Timelines

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Timelines
A review of Joanne Findon’s When Night Eats The Moon (Red Deer Press, 1999)By Derek Newman-Stille

Time travel is ultimately about responsibility – responsibility to the timeline, to the past, the present, and the future. Perhaps this is why it works so well for a Young Adult novel. In When Night Eats The Moon, Joanne Findon’s narrator, Holly, begins her voyage through time by idealising the past. She sees the past as an idealised place, separate from the issues of modernity and she wants to escape her personal circumstances (the tension between her parents and the shroud of secrets they have woven around her life) to find a reality that resonates with her desires. She has to cope with the clashing of fantasy and reality and the uncertain barrier between them. Rather than her fantasies being eclipsed by reality as occurs in so many coming-of-age narratives, Holly’s reality is expanded by the incorporation of the fantastic into her life and her fantasies are augmented by the infusion of the need for thinking about the real world impact of imagining.

Holly is placed on the edge of family secrets and forbidden knowledge beyond her understanding. Holly discovers a group of vessels filled with time that are able to transport her to the ancient past, letting her meet the builders of Stonehenge. During her voyage, she meets Evaken, a boy who has also discovered forbidden secrets in a Magician’s Apprentice narrative where he takes on magic for which he doesn’t yet have the wisdom to understand. This collision of times and secrets produces a space of healing, an integration of separate narratives, of stories divided by space and time. Holly is able to gain perspective on her own life when she encounters the violent collision of people in the past and is able to bring a perspective from the future to people in the past who need new tales to give them context on their complex world. 

Believing that she is powerless to change the world, Holly learns that she has the power to change the world. She has to come to terms with the responsibilities, challenges, and complexities of realising that she has meaning in her world and that her choices can alter the world. 

Learning How Not To Be A Hero

Falcon's Egg Cover

Learning How Not to Be A HeroA review of Edward Willett’s “Falcon’s Egg” (Bundoran Press, 2015)

By Derek Newman-Stille

Lorn had always wanted to be a hero, always looked up to those revolutionary leaders he saw pushing boundaries and changing society, but when Lorn sees his “changed” government behaving in the same way as the previous regime, he is forced to question the ideals of change. Lorn tries to uncover secrets that the government is keeping from the populace and he has to take leave from his job in government policing in order to figure out what the government has become and what they are now capable of. 

As Lorn has aged, his heroes have become more humanized and he begins to see the weaknesses in the social construction of heroism. He is forced to face the reality that the idealisms of youth have become the cynicisms of age. 

In “Falcon’s Egg” Edward Willett takes on the notion of heroism itself, exploring the casualties of war and the results of battle on the psychology of the protagonist who has endured the traumas of war. “Falcon’s Egg” is a text of revolution, a war narrative with a bit of frontier ideologies since it is set on an alien world that is in conflict with the more technologically developed centrist planets. However, unlike most exploration, war, revolution, and adventure narratives who uncritically cast the hero as a figure who is above trauma, Willett’s narrative explores the toll that heroism takes on the mind of the hero as well as the toll that it takes on human lives and society. Lorn, through his trauma, is forced to re-assess what it means to be a hero and acknowledge the harm that he and others who saw themselves as heroes have done in enforcing their ideals. At the beginning of “Falcon’s Egg”, Lorn, like many soldiers, begins his story trying to convince himself that he had to do every horrible thing he had done to make the world a better place, and, when told by a psychiatrist that he had PTSD, ignored what he was told and saw PTSD as a “disease of lesser people”. But, when he experiences increasing flashbacks and scenes of horror, he realizes that he needs to shift his perception of himself and his role in society. The toll of human lives becomes too much for him and his own horror at how casually he can now commit murder opens a doorway to a room full of unanswered and unsettling questions for him. Lorn realizes that his dream of running away to space, away from home and his family has always, fundamentally, been a desire to run away from himself.

Willett creates a coming of age narrative that is not limited to a youth. He portrays Lorn as a man, like most others, who is perpetually going through coming of ages, understanding himself in new ways as his viewpoints change with experience. Lorn experiences an awakening to his own ignorance and self denial that lets him finally come to find himself and find meaning in his life beyond the fairy tale narratives of the hero that are portrayed by his society. Willett creates a character who is learning how not to be a hero, but, rather, learning to be a human being. 

You can find out more about Edward Willett’s work at http://www.edwardwillett.com 

You can discover more about Falcoln’s Egg and other Bundoran Press books at bundoranpress.com

Doomed to Change

 A review of A.M. Dellamonica’s “The Color of Paradox” at tor.com. 

By Derek Newman-Stille

Like the past, the future has a way of getting into you and this is certainly true for Jules Wills. Knowing the end of the world was in sight, Jules and other time travellers were bounced off of that horrifying future and sent into the past. The only problem is that the brief glimpse of their future stained them, changed them bodily and mentally. Jules is stained by the future he glimpsed when in the Timepress and sees the horrible burning of that future, the smell of rotted flesh, and the strange, unnatural colours of the future every time he sleeps. Even his personality has changed and he has shifted from a non-violent person to someone who dreams of inflicting horrors on others. He feels that he has been infected with the violence that he saw at the end of the world. His body has been irreparably changed by the process of time travel and feels as though it is fundamentally damaged.

A.M. Dellamonica’s “The Color of Paradox” explores notions of inevitability and the desire to change the future during a time (around World War II), when the world seems attached to an inescapable doom. Dellamonica explores the idea of time travel as an attempt to undo some of the horrors that war could inflict on humanity and shapes the idea of survival of the war as itself a form of miracle (one that this story suggests is achieved through time travellers changing the outcome). She explores the damage that war does to bodies and minds and though the PTSD and bodily damage done to her characters is a result of time travel, it mirrors the effects of war and the trauma done to those soldiers who are told that their actions are necessary for ‘saving the world’. 

Dellamonica puts her characters into a situation where they have the choice of either ignoring orders to save one innocent child who they are sent to kill or allow that child’s life to cause the future that eventually dooms everyone. She puts her characters in that classic philosophical question of whether they would kill one innocent child to save millions or allow the child to live and doom the huge amounts of others… and she carries her readers along for this moral ride, questioning how we would cope with this situation and react under similar circumstances. 

You can access this story for free at http://www.tor.com/stories/2014/06/the-color-of-paradox-am-dellamonica

Explore A.M. Dellamonica’s website at  http://alyxdellamonica.com

The End is Only The Beginning

A review of Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s collection Fractured: Tales of the Canadian Post-Apocalypse (Exile Editions, 2014)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Cover photo of Fractured courtesy of Exile Editions

Cover photo of Fractured courtesy of Exile Editions

Flooding, ghosts, spreading oil sinkholes, whitenoise, bio weapons, nuclear bombs, sudden population disappearances, a strange rotting of the landscape, persistent sleep, the drying of the world’s lakes, alien invasion, shadows, plague, constant rain, technological crashes, ruptures into the abyss, fires… the visions of the apocalypse are multifaceted and Fractured: Tales of the Canadian Post-Apocalypse imagines new nuances of each potential end. But ultimately, this is not a collection about the end, not about the apocalypse itself, but the experience of the end and the way that the end can be a beginning of a changed world, a world that envisions a separation from the past but is still haunted by its memory. Fractured imagines what characters in the post-Apocalypse are feeling, how they are making meaning out of their experiences, how they are coping with severe changes to their world, and ultimately, the loneliness that comes from facing the end. This is a volume of endings that embody beginnings.

The term apocalypse means revelation, the revealing of things and ultimately this volume reveals the nuanced experience of endings and focuses on people coping with the notion of the end, the thought about the idea of endings itself. It is a volume of change, memory, isolation, and desire.

Fractured looks that the connection between human and landscape and how each mirrors and is influenced by the other, illustrating hoe we are shaped by each other – place and people. It is a collection of scavenging from the past and collecting the detritus and rubbish of our civilisation as treasures, reminding us of our privilege to be living in a pre-apocalyptic world.

The post-apocalypse is as much about meaning as it is about survival.

To discover more about Fractured: Tales of the Canadian Post-Apocalypse, visit Exile Editions’ website at exileeditions.com

You can find a review of some of the short stories in this collection at

https://speculatingcanada.ca/2014/11/28/ectoplasmopocalypse/

https://speculatingcanada.ca/2014/04/09/hollow-signals/

 

Edgy Relationships

A review of Suzanne Church’s Elements: A Collection of Speculative Fiction (Edge, 2014)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Cover photo of Suzanne Church's "Elements" courtesy of http://edgewebsite.com/

Cover photo of Suzanne Church’s “Elements” courtesy of http://edgewebsite.com/

In her short story collection Elements: A Collection of Speculative Fiction Suzanne Church treks across stars, across time, beyond the human experience, into the magical, the mystical, the dark, infusing pages with otherworldly imagination that invite us to be fellow travellers into the unknown. She crosses genre boundaries, infusing each with new life brought trough experiences submerging in the others. Her work touches the barriers between horror, science fiction, and fantasy, playing with reader expectations and expanding the scope of the reader’s imagination.

Elements IS fundamentally elemental, not just because some of her characters play with weather (the elements) and with the elements of fire and water, or even because some of her androids are named after elements from the Periodic Table, but because there is something both incredibly large and incredibly intimate about her work because whether it be about aliens, androids, sentient coffee cups, future warriors, or magic users, her work fundamentally explores RELATIONSHIPS, those strange, impossible, and yet oh so familiar things – and relationships are things that we share, whether they be romantic, familial, friendly, or interspecies. Suzanne builds bridges across species, planets, dimensions, and states of being in order to capture that moment when Others touch, when a sharing of experience occurs, and a fuzziness develops between the Self and the Other.

Not all of the relationships in Elements is positive, because relationships hurt, relationships can damage us. This is, by far, not a romantic collection, but is rather about the interactions between people, the ways in which we understand and relate to each other… and not all of the ways we relate to each other is positive. Her stories deal with issues like domestic violence, sexual abuse, war, imbalances of power, abandonment, and situations where the only safe relationship can be created after an escape from home… but they also forge improbable connections, friendships between unlikely allies, allegiances between seeming enemies, a push beyond fear to allow for connections between people who fundamentally see each other as opposites.

Relationships are part of how we understand the world, how we interpret it, creating understanding and interpretation through dialogue, through the experience of sharing ideas with each other, but they are also painful, sharpened by feelings of abandonment, differences in viewpoints, codependency, contexts of pain, confusion, misinterpretations, and an Us against Them mentality. Suzanne Church explores all of these, pushing the extents of human relationships to the edge, and perhaps even peaking beyond the human, displacing our centrality in our view of the world.

To explore reviews of some of the individual stories in this collection, visit:

https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2014/08/05/evangelical-science/

https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2014/07/27/predator-and-prey-relationships/

https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2014/07/26/body-of-war/

and for a discussion of this collection with Suzanne Church, visit our interview at https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2014/08/02/speculating-canada-on-trent-radio-episode-14-an-interview-with-suzanne-church/

To find out more about Elements and other Edge books, visit their website at http://www.edgewebsite.com/ .

To discover more about Suzanne Church, visit her website at http://suzannechurch.com/wordpress/ .

Body of War

A review of Suzanne Church’s “Coolies” in Elements: A Collection of Speculative Fiction (Edge, 2014)
By Derek Newman-Stille

War evokes complicated loyalties and dangerous moral questions. War involves the engagement of elaborate systems of propaganda that make moral choices seem easy, breaking down their complexity into black and white, good and evil, win and lose.

Cover photo of Suzanne Church's "Elements" courtesy of http://edgewebsite.com/

Cover photo of Suzanne Church’s “Elements” courtesy of http://edgewebsite.com/

In Suzanne Church’s “Coolies”, the United States is at war with Canada, bombing Canadian stem cell research facilities out of their belief in the moral wrongness of the facilities. Marvin, convinced that he needs to protect Canada’s facilities, abandons his loyalty to family and duties as a father in order to continue his investment in his loyalty to the state, a loyalty he has been inculcating in young soldiers to continue the war effort. When his daughter, protected from the knowledge of who her father is, joins the military, he is put into the position of questioning his oaths or having to collect her body parts from the battlefield to graft onto other soldiers.

Church plays with militaristic ideas of loyalty (and complicates the notion that loyalty is an easy duty), “saving lives” (and explores the question of whether soldiers or doctors are best suited for the task of saving lives), and literally has Marvin see the world through new eyes provided by organ transplant.

Like the bodies on the battlefield, Suzanne Church rips apart conventional propaganda myths, revealing the corpus of stories that shore up the singular morality of war.

To fin out more about Elements and other Edge books, visit their website at http://www.edgewebsite.com/ .

To discover more about Suzanne Church, visit her website at http://suzannechurch.com/wordpress/ .

Is it Literary if it has Social Commentary?

A review of OnSpec #95 vol 25 no 4 Edited by Diane L. Walton
By Derek Newman-Stille

Cover photo from OnSpec  # 95, courtesy of http://www.onspec.ca

Cover photo from OnSpec # 95, courtesy of http://www.onspec.ca

 

This review is well- timed since I recently posted something about ableism, sexism, homophobia, and racism at fan conventions and have been thinking about ways to make SF fandom more inclusive. When reading OnSpec #95 vol 25 no 4, it occurred to me that the OnSpec editors are definitely doing their part to be inclusive by featuring stories that engage with a variety of different bodies and identities. One way that we can open fans to new ways of including diversity is to make sure that diversity is reflected in the SF works that we produce. OnSpec’s recently produced winter issue features works that engage with aging characters, LGBTQ2 or QUILTBAG populations, people in poverty, physical and psychological disability, and they do so in a way that raises questions about ableism, classism, and homophobia by giving the reader the opportunity to enter into the headspace of people who are often treated as abject by a society that discriminates against them.

Fiction provides us with an opportunity to exercise our skills in empathy, flowing in to the minds and experiences of characters as we read about them. Empathy is something that we all need to develop further and SF has the ability to let us venture into a variety of highly diverse minds and experiences.

Susan MacGregor begins this OnSpec with a discussion of the notion of “literary merit” and a reminder that a lot of the people who defend the notion that there is a “high literature” and that science fiction, fantasy, and horror cannot be it will often say that SF doesn’t make social contributions. Susan reminds the reader of the kinds of contributions that SF makes and mirrors some of the perspectives I have often espoused here on Speculating Canada that speculative fiction by its very nature opens things up to speculation, to question, and that by venturing into the weird realms of other worlds, other realities, and strange places, we can come back to our own world with questions, pondering the things we take for granted. It is very appropriate that this volume follows from her editorial with stories that feature characters who are often socially ostracized and exploring ideas about people in our own society who are treated like aliens and monsters. This exploration of those who are so often treated as ABnormal in situations that are abnormal (because they are set in the future or on other worlds or alternative histories) lets us question the idea of “normal” and come back to our own reality with a question about why so many people want to maintain a “normal” that excludes so many others. OnSpec 95, like other good works of SF opens OUR world to questions and lets us reassess it.

In addition to the -isms, OnSpec 95 invites readers to think about the damage caused by war whether it is physical injury to the body, environmental damage, psychological trauma, or damage to the community and notions of trust. The reader is encouraged to question our relationship to technology, deal with issues of addiction, plague, family violence, community secrets, memory, and the loss of selfhood itself. The fact that it does this social interrogation in a plague city of the future, in an alternative past full of necromantic powers and political intrigue, a future of prosthetic limbs and VR technology for coping with PTSD, a future of resource scarcity following international war, and a small town with a man who can sense truth makes it both incredibly entertaining and engaging.

OnSpec 95 binds narratives of loss together, creating a space for the interaction of future and past to talk about things that have become memory, things that we pine for, and things that we will feel the loss of in the future…. but these stories are ultimately about the present, about where and how we live NOW… and the authors ask us to question The Now to gain new insights about ourselves and the human experience.

We talk a lot about fantasy, science fiction, and horror as escapes, but I think that good speculative fiction is not an escape, but a temporary abstraction from reality that lets us come back to our own world with new insights, new ideas, and new ways of questioning the “norms” that we take for granted. Send me to an alien world any day if I can come back from it with a spaceship full of questions for this world!!

To read reviews of some of the individual stories in OnSpec 95, see:

https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2014/04/23/performing-reality-living-fiction

https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2014/04/27/between-coping-and-addiction

https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2014/04/30/a-necromantic-disregard

You can discover more about OnSpec at onspec.ca .