Speculations: A ChiSeries Blog

Speculations is a blog hosted by the SpecFic Colloquium that will provide short articles discussing a range of topics related to speculative fiction--that is, science fiction, fantasy, horror, slipstream, magic realism and other associated genres. We encourage you to applaud, to contend, to debate and to discuss the material here! We want a dialogue about the status of the field so please write in with your thoughts, but please respect Internet etiquette.

If you're interested in submitting a blog entry, e-mail Helen Marshall with the topic you have in mind!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

I am Canadian!

By Julie Czerneda

“I am Canadian” is a primer for "Canadian Science Fiction: Taking Over the World, Nicely,” a longer talk that Julie will present on Saturday, 23 October 2010, at the Toronto SpecFic Colloquium.

 “I am Canadian” comes, not from the beer rant commercials (though I do enjoy those), but from my good friend Don Bassie who has done so much online and off to promote the creations of us Canadian SF folk. Even made us buttons. I’ve mine right here. It says, “I am Canadian SF!”

Of course, being Canadian, I couldn’t possibly use the full thing as my title even for this blog. Wouldn’t feel right. I mean, I’m not the only one … nor is SF all I am … it’s such a struggle for us, isn’t it, to toot our own horns?

Well, we should.

I’ll start.

::imagine me standing on a busy street corner with megaphone:: I Love Science Fiction!

I read it, watch it, daydream in it. I love how it opens my mind and shows me possibilities. I love the way it lets me build (or destroy) entire planets and visit futures that may or may not ever exist.

Science fiction rewards imagination and critical thought, exactly what we need to ride the waves of change. You there. All of you. Read it!

Not that I’d do that. The megaphone thing.

Being Canadian, I’m more likely to nod knowingly at someone on the bus, or in a bookstore, who has their hands wrapped around a science fiction book. Behold, a kindred spirit! (Which is getting harder to do, by the way, now that people e-read. How can you spot a kindred spirit that way? Don’t mind me, I’m leaning over your shoulder to peer at the header on your screen?)

As for Canadian science fiction? Our science fiction stories are second to none. Everyone should read them! Why are they great? Perhaps it’s our near-obsession with bad weather, since we do live where being outside could kill us. (Or make us deliriously content. We’re complex that way.) Then there’s our perspective on society, which we fully expect to be complicated, clunky, and subject to compromise, though ultimately reasonable if you don’t poke it too much.

Above all, I believe it’s because Canadian science fiction reflects how we view our place on this planet. We aren’t alone and we don’t want to be. We care, we connect, but we don’t tell others what to do. We worry when anyone suggests we lead by example, because we know we haven’t got it right yet, whatever it is, though we’re trying. Our stories are messy and challenging. Our characters are flawed and utterly human. Our ideas?

Oh, those are as big as our backyard.


Julie E. Czerneda is a best-selling, award-winning author/editor. Her latest SF novel is the Rift in the Sky (The Clan Chronicles #3), DAW Books. Her latest anthology is Ages of Wonder, with Rob St. Martin. Next will be A Turn of Light, Julie’s first fantasy novel. Julie is co-editor of Tesseracts 15: A Case of Quite Curious Tales, with Susan MacGregor. It will be an anthology of original Canadian science fiction, fantasy, and horror for young adult readers. Julie is also a juror for the 2011 Sunburst Award for excellence in speculative fiction writing. For more, visit www.czerneda.com.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Queering (My) Genre

By Gemma Files

"Queering (My) Genre" is a primer for "Queering the Genre," a longer talk that Gemma will present on Saturday, 23 October 2010, at the Toronto SpecFic Colloquium.

In 1984, having heard the same “future of horror” quote from Stephen King as everybody else in the world, I bought the first of Clive Barker’s Books of Blood. The last story in the book is “In the Hills, the Cities”, and readers, that’s when I knew for sure that I was lost.

I mean, I’d suspected as much previously--as I’ve said before in plenty of other venues, like Yukio Mishima, my heart’s sad leaning has always been towards “Night, and Blood, and Death”, but it’s been a while, and I’m down with that. The things I'm interested in have sharp edges and sad outcomes; I believe that anger is an energy, that the worst things we do we do to ourselves, and that wounds can become sex-organs if we play with them too often. Cronenberg, Ballard, Brite, Kiernan, Koja, Scorsese, they're all my muses: I love opera, narratives that float in a dream-state of bad romance and conflicted motivations. I like a bit of bruise with my kiss.

All of which pretty irretrievably makes “my” genre now and forever maybe horror, maybe dark fantasy, maybe just "dark".

When I was younger, I’d tell people I wanted to write horror (movies, then...how things change, though I sure wouldn’t turn a chance to go back to that down), and they’d say: “Oh, like Friday the 13th?” Aside from the fact that today the referenced film would probably be either Saw or Hostel, things haven’t really changed. “Dark” is not assumed to be a spectrum--with its steadfast concentration on the things most people would rather not think about too deeply, “dark” is assumed to come in one color only, one blood-rot-gross flavour. Because “dark” is not, has never been, never will be, the mainstream.

This is an interesting realization, especially when you factor in the perception that horror (in particular) is a genre which thrives on Other-ation. Peel back modern horror culture, and you fairly quickly reach the concept that dread comes from threat and threat comes from the violation of the "norm", with the "norm" automatically coded as the perceived societal media default: Male, white-skinned, middle-class, cisgendered, straight, Christian of some variety. People from inside these boundaries deserve to survive (our hero, his wife/GF, his kids, his support-system), but sometimes don't, which is horrifying; people from outside these boundaries don't deserve to survive unless they change themselves to fit inside them, and may in fact be coded as allied with/part of “the evil”, just by virtue of being outside the protagonists’ accepted rubric.

I find it only fair to mention here that “the default”, for the most part, bores me by definition, and always has. Not completely--I like to think I’m fluid enough that if you can convince me of something, elevate it beyond the usual, I’ll embrace it whole-heartedly. (Witness my attachment to King’s ‘Salem’s Lot and The Stand, as well as my championship of less-defensible Unca Stevie works like The Tommyknockers and Desperation.) But the problem with coding is that it’s short-hand, and short-hand is lazy; it’s a very easy way to look at the world. Darkness shouldn't be easy.

“In the Hills, the Cities” is a story about that classic horror movie protagonist pair trope, The Couple Who Go On Vacation and Stumble Across Something Unexpected. The thing they come across is a pair of giants made from lashed-together human beings acting in hypnotized concert--the rival cities of Popolac and Podujevo, who’ve had a ritualistic yearly wrestling match for district supremacy. But today, a terrible accident has left Podujevo destroyed and Popolac wandering free, massive and insane.

The story is brutal, poetic and crazed, with a striking sensual immediacy which set my creative bar forever at exactly that level--out of reach, I’m sure, but well worth trying for nonetheless, like I’ve been doing ever since. It breaks all sorts of rules, but the first one it screws with it does pretty much in paragraph one, by making that central couple a pair of dudes.

So we can credit/blame Clive Barker for having convinced me that what makes far more sense than knee-jerk heterocentrism in horror is the idea that if “dark” is for outsiders, then perhaps it’s the perfect place to find the representation that we’re denied everywhere else. The place where the outsider perspective can be centralized and given protagonist agency, as we often see in even the most mainstream of “dark” narratives--ghost stories starring women, monster stories starring children and old people, narratives in which the post-apocalyptic world boils down to a representative sample of humanity, and the freaks and geeks take over.

Or even those classic slashers which gave rise to the image of the Final Girl; once upon a time, that was a crazy idea. Now it’s become the rule rather than the exception, so we routinely stretch it just as far as it will go, and further--the same way we once began with ridiculous fake-inclusionary things like Blacula, cooked up specifically to access a particular market, and somehow (by stretching the definition of what was genre-“allowable”) ended up with the inventive, brave, unabashedly Afrocentric work of Tannarive Due, Maurice Broaddus, John Ridley and Octavia Butler.

This is why it can’t be all blood and boobs, why “dark” is the absolute best place for the envelope to be pushed--because when the biggest things are on the line, the subtext reads, anyone can be both the victim and the hero, like Barker’s Mick and Judd, who end up shattered not because they’re gay and deserve to be punished but because they’re humans confronted by the gloriously unspeakable.

And for all the blood and thunder it usually comes wrapped in, perhaps the real reason I keep on returning to darkness’s well, again and again, is that I personally find that idea...very comforting.

The End

Gemma Files is a Canadian horror writer, journalist, and film critic. Her short story, "The Emperor's Old Bones", won the International Horror Guild Award for Best Short Story of 1999. Five of her short stories were adapted for the television series The Hunger. Her first novel A Book of Tongues explores the range of homosocial and homosexual bonds that bind her exceptionally strong characters, drawing attention to the way in which an ultra-masculine network of relationships underpins the history and mythology of the American West.

A Book of Tongues: Volume 1 of the Hexslinger Series
by Gemma Files

Two years after the Civil War, Pinkerton agent Ed Morrow has gone undercover with one of the weird West's most dangerous outlaw gangs-the troop led by "Reverend" Asher Rook, ex-Confederate chaplain turned "hexslinger," and his notorious lieutenant (and lover) Chess Pargeter. Morrow's task: get close enough to map the extent of Rook's power, then bring that knowledge back to help Professor Joachim Asbury unlock the secrets of magic itself.

Magicians, cursed by their gift to a solitary and painful existence, have never been more than a footnote in history. But Rook, driven by desperation, has a plan to shatter the natural law that prevents hexes from cooperation, and change the face of the world-a plan sealed by an unholy marriage-oath with the goddess Ixchel, mother of all hanged men. To accomplish this, he must raise her bloodthirsty pantheon from its collective grave through sacrifice, destruction, and apotheosis.

Caught between a passel of dead gods and monsters, hexes galore, Rook's witchery, and the ruthless calculations of his own masters, Morrow's only real hope of survival lies with the man without whom Rook cannot succeed: Chess Pargeter himself. But Morrow and Chess will have to literally ride through Hell before the truth of Chess's fate comes clear-the doom written for him, and the entire world.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

To Dream the Impossible Dream: Opening Arguments against Realism

By Claude Lalumière 

"To Dream the Impossible Dream: Opening Arguments against Realism" is a primer for "Against Realism: Hard SF, Autobiography, and Other Questionable Strategies for Writing Fiction," a longer talk that Claude will present on Saturday, 23 October 2010, at the Toronto SpecFic Colloquium.
Genteel society loves realism. That alone should be enough of a call to arms for writers -- indeed, all artists, as iconoclasts by definition -- to strive against it. Here, I will briefly introduce why I mistrust realism, and why I believe it to be an insidious distorter of human expression and lived experience.
I use "realism" in its broadest sense, to encompass not only movements such as American Realism, Naturalism, Social Realism, their legacies, and their descendents -- such as Hard SF and one of its recent subsets, the Mundanes [i]--  but all artistic expression that values the comforting verisimilitude of consensus reality over the disquieting uncertainty of truth -- although few, if any, of realism's adherents and defenders would acknowledge that such is the consequence of a realist approach to art. And by "truth" I do not mean the sophistic illusion called "objective reality" but rather that utopian, romantic, and quintessentially quixotic quest not to understand but to intuit the complex, ever-changing, and fundamentally unknowable web of life and existence of which we are part, thus embracing a sense of wonder, awe, compassion, and even terror. In essence, "to dream the impossible dream." [ii]
The rise of realism in the nineteenth century was motivated partly by "a reaction against romanticism" and "an interest in scientific method." [iii] It will come as no surprise, then, that, as a vocal detractor of realism, I am an unabashed romantic and that my profound and unshakeable atheism encompasses a mistrust of science, its dogmas, and its societal project.
Furthermore, "Purporting to be undistorted by personal bias, Realism believed in the ideology of objective reality." [iv] Although I hope that few thinkers would now explicitly or knowingly adhere to such a naive proposition, it betrays a fundamental unease that still influences and holds sway over the decidedly anti-romantic biases of genteel institutions such as English departments, university writing programs, mainstream literary awards, and literary criticism.
Our individual and collective memories are formed by storytelling, by the stories we tell ourselves and each other. These narrative memories -- about our origins, our aspirations, our defeats, our victimizations, our victories, our kinships -- are the building blocks of our sense of identity, both as individuals and as societies. States, religions, and other forms of identity-based authority notoriously mistrust art, try to dictate what art should or should not express. Such authorities maintain dominance through narratives of collective identity.
Even when it purports to have a progressive agenda, realism, which is necessarily measured against consensus reality, reinforces dominant narratives and thus the institutions validated and empowered by these narratives. Non-realist art, by its very nature, transgresses the boundaries of consensus, identity, and social order, potentially threatening the hegemony of ruling ideologies and, at a personal level, putting into question identities constructed under its aegis.
Of course, I realize there are many shades between these extremes of realism and non-realism, of comforting and transgressive, and many permutations that complicate such a simplistic dichotomy. After all, yes, non-realist art can be used as a tool to validate regressive agendas, and realism can illustrate troubling inequities. Even in such a case, a non-dominant group, too, tends to form its own micro-hegemony and tightly control transgression from its proposed worldview -- and that can include controlling the art that purports to express that group's cultural identity by demanding that it conform to its brand of realism, to its realist narratives. 
Realism, then, being by its very nature rooted in the hegemonic worldview that defines it, remains a primarily reactionary and dominating force that gnaws at the romantic and transgressive roots of so-called "genre" fictions and, more broadly, impedes the potential of individuals and communities to transcend the limits imposed by normative narratives of identity.

In the opening paragraph, I equated "artist" with "iconoclast" -- and I fully recognize my own bias in this matter. I do not consider "art" the work of so-called "artists" whose creations serve to reiterate or reinforce without question the status quo, the dominant worldview, or an entrenched societal paradigm. Art should be the vehicle on our quixotic quest for the unattainable truth. It is by nature restless. It can never be satisfied with where we are. It must forever, at any cost, propel us elsewhere -- where there be dragons. In such dangerous waters, realism can only blind us and thus imperil our survival.


Claude Lalumière is the author of the collection Objects of Worship, the Fantastic Fiction columnist for The Montreal Gazette, and the editor of eight anthologies, including the Aurora Award nominee Tesseracts Twelve: New Novellas of Canadian Fantastic Fiction. With Rupert Bottenberg, he is the co-creator of Lost Myths, which is both a live show and an online archive updated every Thursday. Claude's The Door to Lost Pages, a novella, will be released by CZP in spring 2011.
"To Dream the Impossible Dream: Opening Arguments against Realism" is a primer for "Against Realism: Hard SF, Autobiography, and Other Questionable Strategies for Writing Fiction," a longer talk that Claude will present on Saturday, 23 October 2010, at the Toronto SpecFic Colloquium

Objects of Worship
by Claude Lalumière

Twelve strange, eerie, sensual stories by a bold new voice in weird fiction. Capricious gods rule a world of women. Zombies breed human cattle. The son of a superhero must decide between his heritage and his religion. Young lovers worship a primordial spider god. The apocalyptic rebirth of the god of the elephants. Monstrous chimeras roam through a devastated future Earth. A retired fisherman caught in the middle of a conflict between gods and superheroes. Teenagers struggle to survive a surreal ice age . . .

[i] mundane-sf.blogspot.com.
[ii] "The Impossible Dream," from Man of La Mancha (1972), lyrics by Joe Darion, music by Mitch Leigh.
[iii] Donna M. Campbell,"Realism in American Literature, 1860-1890," www.wsu.edu/~campbelld/amlit/realism.htm.
[iv] "Realism (Arts)," en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Realism_(arts).

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Escaping the Genre Ghetto – Exploring the State of Speculative Fiction at Toronto’s SpecFic Colloquium

TORONTO, ON (September 7, 2010) – On October 23, 2010 authors, editors and readers will gather to explore the state of speculative fiction in Canada at Toronto’s SpecFic Colloquium.

Canadian speculative fiction (science fiction, fantasy, horror, etc.) has been increasingly recognized internationally for the calibre of its authors and their insight into the nature of social and religious identities, the implications of new technologies, and the relationship between humankind and its environments.  “Our authors are breaking out of the genre ghetto,” says co-organizer Helen Marshall. “Their stories disrupt habits, overcome barriers of cultural perception to make the familiar strange.  They show us the speculative fiction can be an ideal tool for social examination and critique.”

The colloquium, a one-day event to launch the Chiaroscuro Reading Series, will deliver lectures by major names in the field on topics such as urban fantasy, cognitive science, queering the genre, and how Canadian science fiction is taking over the world, nicely.  The lectures will be followed by readings that showcase emergent and experienced Canadian speculative fiction writers.

Guests include Kelley Armstrong, Julie Czerneda, Guy Gavriel Kay, Tony Burgess, Gemma Files, Karl Schroeder, Peter Watts, David Nickle, Michael Rowe and Claude Lalumière. 

Sponsored by ChiZine Publications, an independent publisher of weird, surreal, subtle, and disturbing dark literary fiction, the Toronto SpecFic Colloquium will take place on Saturday October 23, 2010 in the Debates Room and Hart House, 7 Hart House Circle.   Register at http://www.specfic-colloquium.com/registration.htm.

For further information about the Toronto SpecFic Colloquium, visit http://specfic-colloquium.com. For sponsorship partnering, advertizing opportunities or media queries, contact Sandra Kasturi, co-organizer at sandra@chizinepub.com or Helen Marshall, co-organizer at helen@chizinepub.com.