A Plague of Immortality

A review of Matt Moore’s “Innocence Prolonged, and Overcome” in Lazarus Risen (Bundoran, 2016)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Contagion narratives have been increasingly popular in our fiction, exploring the human fear of the microorganism, a tiny predator that can consume us without being seen. However, what happens when a virus gives us what we think we want? We are also a society who fears ageing, so what if a virus can end ageing? 

In Matt Moore’s “Innocence Prolonged, and Overcome”, a contagion named the Grail Virus has spread,, killing the vast majority of people that come into contact with it, but granting immortality to a select few people. Because the virus is deadly to most people, this select group of immortals, frozen at the age of infection, have been cut off from the rest of society, quarantined in a small town. 

Moore explores the image that is often projected onto small towns – a timeless space where nothing changes – by introducing a town that is literally frozen in time, unageing… and yet this town is not one that is quant or traditional – this is a town that has systemic violence and a space where people fight against the isolation and agelessness that is often viewed by urban people as the idealized space of the small town. 

Moore’s tale examines the discomfort that comes with agelessness, and the reminder that small towns are places of memory where people can carry on feuds for generations… and in this town, where no one ages, no one needs to rely on stories about slights of family members – these townsfolk remember every slight that has happened to them because they have lived through it all. 

Moore uses the subject of immortality to explore ideas of change and to examine whether people are actually capable of change, interrogating that idea that an “old dog can’t learn new tricks” by giving them an eternity to try to learn new tricks. Moore invites the question of whether people are stuck unchanging because society casts them in that role, always assuming that they are the same person who everyone remembers them being. He asks whether it is possible for people to change if no one will let them and everyone refuses to remember them any other way.

To discover more about Matt Moore’s work, visit https://mattmoorewrites.com/

To find out more about Lazarus Risen, visit Bundoran Press at http://www.bundoranpress.com/product/1/Lazarus-Risen 

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Ageing “Usefully”

A Review of Teri Babcock’s “Prometheus on the Operating Table” in Lazarus Risen (Bundoran Press, 2016)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Frequently, the discourse around ageing is that elderly people are no longer useful in our society. Teri Babcock’s “Prometheus on the Operating Table” complicates these ideas of “usefulness” around ageing by creating an aged character who is the most useful person on the planet, indeed the story opens with “Old as I am, Im useful still, so they keep me alive”. After a viral outbreak damages the livers of Earth’s inhabitants, a 120 year old man discovers that he is the only person with immunity and his liver is repeatedly cut into smaller pieces to be disributed amongst the remaining population. 
The discourse of usefulness shapes his care and he receives extra care because of his perceived importance, pointing out that frequently care is constructed as something that should only be available to the few people who society deems are useful. Yet, his care is also related to constant monitoring and control. He lives out his extended life in a coffin-like pod with a zipper attached to his body for easy access to his liver. Quality of life isn’t a concern for his care-givers and instead they focus on providing him with bodily necessities which reflect their own necessities for the use of his body.
While in “care”, his body is treated as a useable commodity, controlled and without options, and simultaneously treated as a resource to be exploited both for his liver and also for his other bodily fluids since his sperm is also taken and used to impregnate people without his consent. 
Yet, Babcock brings attention to the way that care of aged people need to take into account psychological and social needs, portraying a decline in health coming from depression.
Babcock brings critical attention to the treatment of aged bodies and perceptions about identity and critical needs by portraying a future in which an aged body is constructed as extremely useful, resisting the social portrayal of ageing as a decline in use.
To discover more about Lazarus Risen, visit the Bundoran Press website at http://www.bundoranpress.com/product/1/Lazarus-Risen

Growing Up Monstrous

A review of Nalo Hopkinson’s “The Easthound” in Falling in Love With Hominids (Tachyon Publications, 2015)

By Derek Newman-Stille

Nalo Hopkinson’s “The Easthound” takes the reader onto the streets with a group of street children who have been displaced from their homes. There is a long history of street kids creating their own myths and legends about survival as a means to be able to deal with life on the streets, which, in the case of most of these kids, was safer than life in their original homes with abusive parents. But in “The Easthound” the monsters of those street tales is true. There is something lurking in the dark and it is something that often threatens children on the streets – adults and adulthood.

Hopkinson explores the spectre that haunts most kids on the streets – the violence of their parents and other adults in their lives. But, instead of these adults being regular abusers, they become actual monsters, transformed at the age of adulthood into werewolf-like beasts that prey on anyone who remains human. The street kids in “The Easthound” have gathered together in small groups to keep themselves safe from the spread of the monstrous virus that sets in at puberty and they try to resist adulthood, starving themselves to prevent their bodies from maturing. Many of the children were already abused by adults who were turned into beasts by the spreading virus, some losing limbs. 

Although Hopkinson deals with the spectre of violence as an actual viral spread of monstrosity, she points to the overall issue of violence against youths and the fact that many young people have to take to the streets to escape the violence of adults in their lives and then live in fear on the streets as well. 

Hopkinson’s “The Easthound” mirrors the classic Star Trek episode “Miri” (Season 1, Episode 8) where a virus has spread on an Earth-like planet that turns people monstrously violent when they hit puberty. But, she takes thing further. Whereas the writers of “Miri” try to resolve these issues with a cure (followed by sending educators to the planet), “The Easthound” expresses the idea that there generally aren’t simple solutions to the violence that street children experience and adults are generally part of the problem rather than part of the solution. Hopkinson explores the complexity of street life and the complex ways that “growing up” has a different set of meanings for kids on the street. 

To discover more about the work of Nalo Hopkinson, visit her website at http://nalohopkinson.com

To find out more about Falling in Love with Hominids and other books by Tachyon Press, visit their website at https://tachyonpublications.com/product/falling-love-hominids/

Nursing Home Zombies

A review of Matthew Johnson’s “The Afflicted” in Irregular Verbs and Other Stories (ChiZine Publications, 2014).

By Derek Newman-Stille

Matthew Johnson’s “The Afflicted” levels a critique at older adult care facilities and the general social desire to make the elderly invisible. Johnson highlights the way that we tend to hide older adults away in care facilities that are largely there so that we can hide from the spectre of age. Yet, his elderly population refuse to submit to erasure. Instead, they act boldly, making the threat of age literal by turning them into zombie-like cannibalistic figures. 

The first signs of The Affliction are whitening of the hair, memory loss, and some disorientation. The Affliction then proceeds to make the afflicted violent, inspiring them to hunt other human beings and bite their flesh. 

The Afflicted have all been taken out of nursing homes and placed in locked, gated facilities deep in the woods where no one can see them or visit their elderly family members or friends there. These facilities are believed to be better for those who are likely to eventually become End Stagers – the final stage of The Affliction when the person loses all identity and becomes a ravenous feeding machine. 

It is revealed in the story that The Affliction came from out of the nursing homes, that it originated in these facilities, which allows Johnson to comment on the type of care that is received by the elderly in older adult care facilities. These facilities (before the outbreak) were largely run by machines, limiting human contact between residents and the outside world. Each facility only had one nurse on staff. This lack of contact relates to The Affliction since Kate, the nurse at the facility that The Afflicted takes place in, notes that generally older adults who have regular contact with family and friends don’t go End Stage as early and are able to resist some of the dehumanizing effects of The Affliction. Johnson emphasizes the need for human contact for the elderly and the health benefits of regular contact with family members.

Johnson’s “The Afflicted” brings attention to the way we, as a society, dehumanize the elderly. We turn them into our social fears of death and aging and erase them by placing them in facilities where we don’t have to see them. Johnson powerfully challenges our preconceptions about aging and forces readers to confront the spectre of age and invites readers to question their own assumptions about aging. “The Afflicted” is a powerful reminder of what is forgotten – the people left behind.
  

To find out more about Irregular Verbs and Other Stories, visit ChZine Publications’ website at http://chizinepub.com/books/irregular-verbs

Resistant Strain 

A review of Kelly Robson’s “The Three Resurrections of Jessica Churchill” in Clarkesworld Magazine (February, 2015). Accessible online at http://clarkesworldmagazine.com/robson_02_15/

By Derek Newman-Stille

Jessica’s life had been haunted by the faces of missing and murdered women that dotted the walls of the gas station where she worked, evoking the idea that when one lived on the Highway of Tears, one’s life as a woman was shaped by persistent loss. Jessica learned early on that the system wasn’t made to help, protect, or support her. She had already found that she couldn’t count on the police, medical, or education system for any form of protection, safety, or health. She has learned that her life was shaped by the controls of others and that the only way to be independent was to reject those controls. But, Jessica’s life becomes marked by the omni-presence of health and the threat of death. Her rape and murder are only the first of her body’s violations and infiltrations as her body is resurrected by alien bacteria who claim to want to help her but have invaded her body and modified it. 

Kelly Robson’s “The Three Resurrections of Jessica Churchill” explores the societal violence done against aboriginal women and its multiple manifestations – whether through the prevalence of missing and murdered aboriginal women or the denial of basic services like quality health, protection, and education to women. Robson explores the idea that the violence against women extends beyond sexual assault and murder to the various institutions that divorce women from their own bodies, that deny them access to health, understanding of their bodies, and means of protecting themselves. Robson’s bacterial aliens are only another manifestation of the types of bodily infiltrations and controls that women’s bodies are subjected to. 

“The Three Resurrections of Jessica Churchill” is a chilling tale about the relationship between violence, the body, and the idea that one often falls into trust by necessity because there aren’t other options… but this trust generally comes with an openness to vulnerability as well.

To discover more about Kelly Robson, visit her website at http://kellyrobson.com 

To read this story, visit Clarkesworld at http://clarkesworldmagazine.com/robson_02_15/

Interview with James Marshall

An Interview with James Marshall
By Derek Newman-Stille

Author photo courtesy of James Marshall

Author photo courtesy of James Marshall

After reading Zombie Versus Fairy Featuring Albinos, I was fascinated with James Marshall’s different take on the figure of the zombie and his use of the zombie medium to question the zombie-like state of uncritical thought in our society. I appreciate that he was willing to have a conversation about his zombies and about his writing overall to provide some insights into the world he has observed and reflected in a dark, distorted mirror.

James Marshall is the author of Ninja Versus Pirate Featuring Zombies and Zombie Versus Fairy Featuring Albinos (both available from ChiZine publications), and known for his darkly satirical look at society.

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

James Marshall: I was born and raised in Alberta. I moved to BC after high school. Writing is my passion. I play guitar for fun.

Spec Can: Two of your novels that are out from ChiZine currently feature zombies. What is the appeal of the zombie for you?

James Marshall: I like the zombie because I feel sorry for it at the same time that I fear it.

Spec Can: Why do you think zombies are so popular right now? What is their appeal to our society?

James Marshall: I think there are a number of reasons. People are terrified of dying so the idea of living on, even in a severely diminished capacity, is fascinating. In the age of air travel, the fear of a contagion spreading rapidly seems very real. And a lot of people want to bash out some brains.

Spec Can: In Zombie Versus Fairy Featuring Albinos, your zombie characters seem to offer a distorted window of our world. In what ways can literature about the zombie offer a critique of society?

James Marshall: The zombie does two things: it consumes and reproduces. It does those things unthinkingly and unfeelingly. That’s a pretty damning indictment of society. The zombie reproduces via infection rather than sex but it’s the same thing.

Spec Can: In Ninja Versus Pirate Featuring Zombies and Zombie Versus Fairy Featuring Albinos, the zombies have created an education system that essentially creates the preconditions for kids to become zombies – rote learning, behaviour control, suppression of creativity. What inspired you to look at the education system from this perspective and what would you like to see change?

James Marshall: I’d like to see everything change. I think the whole system needs to be fundamentally rethought. But I don’t think it will be because we’re dealing with such huge numbers.

Spec Can: How can Weird or Dark fiction challenge the status quo and get readers to think outside the box?

James Marshall: I think that by satirizing, we can expose the absurdity of certain ways of thinking.

Spec Can: What can Weird or Dark fiction offer readers that realist fiction can’t?

James Marshall: Zombies. 🙂

Spec Can: Your character Guy Boy Man (from Zombie Versus Fairy Featuring Albinos and Ninja Versus Pirate Featuring Zombies) advocates for a religion that focuses on ending human suffering. What inspired your exploration of religion?

Cover photo courtesy of ChiZine Publications

Cover photo courtesy of ChiZine Publications

James Marshall: Reason. I hope that reason will be popularized someday.

Spec Can: What impact do you hope your novels will have on readers?

James Marshall: I’d be really happy if they just make people laugh and think a little.

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

James Marshall: To learn more about my books, please visit my website www.howtoendhumansuffering.com and to connect with me, please follow me on Twitter @james_marshall or friend me on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/authorjamesmarshall

I want to thank  Mr. Marshall for taking the time to answer questions and share his insights with readers. I know many readers are fascinated with Canadian dark fiction and the figure of the zombie in particular, so I am happy that Mr. Marshall was able to provide thought-provoking responses.

Patient Zero and the Post-Human

A review of Nina Munteanu’s Darwin’s Paradox (Dragon Moon Press, 2007)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Author photo courtesy of Nina Munteanu.

In Darwin’s Paradox Nina Munteanu displays her awareness of scientific discourse: focussing on areas like chaos theory, biological theories of co-evolution, symbiosis and virology, and ecological theories. Her protagonist, Julie, is patient zero in a spreading epidemic that has infected most of modern civilisation. Munteanu creates a civilisation where human society is centred around a few urban locales, leaving large parts of the world unoccupied by human beings, and allowing for ecological development uninterrupted by human interference. Technology in this future world has fused with the viral epidemic, questioning the barriers of the human and the nature of human existence. The nature of humanity has changed with this introduction of other elements into the human biosystem, creating a post-human world in which the possibilities of the future of human existence are called into question, and in which several powers are vying for control of the next stage of humanity and the future of the human race.

Munteanu’s Darwin’s Paradox illustrates a collision of past and future as Julie is haunted by her past and ideas of home, while simultaneously representing a next stage in human evolution. The city Icaria 5 itself is a representation of past and present intersecting: buried under the city of Toronto and rising from the structures of the past. Munteanu’s plot is full of family secrets, the hidden past, and the resurfacing of guilt (particularly Julie’s guilt about being patient zero in the spreading viral apocalypse). She explores the draw of the past and home and the continual pull the past has upon one’s existence. Munteanu explores Julie’s simultaneous desire to return home and her realisation that home has forever changed – becoming a foreign place.

Munteanu explores society’s fear of epidemic and the role of medical technology

Cover photo courtesy of Nina Munteanu

as a mechanism for solving all of the world’s problems. She illustrates that medical technology has its limits and complicates the nature of technological methods of solving problems by allowing virus and technology to meld.  Simultaneously Munteanu explores the continuation of society’s obsession with beauty and perfection by creating a society where one can restore one’s beauty through instant medical treatments: Nuyu and Nuergery, using nanites to restore one’s youth and change undesirable aspects of one’s form. Political groups fearing the over-use of technology and the complications to the idea of the human that these surgeries may cause begin using scarring to assert their difference and reluctance to submit to social controls.

Media plays an important role in Munteanu’s vision of the future, illustrating the continuance of the media hegemony for defining the nature of “truth” as media messages replace facts and political leaders manipulate the media system to enforce their own controls over society and further embed their interests into the developing social system. She illustrates the danger of the current system of using the politics of fear as a mechanism for controlling voters (particularly focussing on the use of fear by political groups to shift cultural ideas, sympathies, and ultimately gain control of the developing social system).  In Munteanu’s vision of the future, it is impossible to trust anyone completely and layers within layers of plot are illustrated, leaving the reader distrusting of every message he or she receives.

Munteanu raises questions and challenges the development of society’s current systems, asking her readers to think critically about messages they are given and to question everything. She illustrates that the truth is socially constructed and that ideas of the truth serve social purposes and can be used to support hidden agendas.

You can discover more about Nina Munteanu’s work at http://www.ninamunteanu.com/ , and can read more about Darwin’s Paradox at http://www.darwinsparadox.com/