Octavia Cade’s The Impossible Resurrection of Grief comes out next week and you may be wondering “What is The Grief?” Learn about the frightening reality of Cade’s possible future by watching the video reading below.
The video reading includes captions for those who prefer or require them and the full text of the excerpt is provided below. If you want to hear Octavia Cade read more from her novella, and discuss the important ideas it contains, sign up for our launch party here. Tickets are free, or pick up a book for a special launch price!
Grief was never something I was comfortable thinking about. I mean, no-one enjoyed navigating absence — the common experience of loss that came with funerals and memorial services and disappointments — yet I was as competent with these small sorrows as anyone else. But Grief, the undermining upwelling of loss in response to ecosystem devastation, the failure of conservation, was far harder to comprehend. I acknowledged it as little as possible. Still, it took real effort to look away from anything that had so much power, and so much spread. Like a contagion, it ran through entire families, through populations and with random outbreaks, until everyone knew someone who had it, who had succumbed.
“It’s the experience of loss,” the psychologists said, but more than that it was a loss underlined by guilt, because that loss had no natural cause; not if you didn’t count humans as natural, and I didn’t. We weren’t thunderstorms, nor did we blunder about, blind as bacteria. We had the capacity for choice, and what we had chosen — what we continued to choose — was death.
The shift in climate that we’d ignored for so long, that we’d only given lip service to preventing … when it came it took so many of us with it, took us with floods and droughts. That was a small thing, really, and we were practised at looking away, so long as it only happened to other people, in other places. But when it started taking what lived with us — the birds and beasts and creatures that we loved, the green world that grew up around us, well. That was a loss we hadn’t prepared for, for all we had allowed it … encouraged it, even, through our choices.
It had never occurred to me — to any of us — how intensely we could mourn another species once that species was gone.
It wasn’t the same for everyone. Some people didn’t get it at all. Some people got it more than others — there was a higher rate of Grief in Indigenous populations, another negative metric people didn’t want to acknowledge lest it highlight their own culpability and continued privilege. Some people were set off by old extinctions, some by new. Some felt it well up inside them with each new charred koala, burnt to death by bushfires. For some it was the sight of starved rockhopper penguins, for some the quiet, empty spaces where the little rock wrens had been, or the fading of alpine buttercups. The skeletal bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef had triggered the Grief of entire communities, and looking back now, I realized that there Marjorie had shown her susceptibility.
“It’s all right for you,” she said. “No matter what happens, you’ll always have your jellyfish.”
I wish I’d seen less bitterness. I wish I’d found another way to share the jellyfish with her. A better way. But with the Reef gone, there was no substitute for her, nothing she could ever learn to love so well.
The thing about Grief: once it comes it never leaves. The Grief is spiralling down and down into loss that can never be recovered, that will never lack culpability. It’s the guilt that makes it so devastating … and so profoundly destructive.
The Grief always ends in suicide.
The day that Marjorie became the Sea Witch she fired her boat to ashes. The Sea Witch was too large, and too unwieldy, for her to haul it up into sands on her own, so she beached it at the highest point she could and waited for low tide. The sands around the keel were wet, and my footprints filled with water as soon as the weight was lifted, so I hoped for spluttering and a slow harmless guttering of flame, as all my efforts to talk her out of burning failed.
“I don’t want her anymore,” she said.
“Then sell her! Or give her away if you have to. Don’t destroy just for the sake of it.” Marjorie loved the Sea Witch, no matter how much she tried to persuade me that she no longer cared. It had been freedom for her, and accommodation, and salt movement. I’d spent more than my share of time aboard, watching the affection on her face as she smoothed down surfaces, painted varnish over old wood, talked to every sail and joint.
“Why not destroy for the sake of it?” she said. “Isn’t that what we’ve always done?” That utterance was an exaggeration and a culmination both, because Marjorie had spent her life in conservation, and it had failed her as much as she had failed it. She’d tried, again and again, to bring back and build up, and the repudiation of that wasn’t just false, it was wallowing.
“If you can’t bear to watch, you can go home,” she said, but I couldn’t. That would be abandonment and we’d been friends so long. I wouldn’t forgive myself. Already I could see the Grief rising in her, though I didn’t want to. Once manifested it never left, only got worse and worse until the Grief was all that was left. The Grief, and the ways of ending it.
Part of me was afraid she’d throw herself into the fire, burn herself down alongside the Sea Witch. That was what made me stay; that was what made me hope for the futility of burning … that perhaps she’d see the futility as well as the flames and snap herself out of it.
I should have expected accelerant. There was no hysterics, no determined rush to annihilation, just a quiet slopping of fuel that sounded like seashore, a match, and the end of the vessel. It burnt quickly enough and Marjorie stood back and watched with folded arms, never made so much as a move towards the conflagration once she’d sparked it.
“Is it enough?” I asked her, when the Sea Witch had burnt down to wet sand and ashes, mostly, with parts of her left over for wreckage. The wheel had kept its shape; I could see its print in the sand, half-buried. The Sea Witch’s course was set.
“It’s never enough,” she said.
We’re launching our third book with a jam-packed hour of readings, music, and an interactive discussion of climate grief, climate hope, extinction, and action! More information about the event and how to sign up is on Eventbrite now.
While Octavia Cade and her new novella is the focus of this event, we’ve invited some friends to help us celebrate. The book launch will open with poetry and music from two amazing artists whose work also focuses on environment and relationships to the land.
Tiff Morris will open the launch with poetry. Morris is a Mi’kmaw editor and writer of speculative poetry and fiction. She is the author of the chapbook Havoc in Silence (Molten Molecular Minutiae, 2019). Her work has been featured in Room Magazine, Prairie Fire, and Eye to the Telescope, among others. A member of the Indigenous Editors Association, she writes, edits, reads tarot and hunts UFOs in K’jipuktuk (Halifax), Nova Scotia.
Shannon Roszell will perform her new single “Gonna Love You.” A powerhouse performer, Roszell is a singer-songwriter from the Kawartha Lakes, northeast of Toronto. Her sound is best characterized as symphonic indie rock, fusing orchestral voicings with searing electric guitar and vocals. An outspoken environmentalist, Roszell has created performance art pieces in protest of the tar sands pipelines. Roszell’s first single, “Gonna Love You” (March 2021), is a post-apocalyptic love song to our damaged earth. Her debut album, Within the Shimmering Darkness (Spring, 2022) is rich with sonic landscapes as expansive as the view out her farmhouse studio window.
Book Launch Prizes
We’re excited to give away some fun, thematic prizes at Octavia Cade’s book launch. To win a prize, simply join us at the launch.
Stelliform Press “Grief” T-Shirt
Add gaping thylacine jaws and Australian flora to your wardrobe. This T-shirt, available in women’s or men’s sizing, features the dramatic art from the cover of The Impossible Resurrection of Grief, by Toronto artist Rachel Lobbenberg.
“Stripes Ascending” Thylacine Enamel Pin
These beautiful enamel pins were made by Morgan Mudway, a local Hamilton artist and thylacine lover. They represent the extinction of the thylacine, which should have been a wake-up call for humanity. Check out Morgan’s other work here.
The Swan Book by Alexis Wright
The book launch grand prize is a copy of The Swan Book by Alexis Wright, chosen by Octavia Cade herself. About this book Octavia Cade says, “The Swan Book, by Indigenous Australian author Alexis Wright was nominated for a bunch of major awards when it came out several years back, and it deserves every single one of them. It is absolutely astonishing. It’s climate and trauma and alienation from land and magical realism and swans. It is the most incredible thing, and I will quietly resent the fact that it never got the Booker for the rest of my life.” Read more about The Swan Book here.
Go to Eventbrite to Reserve your Tickets!
Tickets to Octavia Cade’s Book Launch for The Impossible Resurrection of Grief are free, but you can also get discounted books through the Eventbrite link. We hope to see you there!
E. Catherine Tobler’s upcoming novella from Neon Hemlock, The Necessity of Stars, is a unique take on a climate changed world and what it takes to live within it.
UN diplomat Bréone Hemmerli lives in the protected enclave of the Irislands estate. There, she cares for her gardens, visits with her companion Delphine, and attempts to broker peace while dealing with memory loss. When she meets an alien named Tura in her garden, she begins to learn new ways of being in the world, and new ways of returning to her former self.
There have been many books that approach a story from the amnesiac’s perspective. Often it’s a plot device used to catch a reader off-guard. The device is sometimes used to artificially withhold information until a crucial moment. But in The Necessity of Stars, Bréone’s memory loss is integrated into the environment. Bréone is isolated from the dying world. She is protected by her status as a UN diplomat, but also vulnerable as an elderly woman. There is a sense, then, that Bréone’s enclave is also vulnerable – that, like her memory, the protected gardens around her could fall to the ravages of climate change which advance outside of Irislands.
But the permeability of Bréone’s environment and the sense of danger that brings is also a source of hope. Bréone is open to this hope because of her condition: were she not vulnerable due to persistent memory loss, she would not have been so open to Tura when he appeared, nor to the solution that Tura presents to both the problem of a climate-ravaged world and the forgetfulness of an old woman. Vulnerability, then, is key in The Necessity of Stars; it is an opening through which all in Bréone’s world must pass – and by implication all in our world as well.
Near the end of the novella, Bréone tells herself:
Memory is a form of fiction.E. Catherine Tobler, The Necessity of Stars
Memory is a story you tell yourself, a story that keeps the days threaded together in proper order. Experts in memory function say your first memory probably never happened, that it is a fiction you’ve told yourself so many times you’ve simply come to believe it as truth.
This novella offers a story about created worlds: the damaged and dying world created by industrialization and unfettered capitalism, the worlds we create in our own minds (to escape said world or, sometimes, to justify it), and the created world that is possible if we are vulnerable and open to the kinds of changes that move us through discomfort to something new. In her characteristic lush and intricate prose, E. Catherine Tobler highlights the necessity of change and the inherent hopefulness in vulnerability.
Jeff VanderMeer’s Hummingbird Salamander is a departure from his last few novels: a realist thriller about “Jane Smith,” a woman who finds a taxidermied hummingbird and through this discovery becomes embroiled in an “ecoterrorist” plot.
VanderMeer is known for his female protagonists; his most popular series was one that was helmed by four female scientists. But Jane Smith is VanderMeer levelling up. Smith is unusual in a lot of ways, but also relatable. The progression of her perspective and her values throughout the novel is one that, I think, VanderMeer intends to stand in for the kind of growth that most Western people need to achieve in order to create an integrated relationship with their environment. Her “otherness” — her unconventional appearance and her history which means that she is always a little aloof, set apart from others — ensures that she is uncomfortable enough to seek change and accept it when it comes to her.
In this review, I focus on Jane Smith, who shows the reader “how the world ends” but also how it is always beginning again and could begin again, if we let it. If we respond to the invitation.
Jane Smith and the Power and Responsibility of the West
Readers may pick up on the name VanderMeer’s protagonist chooses for herself — a name with the anonymity of a “Jane Doe” but without the unidentified corpse connotations. Instead of a dead woman, VanderMeer’s “Jane Smith” is the maker of her surname, someone who makes things happen (both intentionally and unintentionally). This distinction is the thrust of the novel. “Jane Smith” speaks not from an unconditionally dead world. She speaks from a dying world, but one which still possesses the potential to be made and remade. One which the reader is invited into, and invited to be a part of.
But before any invitation can be accepted, the reader must contend with this protagonist — and her connections to the Western status quo — as she is. Jane Smith is a large, strong woman. Her body and her experience of living in it tangibly affects both her perspective and how others perceive her. VanderMeer writes a protagonist that observes how others look at her and is constantly aware that others are troubled by her appearance and presence. Additionally, Jane Smith is troubled within her body, observing that, like a bear, she is “always injured” in contending with the power of her body.
Unlike a bear, though, Jane’s power and her injuries are connected to a history of abuse. She uses the power of her body in a way that responds to that history, though over the course of the novel she realizes that she embodies the violence that her grandfather inflicted upon her in a way that is sometimes similarly cruel. I came to see Jane and her power as representative of an American position within Western power. She is a part of that power that has separated from her ancestry, but abuses power in sometimes similar ways: she uses violence to influence people and abandons those to whom she should be responsible. Jane has the opportunity to use her body differently, but falls into the patterns she learned from her progenitors.
Jane Smith and the Invitation
Hummingbird Salamander is a thriller. As a protagonist in a thriller, Jane Smith collects clues and gradually reveals the full scope of the situation she finds herself in while experiencing persistent threats to her life and the lives of those she cares for. Each clue she discovers is an invitation to another kind of understanding. But Jane’s key revelations, and thus her responses to these invitations, are always late. She spends months hiding out in a houseboat, and then in a mountain wilderness hiding from survivalists and militiamen. By the time she makes her way to the next phase of her journey, the journey has moved on without her.
Is it a stretch to make a connection between the missed invitation, the lateness of response, and our collective Western response to climate change? Maybe. But Jane misses opportunities because she isn’t yet prepared to understand, or she’s healing from wounds inflicted upon her, or she is occupied with tasks she thinks will help but don’t. It struck me that Jane Smith missing invitation after invitation, and realizing only after it is too late, after so much has already been lost, is us. Jane Smith is a warning.
Hummingbird Salamander is an invitation. VanderMeer begins the book at Chapter 0, as if he needs to go back to some place before one, before the reader gets wrapped up in the quick-moving action of the story, to make the invitation distinct and clear. He uses the second person pronoun “you” to invite the reader specifically into the story and its journey of discovery and the shifts in perspective that are provoked. At the end of the novel, Jane Smith is faced with her last choice (and skip this em-dashed phrase if you are concerned with minor spoilers) — to transform herself beyond her previous transformations, to risk death in a way that finally invites life — and her response is extending that invitation to the reader as well. Through Jane Smith, VanderMeer addresses us directly and invites us to take up the most necessary journey of our lives.
We’re pleased to reveal the cover of After the Dragons! To be published on August 19, 2021, this is a first novel for publisher and author alike. The cover art is by Chinese Canadian artist Wang Xulin, with design and typography by Yu-Lobbenberg Rachel, who also did the art and design for Octavia Cade’s The Impossible Resurrection of Grief. This cover reveal is in tandem with Locus magazine, which featured Zhang’s book on their Twitter and Facebook feeds, as well as in their newsletter.
Cynthia Zhang’s After the Dragons is now available for pre-order here.
About the Book
Cynthia Zhang’s After the Dragons is a queer science fantasy — that is, a story based on scientific ideas, but with fantastic elements — set in Beijing. In this book, researcher Elijah Ahmed and activist Xiang Kaifei join forces to save the city’s beleaguered dragons and find a cure for Kai’s illness. Grief hangs over their relationship and Eli and Kai must confront hard truths if there is any hope for themselves or the dragons.
This is a tender story, appropriate for readers interested in the effects of climate change on environments and people, but who don’t want a grim, hopeless read. The novel is beautiful and challenging, focused on hope and care, navigating the nuances of changing culture in a changing world.