RagnaROCKING Manitoba: The Road to Hel

A review of Chadwick Ginther’s Tombstone Blues (RavenStone, 2013).
By Derek Newman-Stille

Cover Photo of Tombstone Blues courtesy of RavenStone books

Cover Photo of Tombstone Blues courtesy of RavenStone books

This second book in the Thunder Road trilogy takes a turn toward the dark. The dead have risen, and Thor, who has been sitting in Hel since Ragnarok… has become dark and twisted by years of post-mortem torture.

When Thor encounters Ted Callan, the first thing he notices is that Ted has been tattooed with Norse artifacts… including Thor’s own hammer Mjolnir…. and he wants it back. Ted has become used to the powers that were granted to him by his Norse tattoos, so, when Thor rips Mjolnir from Ted’s body, he has to adapt to the changes in his body, finding new ways to cope with the magical and mythical world that continues to surround him and finding new ways to deal with the dead who have risen guided by a dark Thor and twisted Valkyries.

The road to Hell is paved with good intentions, and the same can be said with the role to Hel, the Norse goddess of death (and the name for her hall and her realm). All of Ted’s acts of heroism, his attempts to save the world have only made it more vulnerable. The wall that Odin placed around Midgard (Earth) to keep otherworldly beings out only allows these beings to influence those who have already been touched in some way by the otherworldly. Unfortunately, that means that every one of Ted’s heroic acts has created a potential victim, marking them for transgression by mythic and magical beings. In his attempts to protect his fellow humans, Ted has unintentionally weakened the barrier around Midgard, and the supernatural is getting closer. His good intentions paved a road for Hel to Earth and as the fog and mists of Nifleheim, the hellish realm between, roll out across the Earth, nightmares are able to visit a human race no longer prepared for the otherworldly, lost in the technocracy we have created.

The Dwarven tattoos carved into his body gave Ted the ability to walk on air, super strength, near invulnerability, power over the weather… and all of this has given him a hero complex, a belief in his ability to solve problems through brute force. But, despite the whisperings of Odin’s ravens Huginn and Muninn, which should grant him wisdom, Ted is only given information rather than wisdom. Power without knowledge and thoughts about consequences is a feature of many of the heroes our society manufactures, but in Tombstone Blues, Chadwick Ginther forces Ted to face responsibility for his acts, to question and debate his belief in his own moral rightness and question what may happen if he makes the wrong choice. Ted realises that he is only part of a greater world which can be changed by his actions, and not always in the positive way that he intends. A man of action, Ted is forced to reassess those actions, to stop, pause, and speculate about what he is doing and why.

Ted’s own bodily vulnerability, brought on by Thor’s act of ripping Mjolnir from his body allows him to think of wider vulnerabilities in the world, changes and dangers that may be too large for one person’s heroism to change. Like himself, the world has become wounded, and instead of blood, it is leaking the mists of Nifleheim, a fluid that is no less deadly.

To read more about Chadwick Ginther’s work, visit his website at http://chadwickginther.com/ .

To discover more about Tombstone Blues, visit RavenStone’s website at http://www.ravenstonebooks.com/spec-fic/tombstone-blues.html .

Speculating Canada on Trent Radio Episode 10: An Interview With Michael Matheson

For this episode of Speculating Canada on Trent Radio, I had the opportunity to interview SF author Michael Matheson at Ad Astra, a speculative fiction convention, this year in Toronto and discuss with him some of his thoughts about speculative fiction in Canada, and particularly LGBT speculative fiction. Please excuse the background noise. This was an interview conducted on the spot and that means that all of the background noise came with it… consider it atmospheric.

Michael Matheson is a gender fluid Toronto author. He is currently a managing editor at ChiZine Publications and a submissions editor at Apex Magazine.

Michael has edited the forthcoming collections of QUILTBAG or Queer fiction “Start a Revolution”, which focuses on Science Fiction and “This Patchwork Flesh”, which is oriented around horror lit. Both are coming out from Exile editions. He has published work in Ideomancer, and Lovecraft eZine, and in the collections Chilling Tales 2, Dead North, Masked Mosaic, and Future Lovecrat.

Michael runs the Can Spec Fic website which features and categorises lists of Canadian Speculative Fiction.

Michael has just had the amazing experience of being able to attend the fantastic writer’s workshop series Clarion West, an opportunity for him to share and write with famous spec fic authors. This is an opportunity afforded only to those who give a successful application, and unfortunately is quite costly, so if you can, you can donate to help Michael, a struggling young author, afford this experience by donating to his Kickstarter at http://www.gofundme.com/mathesonclarion . There are prizes for funding him.

I hope that you enjoy our interview.

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.

 

Speculating Canada on Trent Radio Episode 5: Disability in Canadian SF

How many spaceships are wheelchair accessible? Do office buildings create light shielding for the undead who might be singed by solar exposure? Can my guide dog be a werewolf? Does one need to simply WALK into Mordor… or can one wheel in instead? SF has an interest in the body, whether it is the augmented body of sci fi, the body horror of the gothic, or the magically altered body of fantasy, and it is worth looking at the way disabilities are portrayed in Canadian SF.

Speculative fiction often explores the figure of the outsider, particularly the body that differs from the norm, and people with disabilities are often the subject of interest by SF authors. SF readings of the disabled body often speak to the way that disabled people are ‘read’ in our world and our time. This episode examines the interest in bodily difference and in treatments of the disabled body that can be either empowering or intensely problematic.

Among the positive portrayals of disability in Canadian SF that are discussed, we take a look at

Tanya Huff’s Blood Books

James Alan Gardner’s Expendable

Leah Bobet’s Above

Alison Sinclair’s Darkborn Trilogy

and

Sparkle Hayter’s Naked Brunch

Click on the icon below to hear the full radio programme.

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.

Speculating Canada on Trent Radio Episode 2: An Interview with Chadwick Ginther and Discussion of his Work

In this episode of Speculating Canada on Trent Radio, check out an interview with Winnipeg author Chadwick Ginther where he discusses his Thunder Road trilogy. In our interview we talk about notions of heroism and villainy, moral ambiguities, the interplay of Canadian legends and Norse myths, the landscape, urban fantasy and horror.

After our interview, I get a chance to talk about his novels Thunder Road and Tombstone Blues.

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.

Clear Cut Future

A review of Susan J. MacGregor’s Evergreen (in Urban Greenman. Edited by Adria Laycraft and Janice Blaine. Edge, 2013).

Cover Art Courtesy of Edge Publications

Cover Art Courtesy of Edge Publications

By Derek Newman-Stille

The quest for self-discovery can be painful and difficult and often people who seek to discover themselves encounter questions that they don’t want answered, murky areas that they fear to look too deeply into. When Cat’s grandmother does a card reading for her, she shies away from the tough parts of the future that are revealed. She doesn’t want to reveal that she is conflicted about her future, and she is unwilling to peer too deeply into what her future can hold – should she go to law school or get a government job until she figures herself out? She is still sorting through her values and fears the transformative potential of making a decision too soon….

But, decisions sometimes occur when we least expect them to, when events coalesce around us and push us into an avenue we least considered. As Cat’s grandmother predicts, she is pushed by circumstance into a meeting with a man who will change her life and cause her to question her relationship to the world around her. She is asked to explore her roots… literally, and is transformed into a tree by her new companion, able to question her relationship to the world around her and explore her values. He seeks to transform her into a tree in order to paint her suffering, to explore the human intersection with the environment and evoke human compassion for our natural world… but the lack of compassion that already exists means that workers try to clearcut the forest that Cat has been entreed in.

In order to save herself, she must question the logic that she has applied to her life, her relationship to the natural world, the ideas she has taken for granted, and eventually determine her future’s course (if she survives to have a future).

Sometimes we need to transform literally to transform our way of thought, and Cat discovers that she needs to become something else to discover what she wants to become.

To read more about Susan J. MacGregor, visit her website at http://suzenyms.blogspot.ca/ .

Interview with Tanya Huff on Trent Radio

Click below for my interview with Tanya Huff and hear her talk about the figure of the monster, the things that she tries to do differently than other authors, changes in genres, the impact of writing queer or LGBTQ2 characters, some incredible controversies she has encountered, and some sneak peaks at some of her upcoming projects.

Make sure to let the file buffer for a few moments.

Explore Trent Radio at www.trentradio.ca

Explore Trent Radio at http://www.trentradio.ca

Thank you to Tanya Huff for being willing to do this interview and for being generally an incredible person to talk to, and thank you to Alissa Paxton and Trent Radio for cleaning up this file and adding it to their programming.

Upcoming audio interview with Tanya Huff on Saturday August 31st

At the Academic Conference on Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy, I had the opportunity to talk with one of the first Canadian SF authors that I had read and absolutely adored, Tanya Huff. She allowed me to take a few minutes to record our conversation and play it here on Speculating Canada.

The audio file of our interview will be available on Saturday August 31st for you to download and listen to as a podcast or stream.

Trent Radio second Icon

In our interview, we discuss playing with the idea that when encountering “monsters”, it is often the humans that behave more monstrously, the role of class and clothing in fantasy literature, werewolves, zombies and the social fear of aging, the switch between the interest in the vampire to interest in the zombie, the blurring of boundaries between horror and fantasy, de-fanging the vampire, romance and the vampire, identity, the use of queer or LGBTQ characters, discrimination against books with queer characters, books and identity. Ms. Huff reveals some of her current projects and some of the challenges that have been faced in her upcoming work.

Voudoun Visions of Toronto

A Review of Nalo Hopkinson’s Brown Girl in The Ring (Grand Central Publishing, 1998)
By Derek Newman-Stille

In Brown Girl in the Ring, Nalo Hopkinson blends urban fantasy and near-future science fiction together in a Toronto environment. She creates a Toronto that has been cut off from the rest of Canada, ghettoised and locked off from the rest of the country and made into a controlled space where entrances and exits from the city are carefully monitored and controlled. Yet, this space of conflicted identity, a Toronto that is searching for its new identity, searching for what it should become from a past that has been conflicted and confused. Toronto’s identity has been cut off from the wider Canadian identity through its rejection, and yet this could be an opportunity for it to find a new identity.

Despite its near-future science fictional setting, Brown Girl in the Ring is a space of fantasy, incorporating into it magic, mythic figures, Loa (gods and goddesses of Haitian Vodoun), and visions. Ti-Jeanne is a woman who is conflicted between her Torontonian identity and the rich Caribbean heritage that her grandmother has passed down to her – Caribbean foods, creole, healing herbs, and some elements of vodoun. She has had visions and magical power passed down to her that has attracted the attention of the Loa, the gods of Vodoun and her grandmother, Gros-Jeanne has pointed out that if she denies this aspect of herself, if she ignores the magic, it will over-ride her. If she lives in conflict with this aspect of herself, she will be warring with herself instead of integrating herself and accepting all aspects of her identity.

Hopkinson’s Toronto is a place where magic can occur, a place where cultures intersect and assert themselves and where people search for identity and meaning as they see their community in new lights, push for change, and come to find new definitions of home. Her Toronto is not one steeped in one history, but a place where multiple histories intersect, where the visions of diverse people come together to see a more complex, more magical, and more inclusive space.

To find out more about Nalo Hopkinson, you can visit her website at http://www.nalohopkinson.com/ . You can explore more about Brown Girl in the Ring at http://www.nalohopkinson.com/writing/fiction/books/brown_girl

Fantasy Fridays Throughout June!!

Fantasy Fridays Throughout June

Fantastic realms provide us with new ways of looking at the world. Creating new worlds gives us a chance to look at our own world in a new light, questioning our preconceptions, and allowing us to see our own world as unusual, fantastic, and as much of a creation as those that are created by fiction authors.

From urban fantasy to high fantasy – fairies, elves, dragons, wizards, and monsters – this month will be time for a fantastic adventure.

Check out Speculating Canada every Friday in June for fantasy adventures.

 Spec Can Dragon post

Empowering the Freak

A Review of Leah Bobet’s Above (Arthur A. Levine Books, 2012)

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

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

By Derek Newman-Stille

Leah Bobet’s novel Above focusses on a group of people who have taken up residence in the sewers. Chased from society above the ground and called “Freak”, “Monster”, “Sick”, and “Cursed”, they retreated beneath the city to create their own society, free of discrimination. Their most feared opponents are the true monsters of this world, the Whitecoats, medical practitioners and scientists who are focussed on controlling, managing, and normalising their bodies. They capture those who have different bodies and force them into their own ideas of what normal bodies should be like, cutting them, medicating them, breaking their bones, and locking them up until their bodies start to look more like what society considers to be the “normal” body shape.

Characters with crab arms have them cut off and prosthetic human limbs forced uncomfortably into their stumps until they regain their shape. Characters with lion feet have them broken and re-shaped into a human-like foot shape, forcing them to walk in an uncomfortable and painful manner. But, a group of people escaped from the medical facilities above and created a community called Safe that was built on the foundation that no one should ever stare, no one should humiliate others, and everyone should have a safe place to be themselves.

One of the cornerstones of their community is the shared trauma they endured and the importance of sharing community stories. A central figure in the community is the “Teller” (who narrates this novel), a person who gathers the collective history of the people who form the community, hears their stories, and observes the events of the community, saving the stories that have brought them together and continue to shape them. The Teller functions as a mixture of a historian and counsellor, creating a safe space for people to share the stories that brought them trauma. By telling stories, the people of Safe create their own community narrative, separate from the normalising narrative of Above, and the medical documents that try to write their story for them. They become masters of their own stories, taking words away from others who would use them to oppress them.

But, part of every community is the stories that are not told, the stories that are edited out, considered taboo, and Matthew, the Teller, is forced to keep certain stories hidden and secret. These stories, like anything that is repressed, begins to haunt them, resurfaces from the collective unconscious of the group and harms the community, disrupting it. A community member who was removed and edited out of the collective history returns, bringing shadows of the past that haunt the sewers, snippets of memory that attach themselves to others, forcibly reminding them of what they have tried to forget.

Characters are forced out of Safe and into Above, the city that was the site of their truama. They are forced to see the world around them again and see things from the city above with new light… and new shadows.

You can find out more about Leah Bobet at her website http://leahbobet.com/ . To explore this book and more by Arthur A. Levine Books, you can check out their website at http://www.arthuralevinebooks.com/