fantasy (and I’d put SF as a specific subset of fantasy)–there are fewer (no?) limitations to the types of stories that I Douglas Smith with Impossibiliacan tell.”

Douglas Smith: “If there is a social issue that a writer wishes to explore and bring attention to, speculative fiction provides the freedom through its “distorted mirror” to let a writer bring whatever focus they desire to that issue.”

Upcoming interview with Leah Bobet on Wednesday March 20th

I met Leah Bobet at CAN CON: The Conference on Canadian Content in Speculative Arts and Literature in Ottawa this past year. After chatting with her about her work, I wanted to share some of her insights with readers. You will have a chance to hear from her about her involvement in politics, studies of intersectionality, advocacy, supporting local food initiatives, disability, and the need for self-narrativisation on Wednesday, March 20 . It is great to see an author who is also involved in advocacy work, and her SF writing has a role in advocating for further diversity.

Cover photo of Above courtesy of http://www.leahbobet.com/fiction.html

Cover photo of Above courtesy of http://www.leahbobet.com/fiction.html

In our interview, Leah Bobet discusses narratives of community, the dialogue between reader and writer and how this is influenced by their own experiences, trauma, writing people and not making characters into representatives of groups,

Here are a few teasers from our upcoming interview:

Leah Bobet: “Stories about kids in wheelchairs always had them sidelined as assistants to the nice, smiling, able heroes.  So one of the goals I had for Above was to write a story where disabled people were the heroes and the able people got to die tragically for their cause.”

Leah Bobet: “I think the role of speculative fiction in confronting bias depends very strongly on the reader, the book, and whether they’re ready for each other on the day they meet.”

Leah Bobet: “Books have made me question my biases and move past them.”

Leah Bobet: “Reading, to me, is a dialogue.  It’s a conversation between the ideas in the book and the ideas in the reader’s head, and then you see how well they meet in the middle.”

Leah Bobet: “I think stories basically are the defining factor of a community.  Identity’s a funny thing: We tell stories about ourselves (and others, and that’s where we get stereotyping), and when we compare those stories and they come up the same, we decide we’re the same.  Community is shared stories.  Community splinters when our worldviews – the stories we tell about the world – get too far apart.”

Leah Bobet: “The stories I was thinking of when I wrote Above were First Nations stories; the loss of language, poverty, colonial barriers, high suicide rates, and general slow genocide going on in our cozy little first-world country….The Idle No More movement has brought a lot more attention to those stories in the last few months, and I’m really hoping it doesn’t die in the next news cycle.  It’s too wrong, and it needs too much discussion, action, and righting.”

Leah Bobet: “Many people have stories they just don’t tell, even to themselves.  It’s always worth asking why.”

Leah Bobet: “Each individual author’s such a unique mix of their own influences, interests, and passions that I don’t know if the idea of national literatures can stay as it traditionally has: some notion of a geographical “character” that influences the stories we tell.”

Leah Bobet: “We’ve just gravitated to the stories that resonate with who we are, instead of telling stories and using tropes that are bounded by the place we were born.”

Leah Bobet: “Me writing young adult books actually happened entirely by accident!  When I wrote Above, it was in my mind an adult novel.  It was only in having my agent point out that there was a coming-of-age arc, as well as a young protagonist, in Above that I even entertained the notion that it could be published as YA.”

Leah Bobet: “Read fiction and non-fiction stories from and about diverse people: people of colour, disabled people, queer people, trans people, people whose religion is different from yours.  Think critically about them, and do some informed imagining of what the world’s like from their perspective.”

Leah Bobet: “I was a little nuts for the mythic when I was a kid – mostly Greek, Roman, and Inuit stories – because my childhood culture didn’t have a great sense of magic, and I wanted magic very badly.”

If you have not had a chance to read Leah Bobet’s work, you can check out my review of her novel “Above” at https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2013/02/21/empowering-the-freak/ and can explore her website at http://leahbobet.com/

 

Interview with Corey Redekop

An interview of Corey Redekop
By Derek Newman-Stille

Author photo courtesy of Corey Redekop

Author photo courtesy of Corey Redekop

Wouldn’t the world be better if we just asked the monsters politely if they could please not eat us at the moment? Corey Redekop and I had a chance in this interview to explore the figure of the monster and its role as a representation of the social outcast, the rejected. It is great to talk to an author who shares my belief that horror and SF in general can be a medium of social change. I hope that you enjoy our interview as much as I enjoyed talking to Corey Redekop.

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

Corey Redekop: I was hatched in the Canadian north, and spent the next 18 years building up my strength to order to escape. After bouncing around for a few decades, I wrote my debut novel Shelf Monkey, which helped open some doors I didn’t know existed. Currently I eke out a living as publicist for book publisher Goose Lane Editions in Fredericton, NB.

Spec Can: Why is the zombie so appealing to people right now? What has led to the current excitement about the figure of the zombie?

Corey Redekop: It’s well known that people flock to monsters and horror in times of stress, which explains the popularity of giant radioactive monsters during the beginnings of the nuclear age. I don’t know why zombies in particular have taken off. I think it has to do with the fear that we are the ultimate monsters in our world. If we want to better this planet, we have to fight our own fears, our own weaknesses, and our own ignorance.

Spec Can: What are some of the things that the zombie can represent in our society?

Corey Redekop: Zombies are a terrifically malleable monster, the “jack of all trades” of symbolism, capable of subtextually representing almost anything we care to name. Crime, disease, ego, sexuality, bureaucrats, consumerism, class warfare, conservatives; you name it, they can do it.

Spec Can: What myths of the zombie influenced the type of zombie that you created in Husk and what zombie myths fascinated you most?

Cover Photo of Husk, courtesy of the author

Cover Photo of Husk, courtesy of the author

Corey Redekop: Much of my initial idea had to do with the resurrection myths that permeate modern and ancient religions. In a real sense, they may be the progenitors to the zombie of today. What was Jesus post-death, really, if not a zombie with functioning brain? In my original manuscript, I played a lot more with this theme, trying to push the rotting corpse of Sheldon into a messiah figure. By combining the two, I tried to find a way that Sheldon could be both a zombie in the b-movie Hollywood sense and a fully sensate individual.

Spec Can: What made you decide to write Husk from the perspective of the zombie?

Corey Redekop: I didn’t want another “us vs. them” story. I like stories about outsiders and loners, which all monsters are to some extent. I also like tales where protagonists have to adapt or fight against something completely out of their control. (Which, I suppose, is the basis for all fiction, now that I think about it).

I love body horror, which is horror of the most unsettling sort; the horror of being trapped within flesh, a prisoner of your own DNA. David Cronenberg — whose movies The Fly, The Brood, and Videodrome are required viewing for those who appreciate both the form and a great mix of gore and intelligence — is the preeminent purveyor of the theme, and I wish he’d go back to it. I also find the idea of a man continually trying to keep his innards in check very funny, as well as gross; I recommend Stuart Gordon’s Re-Animator and From Beyond as two examples of just absolutely grotesque transmogrifications of the human form that are horrifying and horrifying funny. It seemed natural that I combine the two.

Spec Can: Is there something distinctive about Canadian horror? How so? What distinguishes it?

Corey Redekop: All horror is about coming across some form of evil; Canadian horror is about confronting such evil with unfailing politeness. Why thrust a wooden stake through the heart of the vampire when a strongly worded letter can be just as effective? “Dear ancient evil; I must strongly object to your recent killing spree…” (joke)

Horror is horror, no matter who writes it. I don’t think that there’s a necessarily Canadian POV that permeates northern horror, other than possibly setting (which doesn’t even work, since fiction crosses borders with such ease; one of my favourite horror novels, Cabal by Clive Barker, is set in Alberta, yet the author is British). I think this may be because fear is a primal instinct, something shared between peoples across the globe. Authors such as Andrew Pyper, David Nickle, Gemma Files, Michael Rowe, Susie Moloney, Ian Rogers, and Tony Burgess stand firmly with the best horror fiction available in the world. This could be because horror authors are all of a similar breed, a sect of damaged individuals who yearn to explore the darker corners of the world. Some are darker than others, but all appreciate what confronting our demons can achieve.

Spec Can: In your novel Husk, you wrote about a gay zombie. What inspired you to make your zombie character gay?

Corey Redekop: I actually didn’t know Sheldon was gay until (*SPOILER*) he killed his boyfriend. It just wrote out that way, but as soon as it did, I knew there could be no other choice. Sheldon has always been uncomfortable as himself, which may explain his striving to be an actor. He was never truly at ease with his homosexuality, a discomfort that can be placed at the feet of domineering religious mother. In our society, homosexuality is one of the last personal characteristics that some people feel very comfortable discriminating against because of their blatant fears and willful misreading of age-old texts that have very little bearing on the world of today (although this is lessening, thank God). Allowing Sheldon that experience informs his refusal to fully “monster up” and embrace his new identity as a member of the undead.

Spec Can: What can horror reveal about ‘otherness’ and the outsider experience?

Corey Redekop: In Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend, the hero Neville, after fighting vampires for what seems like ages, suddenly understands himself to be the outsider, the monster that preys on innocent victims. Similarly, in Cabal, Boone, filled with self-loathing and believing himself a monster, realizes that the monsters are in actuality the prey, living forever in fear of humanity. Like the best of any fiction, horror allows us to turn the mirror and see ourselves as others see us, as monsters in our own right. This isn’t meant to excuse the monstrous acts of others, of course, but is it right to condemn the monster (or the outsider) as evil simply for following its own instincts? A zombie isn’t intrinsically evil; it is simply following an impulse we do not share. A vampire is only trying to survive, the same as us, reacting in the same way as any animal that has its habitat threatened through civilization’s continuing encroachment.

Spec Can: Can horror be a medium for empowering people who have been oppressed? How so?

Corey Redekop: Storytelling can always be empowering, and using elements of horror in the medium is no different. Look at how many authors are imprisoned for their stories; there is great power in words and tales, which explains why some governments are so wary and distrustful of their artists. The more we discuss a subject, the more people begin to understand it, come to grips with it, and accept it. This is what some people find so dangerous. The world is a place of constant change and evolution, and that scares some people to the core of their being. This is why Harry Potter gets challenged and banned, because in its own way it challenges some people’s belief as to the way the world works.

Spec Can: Why does horror literature show such a fascination with the body? What does the body interest us so much?804381_10151519200179402_957214904_n

Corey Redekop: The fascination lies in the body’s fragility. The prick of a pin can lead to infection; the eating of a peanut may close our breathing passages. It doesn’t take much to kill us, really, and while we may fight disease, we all know that it is ultimately a losing battle.

There’s also the absolute unfairness of the body that terrifies us. When people die from outside actions, there is always a reason we can attach a form of blame to. The girder wasn’t built to specifications, the terrorist was angry at government inaction, the brakes on the bus failed. We get that; we can deal with it rationally. When our body rebels, however, we have no one to blame, no one to confront, no one to fight back against. That body you took such good care of is now a prison you never escape from. You could apply the term Kafkaesque to the process, although the machinations of the body is even more unfathomable that poor Josef K’s predicament.

Spec Can: What can Speculative Fiction do that ‘realist’ fiction can’t?

Corey Redekop: When people read speculative fiction, they are already primed to accept anything that would, under almost every other circumstance, be viewed as ludicrous. Once you accept that (in the world you’ve just begun reading about) starships travel faster than the speed of light, the colour of your hair may lead to insanity, a society of frog-people live beneath the surface of the lake, Trafalmadorians can experience any point in time at will, and the dead get up and walk around and hold down a job, you’re up for anything.

Speculative makes the impossible possible and the subtext palatable. A reader may not want to read a treatise on the damaging mixture of religion and politics, but a reader will read an enormous set of volumes on just that theme as long as its set on Arrakis. A viewer will not care to sit through a documentary on racial violence, but will watch again and again a tale of space prawns unwilling trapped in South Africa.

I actually don’t care for the term, actually; by definition, all fiction is “speculative.” It feels like a cheat to me, a way of elevating a genre through semantics. I’m all for declaring all genre classifications null and void. However, the librarian in me protests that form of anarchy, because then where would we put the books?

Spec Can: What drew you to write speculative fiction? Why do you write it?

Corey Redekop: This is the only spec-fic I’ve ever written, and I’m not sure I’ll return to the genre soon (I’m now starting work on a crime novel). But I love it. My childhood was made up of equal parts Star Trek, Star Wars, The Prisoner, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, The Wild Wild West, Stephen King, and Monty Python’s Flying Circus. I wasn’t popular as a kid, so most of my free time was spent in my imaginations, and the more outlets I could find, the better. I love stories that give you an alternate view of the world, a viewpoint you never considered.

Spec Can: What role can Speculative Fiction have in provoking people to think about new things and new ideas?

Corey Redekop: Fiction pushes at the boundary of what’s possible, and encourages readers to learn from example and then create themselves what they love in their stories. We dreamed of space travel through our stories, and then achieved it. Jules Verne and H.G. Wells were enormously influential, as is William Gibson today. Yet we’ve now advanced to such a point where such outward innovation has almost caught up to our imaginations. I think speculative fiction will have to look inward now, to expanding our consciousness beyond mortal limits. We see hints of this in talk of Artificial Intelligence and The Singularity.

Speculative fiction can also act as a warning by providing glimpses at what may happen should science go awry. Margaret Atwood’s books are terrific examples of real-world scenarios and advancements having devastating consequences.

Spec Can: Is there anything distinctly Canadian about the worlds and characters you create?

Corey Redekop: I don’t know. I write what I want, and leave the discussion on subtext and cultural influences to others. I like to think my protagonists so far have been polite, which works to their disadvantage.

Spec Can: In Husk, medical doctors are largely corrupt and disinterested in the human element. They privilege their research and economic factors over humane treatment. What influenced this image of science?

Corey Redekop: I certainly didn’t mean for my doctors to infer a distrust of the medical profession. I think doctors (the good ones) are some of the noblest people of the planet. I far more distrust corporations that underwrite research, politicians who suppress research and innovation because of ideological bent, and good old basic human greed. I also follow Vonnegut’s satirical writing rule, “Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the reader may see what they are made of.” I need bad things to happen to Sheldon, and uncaring scientists seemed a good way to test his mettle.

Spec Can: Why focus Husk on an actor? What is the significance of the acting profession and how does it relate to your story line?

Corey Redekop: I thought acting would be a fine way for Sheldon to avoid being himself. Acting can be a psychologically damaging profession (I know from experience), and I thought it a nice touch that Sheldon can’t seem to get anywhere either as himself. I also wanted to play with some of the themes of fame, or more specifically, celebrity. I hate that in this world you can become a celebrity by virtue of being an absolute asshole with no redeeming qualities who somehow lucked into having a television camera catch every revolting act. Sheldon wanted fame, but not celebrity.

Spec Can: Is there anything further that you would like to add to this interview?

Corey Redekop: Only that the response has been far greater than anything I could have hoped for. I’m truly gratified that people have so enjoyed such a deeply weird story.

I want to thank Corey Redekop for this insightful and thought-provoking interview, as well as for his sense of humour. It is always delightful to talk to someone who can ponder about the nature of the Outsider effect in our society and then also joke about Canadian politeness.

 

If you haven’t had a chance yet, you can check out my review of Husk at https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2013/02/25/five-stages-of-grieving-yourself/  and you can explore Corey Redekop’s website at http://www.coreyredekop.ca/ to find out a bit more about him and his upcoming projects.

Upcoming Interview with Corey Redekop on Thursday, March 14

Even though I research the use of monstrous protagonists in Canadian SF to express ideas of the outsider and socially oppressed groups, for some reason I haven’t done much work on the figure of the zombie…. largely because they just creep me out too much. I had been hearing so many amazing things about this book Husk by Canadian SF author Corey Redekop, so I knew I had to check it out even though it was about the dreadful, rotting, cannibalistic undead. I picked up a copy, read through it and ended up with a book full of notes and knew that I had to interview Corey Redekop and talk in more detail with him about his take on the zombie.

I hope that you enjoy our upcoming chat about zombies, myths, Canadian horror, the ability of characters to express themselves to their author, the visceral feel of body horror, and the power of horror for giving voice to the oppressed. I hope you are able to check out our interview on Thursday, March 14 and enjoy Mr. Redekop’s incredible insights and great sense of humour!!

Here are some teasers from our upcoming interview:

Corey Redekop: “It’s well known that people flock to monsters and horror in times of stress, which explains the popularity of giant radioactive monsters during the beginnings of the nuclear age. I don’t know why zombies in particular have taken off. I think it has to do with the fear that we are the ultimate monsters in our world.”

Corey Redekop: “I like stories about outsiders and loners, which all monsters are to some extent.”

Corey Redekop: “All horror is about coming across some form of evil; Canadian horror is about confronting such evil with unfailing politeness.”

Corey Redekop: “Horror authors are all of a similar breed, a sect of damaged individuals who yearn to explore the darker corners of the world. Some are darker than others, but all appreciate what confronting our demons can achieve.

Corey Redekop: “In our society, homosexuality is one of the last personal characteristics that some people feel very comfortable discriminating against because of their blatant fears and willful misreading of age-old texts that have very little bearing on the world of today (although this is lessening, thank God).”

Corey Redekop: “Like the best of any fiction, horror allows us to turn the mirror and see ourselves as others see us, as monsters in our own right. This isn’t meant to excuse the monstrous acts of others, of course, but is it right to condemn the monster (or the outsider) as evil simply for following its own instincts? A zombie isn’t intrinsically evil; it is simply following an impulse we do not share.”

Corey Redekop: “Storytelling can always be empowering, and using elements of horror in the medium is no different. Look at how many authors are imprisoned for their stories; there is great power in words and tales, which explains why some governments are so wary and distrustful of their artists.”

Corey Redekop: “When our body rebels, however, we have no one to blame, no one to confront, no one to fight back against. That body you took such good care of is now a prison you never escape from.”

Corey Redekop: “Speculative fiction can also act as a warning by providing glimpses at what may happen should science go awry.”

Like his fiction writing, you can expect the upcoming interview with Corey Redekop to be a mixture of serious pondering and hilarity. Check it out on Thursday, March 14.

If you haven’t had a chance yet, you can explore my review of Husk at https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2013/02/25/five-stages-of-grieving-yourself/

Displacement

A Review of On Spec #89 Vol 24, No. 2 (Summer 2012 issue)
By Derek Newman-Stille

I have been a fan of On Spec for some time. I enjoy the quality of their stories, the diversity of their authors, and their ability to play with diverse characteristics of the speculative medium. I enjoy the fact that On Spec combines short stories with poetry, essays that provide insights into the nature of speculative fiction and trends in the speculative genres, interviews with authors that provide insights into the authorial process and the thought that goes into a creative work, and I am impressed by On Spec’s willingness to bring in artistic works that play with ideas of the speculative rather than focussing on the textual. Perhaps one of the reasons I enjoy On Spec so much is that its ideologies match so well with my own. Like this website, On Spec is interested in both exploring speculative authorship at the same time as it is aware of the incredible insights an author can provide and the complex issues that speculative fiction authors bring into their works to evoke thought from their readers. As a speculative artist (you can check out my art work at www.dereknewmanstille.ca ), I particularly enjoy that they are willing to engage in multiple media of the speculative, not just sticking to short stories, but displaying an interest in works of photography, painting, pencil and ink sketches. It is great to see a recognition of the diversity of media that people operating in the speculative can bring out. On Spec also displays an interest in quotations, and an incredible aptitude for pulling out the most poignant and thought-provoking quotes in a story. I always find it exciting when I look at the quotes that they have pulled out of a story and notice that they match the ones that had drawn me in.

Normally I like to review a selection of short stories from On Spec volumes, but I thought I would do a quick overview of the Summer 2012 issue to look for binding themes and ideas that pull the volume together. This volume taps into an interest I have noticed recently in the theme of displacement by Canadian speculative fiction authors. There is a sense of loss that permeates this volume, a sense of homes forgotten, the search for a new place, the feeling of being left behind by people, by time, and by places that shift and change in such a way that we can no longer fit into them. Memories fade and we are lost in a place between them. There is an edgy sense that knowledge and wisdom can be alienating and that, perhaps… sometimes ignorance, while not very fulfilling, can at least keep one from the horrors of knowing about the loss of everything that can be valued.

The volume begins with an essay on Steampunk, a genre or aesthetic that plays with notions of the displacement of time and uses elements of past worlds and the notion of nostalgia to create a place of adventure outside of the normal course of time. In the words of Mike Perschon, Steampunk “is the way the present imagines the past seeking the future.” It is a complex interweaving of times and notions of time that both plays with notions of nostalgia for the past, while also complicating notions of the past and the way we see the past from our present perspective.

That sense of the defamiliarisation of time itself carries over into the first story, 7:54 by Susan Forest, a story about the ability to see into the future, and the inevitability of the future that opens moral questions about the way we envision ourselves moving forward. Shen Braun’s Village of Good Fortune is set in the past in the world of Japanese shintoism where spirits and demons are part of the landscape of the world. Here, the displacement shifts to a man who has had to leave his home and searches for a new place to call home, a place of belonging and comfort.  But, these things are not easy to find and even the most pleasant village can have a dark undercurrent running through it, a shaky ground of ambiguity between ideas of right and wrong.

This place of metaphysical and moral ambiguity brings us to another story about questions of morality and the nature of good and evil, Peter Darbyshire’s The Only Innocent Soul in Hell. The terrifying thing about hell in this story is that it shows a remarkable similarity to the bureaucracies of our everyday experience…. and this reminds us that although we believe we are living in a world of familiarity and normalcy, there really is hell lurking in every government building. Darbyshire portrays the typical impatient, self-righteous customer as the archetype for the sociopathic personality, and, reminds the reader that people who play the system too well… a pretty hellish system at that… are probably devils in sheep’s clothing… or at least expensive wool suits. Through hiding his memories… and a few other tricks, a sociopath tries to trick a demon into letting him out of hell.

The theme of memory and the loss of memory follows into E.J. Bergmann’s Penultimate, a poem about the process of aging and the loss of memory and selfhood that can be seen to arise from the experience of getting older. It is a crushing poem about the systematic loss of the self, a story being unwritten with pages torn out of the autobiography of the self.

Paul Kenneback’s In Which Demetri Returns the Elgin Marbles takes the notion of loss to an international level and shows the horror of a world that has decided to forget its own history, emptying museums to fill them with the less controversial and less diverse Disney. It represents the ultimate Disneyfication and Touristism of the world: turning the world into a spectator’s gaze reflecting itself – everywhere cultural specificity is erased so that every nation is just a mirror of the United States with slightly different climates. Kenneback shows the horror of a world that has been systematically erased in the name of social control and propaganda, a place that has been neutralised and whose art has been rendered bland and undifferentiated. Kenneback wields his narrative of an artist working for museums trying to promote Disney in order to evoke in his audience a desire to question the focus on the modern and the systemic loss of cultural memory and artistic past that defines civilisations.

Canine Court by Tyler Keevil, takes away the notion of familiarity in one’s family. He portrays a typical Canadian small town with a secret and a displaced city boy who soon discovers that things may not be as they appear in the town or in his own family. Keevil’s tale features werewolves, but the kind of predators that lurk in small towns may not all have fangs.

Kevin Shaw’s Bespoke explores the lack of familiarity that can be evoked by a changing body, a body that has been mutated into a shape that is responded to by onlookers with horror. But, although often body changes are portrayed in stories as tales of the loss of the self, an inability or lack, in Shaw’s narrative, this body change can distance someone enough from their familiar patterns that they can be encouraged to develop new behaviours, new relationships and when slight changes are made to accommodate their bodily difference, a new respect and love for their changed body.

This volume of On Spec was an amazing adventure into the unfamiliar territories that lurk hidden in the shadows of the familiar. The reader finds him or herself lost, disassembled, made strange to her or himself and then brought back together with a new understanding of the world around them and appreciation for the weird places that lurk between the cracks of the normal.