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 .

Speculating Canada on Trent Radio Episode 1: Canadian Zombie Fiction

In many American zombie narratives, people escape the zombie apocalypse by crossing the border into Canada. Is it our health care? Is it the cold? Is it the maple syrup? Whatever it is, American zombies don’t seem to like us very well… so, Canadians have created our own zombie fiction and we do something a little bit different with our zombies.

This first radio show of the season explores the history of the zombie narrative then delves into some examples of Canadian zombie narratives and explores the potential for the zombie to ask social questions of us as readers.

Listen to a discussion of:

The film Pontypool by Tony Burgess and Bruce McDonald

Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s collection Dead North: Canadian Zombie Fiction, and particularly the stories “And All The Fathomless Crowds” by Ada Hoffmann and “The Herd” by Tyler Keevil.

Corey Redekop’s novel Husk.

James Marshall’s novels Ninja Versus Pirate Featuring Zombies and Zombie Versus Fairy Featuring Albinos.

Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s short story “Cemetery Man”

and

Claude Lalumiere’s short story “The Ethical Treatment of Meat”

Click on the link to hear about how Canadian zombie fiction can comment on everything from the media, violence, the human as monster, social performances, the education system, depression, war, and animal rights.

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.

Between Coping and Addiction

A review of Brandon Crilly’s “Remembrance” from OnSpec # 95, vol 25, no 4

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

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


By Derek Newman-Stille

Set in the future, Brandon Crilly’s “Remembrance” is a venture into the results of war, not on nations, but on one family. Since returning from war, Anna’s father has used an assemblage of assistive technology including a bionic prosthetic leg, but more importantly, a new technology that is purported to help soldiers cope with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). This technology allows a soldier to visit friends lost in war by simulating them in a virtual world.

Anna fears that the assistive tech her father is using is causing him to lose touch with reality and become addicted to his technology. She feels him slipping away from her as he engages more and more with his virtual world. She ponders whether the technology is helping or hindering his metal health.

It is only when Anna is able to think about her own experience of loss, the trauma that she suffered when her mother died, that she is able to understand her father. This common experience of loss lets her enter into a shared space of longing and constant coping.

Crilly provides no easy answers or simple resolutions, but rather shows that trauma and loss are always negotiated, ongoing processes for families to work out.

To read more about OnSpec, visit their website at
http://www.onspec.ca/

To find out more about the work of Brandon Crilly, visit his website at brandoncrilly@wordpress.com

Mistaken Behaviours

A review of Liz McKeen’s “A Season Begins” in OnSpec #92 Vol. 25, No. 1
By Derek Newman-Stille

Cover for OnSpec Spring 2013 courtesy of OnSpec

Cover for OnSpec Spring 2013 courtesy of OnSpec

War is a confusing thing, like cultural contact in general. Liz McKeen’s “A Season Begins” explores the interactions of two alien lives – one primarily land-based and one aquatic. Both species’ see the other as a threat due to their fundamental bodily difference. They mistake the intentions of the other, viewing their behaviours as acts of war, hostile actions that seek to open warfare… and both sides seek to appease the other. They are trapped in a perpetual cycle of misunderstanding, misreading behaviours and acting accordingly.

McKeen illustrates the danger of perceiving difference as a threat, the fear that comes with ascribing others to the position of “threatening”. Rather than seeking to understand each other, learning from one another, they each read the other’s actions as territorial invasions and the desire for conflict. With this threat-based mentality and the fear of the other, everything becomes an act of war, and, rather than seeking a cooperative opportunity, they reconfigure the other as a danger. The differences they inscribe on each other are so extreme that they can’t even conceive of their fundamental similarities – the possibility that both sides love their families and children. Instead they assume the other is a monster, stalking them and seeking conflict.

By putting the reader in between these two conflicting species, watching them become more confused by the actions of the other, McKeen calls on her readers to question what they assume about others, how they read others and what biases and assumptions they create to distance themselves from those they view as threatening.

To find out more about OnSpec, visit their website at http://www.onspec.ca/ .

Zombie Soldiers

A review of Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s “Cemetery Man” in This Strange Way of Dying (Exile Editions, Forthcoming 2013).

By Derek Newman-Stille

Cover photo courtesy of Silvia Moreno-Garcia. Artwork by Sara K. Diesel

Cover photo courtesy of Silvia Moreno-Garcia. Artwork by Sara K. Diesel

When you are in a battle against an enemy that keeps bringing forth the resurrected dead, the worst thing that can happen is when you find yourself tended to by their doctor. In “Cemetery Man”, Catalina finds herself under the ministrations of a Frankensteinian doctor, affectionately called Cemetery Man. Pain runs through her body as Cemetery Man conducts experiments on her, changes her to suit his own ends and those of the military units that support him. He is the ultimate expression of the ability of science to be forced to express political ends. Research is placed above patient needs and the push of politicians for results causes a total abandonment of the statutes of medical care.

In a civil war, like in any war, bodies become disposable, food for the war machine, and Catalina finds herself trapped between allegiances, being used in multiple ways and having her agency ripped from her while struggling to maintain some form of selfhood separate from the political agencies that rob her of power. The zombies surrounding her in Cemetery Man’s lab are the ultimate expressions of the disempowerment of people that often accompanies war – they become the ultimate soldiers, feeling no pain, unable to question their circumstances or their orders, and relegated to the position of murderous machines. But no one is really free of the zombieism that accompanies war, the march with one foot in the grave and control taken into the hands of another.

To find out more about Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s work, you can visit her website at http://silviamoreno-garcia.com/blog/ . To read this story and others from This Strange Way of Dying, you can explore it athttp://silviamoreno-garcia.com/blog/this-strange-way-of-dying/ . This collection will be available in the fall.

Penning the Subtle Murmur of Death and Splash of Blood

A review of Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s This Strange Way of Dying (Forthcoming 2013, Exile Editions)

Cover photo courtesy of Silvia Moreno-Garcia. Artwork by Sara K. Diesel

Cover photo courtesy of Silvia Moreno-Garcia. Artwork by Sara K. Diesel

By Derek Newman-Stille

Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s This Strange Way of Dying is just one step abstracted from reality, with one foot in The Weird. Populated with monsters, magic, and folklore, her work is fundamentally about the human outsider experience, the deeper engagement with the world that comes from being on the fringe, looking in at the oddity that is “The Normal”. From this outsider position, her characters navigate a world that is simultaneously familiar and odd to them. The city in Moreno-Garcia’s work, is a place of wonder and misery. She engages with the estrangement of the urban environment and the isolating and abject quality of living in modernity.

Setting most of her stories in Mexico, and exploring Mexican legends and Mexican urban environments, Moreno-Garcia uses the power of being a person between spaces (both Mexican and Canadian) to navigate the duality of her identity, presenting Mexican themes for a primarily Canadian reading audience. Her stories revel in the creative space of between-ness.

Moreno-Garcia provides the deep and intelligent critiques of “The Normal” that can best be expressed through outsider characters and their ability to have a dual vision of society both from the fringes and from within, questioning and interrogating the norms that are constantly being imposed on them. While engaging with monsters, monstrous changes within, and the touch of magic and death on their lives, her characters explore their relationship to the environment, to mortality, critique capitalist disparity, war and violence, and explore their estrangement from others. Her stories swirl around a critique of people who are obsessed with the mundane while ignoring the violence, disparity, and death around them. The glimpses she provides into the dark don’t allow the reader to escape from the reality of horrors embedded in our world.

Penning shadows that soak and stain the page with midnight ponderings, Moreno-Garcia creates worlds of dark wonder that pull the mind of the reader into a dream-like-state of pondering. Courting death and violence as her muses, and breathing them out onto the page, whispering little deaths onto the paper, she evokes the horror that exists around us, constantly being pushed to the shadows by our own desires to ignore it.

Much like the god of the woods in her story Shade of the Ceiba Tree, her voice is joy and love, yet the reader discovers that beneath the layers of beauty in her words is the subtle murmur of death and the splash of blood on the earth. She, too, wields a double-ended blade of fear and desire.

You can explore some of my reviews of individual stories from this volume at https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2013/07/22/coyotes-in-urban-turf-wars/ and https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2013/07/15/commodifying-extinction/ .

To find out more about This Strange Way of Dying and Silvia Moreno-Garcia, visit http://silviamoreno-garcia.com/blog/this-strange-way-of-dying/This Strange Way of Dying will be available on September 1, 2013.

An Eldrich Digital Light

A review of Kent Pollard’s A Perfect Circle (in Misseplled edited by Julie Czerneda, Daw 2008)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Thorn was created to be evil, he was made to be an evil wizard… that’s the way he was designed. But, what happens when a wizard designed for a video game accidentally summons the overseer programme for the game? What happens when that wizard becomes aware of the role that he is locked into by his design? In A Perfect Circle, Kent Pollard explores the morals of gaming – creating characters as disposable figures and locking the players into a notion of moral exception by virtue of the virtual nature of the character as well as his label as “evil”. Video games are a space where moral absolutes are possible and can lock the player into black-and-white binary moral thinking – “I kill that because it is evil, and save that because it is good”. As a society we tend to ascribe moral absolutes on figures that we construct as enemies and our politicians use terms like “evil” to abdicate moral responsibility. We similarly digitise “enemies”, constructing them as less than human and quasi-virtual to treat their deaths as less impactful than those who we count as “Ourselves”. With digital warfare, this becomes easier – when the killing lens can literally be a digital scope. Thorn, like the overall notion of “enemy” is an archetype, but Pollard invests in him human feeling, experience, and the ability to overwrite his assigned role, to question the paradigm in which he has been placed and break out of the code confines that define and control him.

Pollard invests his wizard Thorn with AI (artificial intelligence) technology, a consciousness and ability to think for himself, and raises the question of whether video games in the future will do similar things when AI technology is further developed. What happens if we create consciousness in a digital construct and what does it mean to kill something that we have created with a form of conscious mind? Would using AI technology in video games be moral?

Thorn experiences an existential crisis, debating his place in his world, his understanding of selfhood, and the constructs that surround him. Worlds and layers of reality become destabilised, questioned, shaky, and understandings slip and break.