Speculative Fiction, Resistance, and Social Change

Speculative fiction has a long history of creating stories that challenge our assumptions about what is possible. Some say that this makes it a natural tool for aiding social justice movements. Others would argue that speculative fiction, like other literary genres, merely springs from and reinforces current social mores and ways of thinking.

This panel will bring together writers of speculative fiction to discuss and debate such issues as the role of dystopian and utopian fiction as social commentary, whether science fiction’s technophilia reinforces capitalist and imperialist thinking, and to what extent is speculative fiction inclusive of works by women, racialized people, and the lgbtqia+ community.

WHEN:  Thursday, May 24th, at 7pm

WHERE:  QPIRG Concordia, 1500 de Maisonneuve West, suite 204

WHO:

H. Nigel Thomas (moderator) is the author of ten books: four novels: Spirits in the Dark (shortlisted for the QSPELL Hugh MacLennan Fiction Award), Behind the Face of Winter, Return to Arcadia, and No Safeguards ( finalist for the Paragraphe Hugh MacLennan Prize for Fiction in 2015); three collections of short stories: How Loud Can the Village Cock Crow, Lives: Whole and Otherwise, and When the Bottom Falls Out and Other Stories; a collection of poems, Moving Through Darkness; and two works of non-fiction: From Folklore to Fiction: A Study of Folk Heroes and Rituals in the Black American Novel and Why We Write: Conversations with African Canadian Poets and Novelists. He is a former Montreal high-school teacher and retired professor of United States literature at Université Laval. He is the founder and English-language coordinator of Lectures Logos Readings.

Claudie Arsenault: Squids, bread, and hot air balloon have little in common… except how much nerdy squeeing they can draw out of Claudie. Excitable and passionate, Claudie writes quirky science-fiction and fantasy that lets the best tropes shine through, haters be damned, and her love for sprawling casts invariably turns her novels into multi-storylined wonders. As an aromantic and asexual writer, she gives full breadth to stories that centre platonic relationships. Her latest novel, Baker Thief, features a bigender aromantic baker and explores romantic narrative arcs applied to aromantic characters. Claudie is also well-known for her database of aro and ace characters. Claudie is also a founding member of The Kraken Collective, a group of indie writers who love queer SFF, and she is devoted to its promotion. Find more on her website!

Paige Cooper’s stories have appeared in The Fiddlehead, West Branch, Michigan Quarterly Review, Gulf Coast Online, Canadian Notes & Queries, The New Quarterly, and have been anthologized in The Journey Prize Stories and Best Canadian Stories. She’s a fiction editor at Cosmonauts Avenue and her first book, Zolitude, came out this year with Biblioasis.

Su J. Sokol is a social rights activist and a writer of speculative, liminal, and interstitial fiction. A former legal services lawyer from New York City, she now makes Montréal her home. Cycling to Asylum, Su’s debut novel, was long-listed for the Sunburst Award for Excellence in Canadian Literature of the Fantastic. Her short fiction has appeared or is upcoming in The Future Fire, Spark: A Creative Anthology, the TFF 10th Anniversary Anthology, Glittership: an LGBTQ Science Fiction and Fantasy Podcast, the Glittership: Year One anthology, and After the Orange by B-Cubed Press. Her new novel, Run J Run, is scheduled to come out in 2019 with Renaissance Press.

CHILDCARE:

f you require childcare, please contact the organizers at info@kersplebedeb.com 48 hours before the event.

ACCESSIBILITY INFORMATION
QPIRG Concordia is a wheelchair accessible and scent-free space see http://www.qpirgconcordia.org/accessibility/ for further details

This event is being organized with the support of QPIRG McGill

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Review of Ariah by B R Sanders

I recently moderated a virtual roundtable discussion on polyamory in speculative fiction, and one of the writers who participated was B R Sanders. After the discussion, I decided to read their novel.

ariah_final_frontcoverIt’s said that you can’t judge a book by its cover, but I was immediately intrigued by the image of the triad which appears on the front of the book. Strong, proud, protective, a little defiant—the three characters were depicted in a way that made me want to learn more not only about them but about their world.

When I was younger, I read a good deal of fantasy, but these days, I generally prefer character-driven, realistic science fiction. This is because, for whatever reason, as an older adult I have often found it difficult to suspend my disbelief when reading certain types of fantasy. In fact, at the very beginning of Ariah, I admit to having inwardly rolled my eyes at the first mention of elves. However, it couldn’t have been more than a few paragraphs later that I was speeding smoothly along, reading about these fascinating people (elves) who felt authentic and were compelling.

The characters in Ariah are nuanced and complex. They were similar enough to people I have known or could imagine knowing to make me feel grounded, and different enough that I was intrigued and eager to learn more. The protagonists had flaws but it was easy for me to care about them. I found myself cringing when they screwed up but I never stopped hoping that things would work out in the end.

Ariah is a story that is filled with many different types of relationships. Along with the characters, we experience the richness and particularities of these relationships, which ranged from the bond between a student and their teacher, the love and loyalty of friends,  romantic love whether sexual or asexual, and the intense (and sometimes dysfunctional) connections between members of blood or found family. I very much enjoyed exploring this with Ariah and the people around him. I also liked that the story took place within a certain political context, with all the ugliness, pain, and injustice that we find in our worlds, and with all the hope and courage too. Finally, Ariah is also a classic adventure story of a young adult growing up and learning to understand himself and his world while meeting interesting people and going on grand adventures filled with both fun and hardship.

The world building was well done. Sanders is very good at avoiding exposition, instead just letting you work things out for yourself. I actually did not figure out every detail of Ariah’s world or worlds and still had some questions at the end. Although I think this was a small flaw (since I am generally pretty good at putting things together), I much prefer this situation to being the victim of an information dump that pulls me out of the action. In fact, not being certain of every detail concerning how this world functioned made me interested in learning more, perhaps by reading other books that might take place in this same world. I think I’ll start looking for some right now.

Review of The Other Oscar by Cora Siré

the other oscarGood things do indeed come in small packages—even novels, as is demonstrated by Cora Siré’s The Other Oscar. Although the book is only 87 pages in length, it manages to accomplish more than many books that are four times its length.

Oscar, the main character in this story, is a Canadian musician who’s been hired to play his cello for a bit role in a movie being filmed in the city of Iquique, Chile. The problem? He must do the playing on a small raft in the middle of the ocean, and he can’t swim. Oscar is a young father, divorced, a little socially awkward, good-natured, and a devoted son to a father with mental health problems. In fact, Oscar is somewhat obsessed with madness, which happens to also be the topic of the film in which he has been called upon to play.

Siré does an excellent job of gaining sympathy early on for her protagonist. In addition, she has created a whole cast of additional characters who are both believable and interesting, including Clave, who stars in the film; Sarah, the director; Noemi, who works at the hotel; a street musician, his daughter, and a monkey; and a second Noemi … but to say more would be a spoiler.

Suffice it to say instead that I happily followed Oscar through the twisty streets of Iquique and the equally twisty plot turns, and in the end, I learned some more about madness, art, devotion, kindness, hope, and new beginnings.

Review of Fae Visions of the Mediterranean: An Anthology of Horrors and Wonders of the Sea

Fae Visions of the Mediterranean: An Anthology of Horrors and Wonders of the Sea, Edited by Valeria Vitale & Djibril al-Ayad

This is the fifth Future Fire anthology that I have read. The first three—Outlaw Bodies, We See a Different Frontier, and Accessing the Future—are each linked by a common theme or idea, and the fourth one, TFF-X: Ten Years of The Future Fire, is a mix of new work and selected reprints published to celebrate the tenth year anniversary of The Future Fire magazine. The most recent anthology, Fae Visions of the Mediterranean: An Anthology of Horrors and Wonders of the Sea, is a collection of stories, poetry and artwork connected by geography rather than ideas.

I read and appreciate a fairly wide spectrum of what can be called speculative fiction, but my preferences tend to run more towards science fiction and realistic fantasy than to other sub-genres. As in art, music, and romance, there is no accounting for taste, but for some reason, stories about sea monsters and other mythic ocean creatures don’t usually float my boat (excuse the pun.) I am also not very drawn to horror. Nevertheless, though this anthology is filled with such elements, there is something about it that was pleasing to me, something that has to do with the impressively diversity of the pieces contained in the collection. Not only is there prose, poetry, and artwork, but a wide range of writing and artistic styles are also represented. The stories likewise come from a large number of nations, cultures, and traditions, all linked by their physical connection to the Mediterranean Sea.

The inclusion in the collection of many of the languages of the region was particularly effective. Though the anthology is still primarily English (and can be enjoyed by a unilingual anglophone), I appreciated the opportunity to see some work in its original regional language followed by the English translation, and the fact that in some cases the translation seemed truncated or at least secondary somehow made the story feel more authentic for me. In fact, while the collection has an almost mythic feel to it, at the same time, it seems very “grounded” in the history and legends of the Sea, thereby giving it a well-researched or even academic solidity

Here are some of my favourite pieces:

“The Miracle Town” by Mattia Ravasi: I was very drawn in by the story-telling skills of this author. I did not know what the story was about for a while (no spoilers) but it did not matter because the writing was so enjoyable, and the build and reveal were very well-done.

“The Wisps of Tabarka” by Hella Grichi: I enjoyed this both as a story and a work of art. There is a lovely integration of the original language with the English telling. It is written as a fairy tale, but not like a western fairy tale.

“Ghanja Bla Flus/A Free Song” by Maria Grech Ganado: This is a beautiful poem, filled with passion, sharp wit, and mystery.

“The Minotaur in Pamplona” by Rhys Hughes, is a well written tale filled with longing and regret, with just enough mystery mixed + foreshadowing to make the ending satisfying.

“Bilaadi by S. Chakraborty”: This is beautifully written, with a very successful use of second person narration. It is a deep, a very human story at the same time that it is a tale of gods and myths.

“The Return of Melusine” by Angela Rega is a well-told story that reads both contemporary and as an ancient myth.

Tabulit and Fair Trade Literature

slip back move forwardShort story collections, cyber-publications, literary magazines, online journals … getting a story published in any one of these places is exciting. Seeing your story in print feels good, and being paid for it as well feels even better, even if the payment is only at a semi-professional or token rate rather than the full five cents per word (still not a huge amount of money) that “pro markets” pay. I am pleased and grateful to have received such payments from the wonderful magazines and anthologies that have published my stories, publications who are themselves struggling, often with unpaid staff doing a labour of love.

I often wonder if it has to be this way, with editors and slush-readers working for free, and writers trying to eek out a living labouring at their craft early in the morning or late at night, around the “day” jobs they need to buy groceries and pay the rent. I think about living in one of those utopian worlds I like to read and write about, where writers and other artists are considered valuable members of our society, where art is recognized as necessary to a full human life, where creators of art are paid — perhaps in money, perhaps in barter with bread and housing, tools and pottery, wine and roses.

Recently, I learned about a new platform for publishing literature called Tabulit. Tabulit believes that writers should be able to earn a reliable income from their writing and acts on this belief by paying their writers a very substantial percentage of royalties while doing their best to promote the literature on their site. Tabulit is also innovative, with many ideas for using new approaches and technologies. They have begun by publishing short fiction and series (yes, serialization is back!), and hope to soon add poetry and graphic novels and perhaps even more interactive forms of storytelling.

But I will let them speak for themselves by directing you to an article on their blog containing their manifesto.

Meanwhile, I am pleased to announce that Tabulit has republished my short story “Slip Back, Move Forward.” This is a time travel story about a young man named Yusef who moves between a legal rights clinic in a near-future Montréal to when he was ten years old in Times Square, just post-9/11. To read this story, simply register with Tabulit where you will receive free tokens that can “open” stories. If you like what you see, you can purchase more tokens. Check out my story here or by first going to the site and registering. Hope you enjoy it!

2015 Expozine

 

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I will be tabling for Deux Voiliers Publishing at this year’s Expozine! My novel will be on sale as well as a number of other DVP works, not to mention hundreds of other cool books and zines.

Here is a description of the event:

 
Dive into the incredible world of local and international small press, authors and artists ! Meet the “crème de la crème” of the Montreal small press scene in both official languages ! Take part in discussions about the future of the small press and support local alternative publishers !

Come to discover the latest and greatest works put out by legends of the alternative publishing scene as well as the up-and-coming stars of the next generation, many titles exclusive or printed in very limited quantities, available for the most part only at Expozine!

La foire annuelle des petits éditeurs, bande dessinées et fanzines de MONTRÉAL’s annual small press, comic and zine fair ! 

Plonger dans l’univers décalé des éditeurs, écrivains et artistes indépendants internationaux ! Rencontrer en personne le milieu des petits éditeurs montréalais, francophone et anglophone ! Participer aux échanges sur les défis du milieu et soutenir la création parallèle !

Ne ratez pas cette occasion de découvrir l’imaginaire riche et exalté de l’édition indépendante, et laissez-vous surprendre par toute la vitalité du milieu !

 
Hope to see you there!

Review of Signs of Subversive Innocents

Subversive_Innocents_webWhat is remarkable about Cora Siré’s poetry collection, Signs of Subversive Innocents, is both the breadth and the depth of the work: depth because so many of the poems are about much more than you think at first, and breadth because of the wide variety of subjects and issues that are addressed. There are poems about passion, rubbish, the carnal and the pure, death, irony, faith, music, dreams, art, bicycles, the politics of resistance, and more. In addition, the poems take the reader to different times and places—Hué, Buenos Aires, Franco Ontario, Mont Royal, Vermont—where you might laugh or cry, celebrate or mourn, but always, where you are rewarded with a deeper knowledge of things that are important both to you and to the world, a knowledge for which you sense the poet has fought hard, or that others have.

Not only is there a wide breadth of subject matter, but the collection contains poetry of many diverse styles. I found this refreshing since certain poetry collections can feel a little dull to me after a while if the types of poems and topics they address tend to be too similar. Although I cannot name all of the styles used in the collection, some of the types of poetry I noticed included concrete or pattern poetry, list poems, prose poetry, free verse, refrain poetry, lament, and (I think) eclogue and verse paragraph.

Despite the diversity in style, place and subject matter, the other thing that is great about this collection is how it functions as a whole. There is a certain underlying structure that, while I can’t describe exactly how it works, leaves the reader satisfied. I found myself thinking that yes, there is loss and injustice and ugliness in the world, but there is also art and beauty and love, and it is important to continue the struggle for these things, and for people to write beautifully about these struggles.

Below are some of my favourite poems from the collection:

“In Exile”
“Snarl”
“Rendition n (often followed by of)”
“Étapes (décembre)”
“Cordillera Midnight”