Who Are You? 

A review of Jerome Stueart’s The Angels of Our Better Beasts (ChiZine, 2016)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Jerome Stueart’s The Angels of Our Better Beasts is a struggle between the multiple aspects of human identity. It’s cover evokes the Governor General award winning Marian Engle’s Bear, a tale about the encounter between human civilization and the wild, and Stueart’s collection is also one about the clashing of different definitions of what it means to be human, including a relationship between a woman and a bear. These are tales that question what it means to be human.

Stueart’s own struggles for self discovery are laced through these tales, rich with questions about religion, queer identity, the search for home, and the desire to find a place in a world that likes to ignore those it oppresses. These are tales about the quest for that ineffable thing that we call “home”, a place of belonging, comfort, and acceptance that is hard to find, and this search drives these stories out into the depths of space, into realms of fantasy, and into the dark depths at the root of the human heart. These are tales of wandering and wanting, questing tales that have uncertain endings, telling readers that stories shouldn’t have easy endings, but should be things open to interpretation, to speculation, and to wonder. 

These tales explore the slipperiness of identity, the fluidity of the human experience and the changes we human beings undergo regularly in our quest to find ourselves. Stueart tells us that our quest to find ourselves will never be complete because what we ARE is always changing, always slipping away and becoming something else. His tales are stories of complexity and uncertainty, things that define the human experience far more than an easy question of “who are you?”. 

Stueart weaves stories ABOUT stories and about art into his narratives because these are the best methods of asking deeper questions. He explores the power of the artistic to push the imagination and open up new questions. Populated with vampires, werewolves, gryphons, gods, and cryptozoological inquiry, these tales are ultimately about the nature of humanity and the way that we all contain little drips of monstrous ichor within us… and maybe those monstrous drops are kinder than our human nature.

To find out more about Jerome Stueart’s work, visit https://jeromestueart.com

To find out more about The Angels of Our Better Beasts and other ChiZine publications, visit http://chizinepub.com

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Beyond the Pale (Vampire)

A review of Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Certain Dark Things (St. Martin’s Press, 2016).

By Derek Newman-Stille

One type of vampire story tend to flood the market – the sexy male vampire who is iridescently pale, wealthy, and feeds on women in an erotic embrace. Silvia Moreno-Garcia has again and again demonstrated her love for horror, but also her desire to shift the tired old narratives, dust off the layers of racism and sexism to find new narratives. Certain Dark Things is a revitalization of the vampire narrative, allowing it to kick off the detritus of the past to tell some new stories. 

Moreno-Garcia sets her story in Mexico City in contrast to the vast number of vampire narratives set in the United States or the United Kingdom. Her vampires are not the pale, white European figures of vampire romances, or, at least not all of them are. Her narrative focuses on Atl, a Tlahuihpochtli, an indigenous vampire of the Mexico region who can trace her lineage back to the Aztecs. Moreno-Garcia’s vampires have multiple different subsets, each with different characteristics and hailing from different geographies, and often the only thing they share in common is their hunger for blood. There are European vampires in her narrative, calling themselves Necros and fitting most of the characteristics of the vampires that generally populate the pages of paranormal romance novels, but these vampires are not sexy, otherworldly beings. They control human beings through their bite, which can turn human beings into slaves, without any will. 

Moreno-Garcia explores displacement narratives in her interactions between the Tlahuihpochtli and the Necros, exploring the way that the European Necros brought diseases with them when they came to Mexico and have been trying to push the Tlahuihpochtli out of their native landscapes. She makes connection between this displacement by Europeans and historical displacements of human indigenous populations by Europeans. The Necros brought pathogens with them that made the blood of many humans intolerable to the Tlahuihpochtli, and with the rise of a new disease Croneng’s disease, the government has decided to create sanitation groups whose goals seem to be as much about harassing the homeless population and institutionalizing people with disabilities as they are about dealing with the spread of a pathogen. 

Health is a huge part of Moreno-Garcia’s narrative. Uniting the vampire with ideas of health is powerful since the vampire is often a figure of excessive health, and yet, in most vampire narratives, vampirism spreads like a pathogen. In Certain Dark Things vampirism is an ethnicity, a genetic group and cannot be passed from one person to another, but that doesn’t eliminate the health narrative Moreno-Garcia explores. She examines the role of institutionalization and its impact on populations in poverty, exploring the way that health and wealth often go hand in hand. The bite of the Necros vampires, although not able to turn someone into a vampire, does take away all of their agency, turning them into a slave through a viral contagion in their saliva that will eventually kill the human host. All vampire species are hard to kill and long-lived, but one of the other vampire species is especially known for its interaction with health – the Revenant. The Revenant subspecies is exceptionally long-lived, and can feed on both blood and the life force of others. These Revenants seem to de-age when they are infused with enough life force, appearing younger, and in creating them, Moreno-Garcia plays with the traditional narrative of the person who gains eternal youth by becoming a vampire. These vampires always look somewhat disabled no matter how young they become, still having a hunched appearance, complicating ideas of the excessive ability of the vampire and the ableism that often comes along with this portrayal of the vampire. Many of the governments in the world of Certain Dark Things perceive of vampires as a plague even though they are a racial group, and this complicated relationship between ideas of health, illness and race bring attention to the way that in our own world there is often an assumption that illnesses come from outside, which affects travel, immigration, and often means that any pathogens that arise are eventually believed to come from other regions. 

Certain Dark Things doesn’t create a romantic story of wealth, but rather explores poverty. Her central human character, Domingo, is a street teen who has made his living collecting and purposing garbage. Domingo relishes his invisibility, the way people work to ignore him and pretend that he isn’t there because it is easier to do so than to admit that there are homeless young people. Yet, in pointing out the invisibility of homeless Youth, Moreno-Garcia brings it to the reader’s attention, reminding us of how hard we work to ignore social inequalities. This is a story of drug cartels, poverty, government and police abuses of power, and the monstrousness of corruption itself, which is a far more dangerous monster than Atl or her vampire cousins. But, she does use the figure of one Necros vampire, Nick, to point out the excesses of privilege that come with wealth and whiteness, having Nick frequently prioritize himself over anyone else, having him eat in excess, and showing the ease with which he exercises his power over women around him, particularly marginalized women. 

Certain Dark Things disrupts the Eurocentrism of vampire tales, providing an under-represented tale that needed to be told. 

To discover more about Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s work, visit her website at http://www.silviamoreno-garcia.com/blog/ 

Speculating Canada on Trent Radio Episode 48: A Discussion of the Work of Max Turner

In this episode of Speculating Canada on Trent Radio, I interrogate the work of Max Turner, an author who explores the notion of the psychiatric institution through the perspective of a vampire. Turner sets his vampiric character in a former psychiatric institution in Peterborough Ontario called the Nicholls’ Ward. In this discussion of Max Turner’s work, I explore ideas of aging, coming-of-age narratives, expectations of young adult fiction, vampirism, assumptions about psychiatric institutions, and general ideas of home and belonging.

You can listen to this episode of Speculating Canada on Trent Radio at 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. I would also like to thank Dwayne Collins for his consistent tech support and help with the intricacies of creating audio files.

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

You can explore Max Turner’s work at http://maxturner.ca/

Psychiatric Vampirism

A review of Max Turner’s Night Runner (Harper Trophy Canada, 2008)
By Derek Newman-Stille

I am excited to be able to talk about a book that deals with Peterborough, the town that I have come to call home. Max Turner’s Night Runner takes place in the Nicholls’ Ward in Peterborough, the city’s former psychiatric facility. The Nicholls’ Ward closed in 2010 due to issues of cost for repairs and updating of equipment and spaces and it was moved over into the main Peterborough Regional Health Centre building. Throughout the building’s history, it was at various times used as offices for the hospital, archives, a nursing residence, a meeting space, and a library. It was only in its final years that the building was switched to primarily a psychiatric facility. 

Max Turner’s Night Runner takes a novel approach to the teen vampire story by setting the vampire initially in a psychiatric facility. Zach Thomson grew up in the Nicholls Ward after his parents died when he was young. Night Runner takes place when Zach is 15 years old. His experience of youth hasn’t been the same as that of other kids – which is not surprising because children rarely grow up in psychiatric facilities. But his experience is different from that of other children for a variety of health related reasons outside of his mental health. He has an allergy to sunlight, he has a limited diet and is allergic to most foods, and he has bouts of anger and silences that can last for days. Zach has been recognized by his nurses as being in need of specilized medical care. Growing up in a psychiatric ward, Zach has never considered himself normal and he isn’t even certain what ‘normal’ for a teen should be. 

Max Turner creates a novel that questions ideas of normalcy and appropriateness by disrupting ideas of what can be considered normal. He challenges the behaviour of society in ostracizing certain people because of their difference. By situating Zach in a psychiatric institution, Turner questions ideas of family and the type of people that can make up family, extending the idea of belonging to a wider group of very different individuals. 

Night Runner, like many Young Adult tales, is a story about self discovery and the idea of developing a purpose. Zach believes that his life so far has been one of uncertainty and a lack of purpose because he has been in a psychiatric facility all of his life uncertain about what is “wrong” with him and waiting for a cure for his various allergies. 

Turner explores vampirisim as a blood-based pathogen, an infection, but one that radically changes the body, and one that can be spread through the bite. It is also an infection that generally comes with an end date – as every vampire eventually experiences Endpoint Psychosis, a psychiatric illness as they reach the end of their lives and therefore radically change. It is appropriate that a story that deals with the idea of Endpoint Psychosis begins in a psychiatric institution where the same issues of determining “capacity”, self control, and selfhood are diagnostic features both for the psychiatric nurses and for the vampire council who kills vampires they see as being dangerously out of control due to Endpoint Psychosis. In both areas it is up to others in positions of power to determine mental health and ability.

Night Runner, like vampirism itself, is about radical change, coping with different social and emotional pressures and the process of discovery. 

To discover more about the work of Max Turner, visit his website at http://maxturner.ca

To discover more about Night Runner, visit  http://us.macmillan.com/nightrunner/maxturner

 

Speculating Canada on Trent Radio Episode 35: A Discussion of the Works of Nancy Baker

Many years ago, I went on a quest to find the works of Nancy Baker since I had heard such wonderful things about her work. I was able to track down some used copies and read them… and they were brilliant, blending the artistic with the dark. Excitingly, ChiZine Publications has re-released Nancy Baker’s works, so I wanted to take this opportunity to talk about some of my favourities. In this episode, I discuss Nancy Baker’s vampire novels The Night Inside, Blood and Chrysanthemums, and A Terrible Beauty, looking at the way that Nancy explores the power of the vampire to talk about humanity, our society’s beauty and youth obsession, and art.

You can listen to this episode of Speculating Canada on Trent Radio at 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. I would also like to thank Dwayne Collins for his consistent tech support and help with the intricacies of creating audio files.

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

You can read more about Nancy Baker and her work at http://www.nancybaker.ca/

Speculating Canada on Trent Radio Episode 29: A Discussion of Vampires and Adaptation with Amy Jane Vosper

In this episode of Speculating Canada on Trent Radio, I am joined in the studio by horror scholar Amy Jane Vosper as we discuss the figure of the vampire! Amy Jane and I examine the history of the vampire and how the vampire has changed, adapted, and modified itself in our mythology and fiction to express the issues, fears, and anxieties of various ages and cultures. We particularly look at that enigmatic figure Dracula and how Dracula has changed since Bram Stoker’s novel over time.

Because Amy Jane and I are both feminists, we examine the figure of Dracula’s Brides, characters who are relegated to the background, sexualised, and disempowered and we look at how these figures have changed to become empowered figures in Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s brilliant short story “A Handful of Earth”.

You can listen to this episode of Speculating Canada on Trent Radio at the link below

Explore Trent Radio at www.trentradio.ca

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

To read Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s “A Handful of Earth”, go to http://expandedhorizons.net/magazine/?page_id=2442

This audio file was originally broadcast on Trent Radio, and I would like to thank Trent Radio for their continued support. I would also like to thank Dwayne Collins for his consistent tech support and help with the intricacies of creating audio files.

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

Image of Amy Jane Vosper at Trent Radio

Image of Amy Jane Vosper at Trent Radio

Speculating Canada on Trent Radio Episode 6: Canadian Queer SF

As a queer man, do you know what I want to see:

a sci fi novel in which one of the typical space bros says “yo fags, no homo” and instantly has his head bitten off by a glitter-wearing, feather boa carrying alien, who instantly spits it out and says “No hate, bro”;

or a femmbot who decides that since he has been denied the right to transition to a male robot, he is going to take matters into his own hands and solders a vibrator onto his body;

a fantasy novel in which the evil queen finally gets her princess love;

a white knight who realises that the black knight keeps kidnapping princesses to get his attention;

a horror novel in which the werewolf reveals that she is only biting women because she wants to create a female-only pack

OR a sparkly vampire… oh wait, that’s been done before… and with a straight vampire at that.

There is an under representation of queer people in genre fiction, but this episode of Speculating Canada on Trent Radio explores Canadian queer, LGBTQ2 or QUILTBAG (Q – Queer and Questioning, U – Unidentified, I – Intersex, L – Lesbian, T – Transgender, Transexual, Two-Spirited, B – Bisexual, A – Asexual, G – Gay, Genderqueer) fiction.

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.