We received our beautiful printed books on Friday and spent the weekend packaging and shipping to all who pre-ordered a print copy of Sim Kern’s Depart, Depart! Those who ordered an electronic copy (epub) will receive their copies this week.
There are still signed copies of Depart, Depart! available. These books are printed on 100% recycled paper and feature a velvety soft laminated cover which is a pleasure to hold. This is a limited print run, so get your copy while you can! After these books are sold out, orders will be fulfilled by Ingram. The Ingram books are also a beautiful artefact with soft cover lamination, but the interior is not printed on recycled paper as this is not an option available through Ingram.
Shipping Delays and the United States Postal Service
Up here in Canada we’re hearing a lot about issues with the USPS and shipping delays. Postal service institutions, both public and private, have been dramatically affected by the coronavirus lockdown — and the huge volume of online orders — and are subsequently struggling financially. On top of this, certain political actors see this as an opportunity to further compromise the service in order to influence the upcoming election. Some information about that (including some historical context) is here, but the situation is changing rapidly, so checking in with a trusted news source is probably a good place to start. Also, if you agree that compromising the postal service in order to disenfranchise voters should not happen in the United States, please contact your representatives and let them know.
Unfortunately this means that it is possible that some Stelliform books might be delayed and/or might not make it to their destination. We are monitoring the situation and may change how we ship if needed.
Canada Post Update
Canada Post is an essential public institution and we support Canada Post and postal workers. We choose to ship via Canada Post over private carriers whenever possible. Canada Post is also experiencing delays due to the volume of packages currently travelling through the system as more people choose to stay home and shop online. But parcels will arrive at their destinations! More info can be found here.
If you order one or two books, your books will be shipped in a Post-Consumer Waste recycled (and recyclable) envelope. Whenever possible (and tape is an exception) we do not use plastic as part of our shipping process. If you order more than two books, your order will be shipped in reused or repurposed cardboard. Even as a small business, we accumulate a lot of boxes that are often the perfect size to ship multiple books. Instead of buying new boxes, we are reusing these to further reduce our consumption of paper products. We commit to using clean and structurally-sound reused packaging as part of our mission to be an environmentally friendly small business.
This past month, I (Selena Middleton, Stelliform Publisher and EIC) read Stephen Graham Jones’s The Only Good Indians alongside my friend and invaluable Stelliform helper and fellow English PhD, Kristen Shaw. Since our conversations often fall into fairly nerdy literary analysis, we thought we would share our thoughts about The Only Good Indians in the form of the conversation that we might have had if the pandemic had not prevented an in-person meeting. What follows is our conversation-review of SGJ’s novel, which was published by Saga Press in July 2020.
Both Kristen and I are settlers and our perspectives on the novel are shaped by that as well as our PhD-level training in literary analysis and various cultural theories — and reading as many books by Indigenous authors as we can get our hands on.
The Only Good Indians’ Slasher Roots
SM: Let’s start by talking about what this book is doing — riffing off of 80s or 90s slasher films. The book follows that format pretty closely. It starts with an establishing kill; I think it was Ricky in the parking lot? Introducing us to the elk and the social issues that Indigenous people experience in this town. I was pretty hooked by that opening, the way that I couldn’t tell as a reader which was more dangerous, the guys from the bar or the herd of elk that seemed just outside one’s periphery.
KS: Yes, that was a great intro. My mind went, “potentially supernatural killer elk? I’m in.” I found the whole book very cinematic and that initial scene really grasped my interest. It sets the tone but also introduces some social commentary about masculinity and Indigenous identity that will run through the novel.
In some areas the novel really shines in its riffing on slasher tropes, but it also subverts those same tropes in interesting ways. It also pulled out some of the tensions that are inherent in slasher stories but are not always explicitly acknowledged. For example, it’s common in slashers for the villain to be motivated by revenge. The villain might get a back story with some trauma that made them the way they are, which invites empathy from the viewer. In that way, I find horror takes advantage of a certain ambiguity in terms of the viewer’s relationship to the villain. They’re usually tragic figures, but they’re also killers — where should we place our allegiance? Who is the ‘real’ victim? The Only Good Indians definitely takes advantage of this ambiguity and pulls it out more explicitly than many more traditional slashers do, I think. There are so many shades of grey here. I found myself rooting for Elk Head Woman most of the time but also each one of the four central male protagonists because they are all oppressed by the systems around them and grappling with their own demons at the same time.
SM: Yes, I found my allegiance to various characters throughout the book on pretty shaky ground and I think SGJ plays with that a bit. He depicts Lewis, for example, as really sympathetic at first but he ends up being responsible for some really horrific stuff. For me, and I think a lot of other fans of science fiction, fantasy, and horror, Lewis is pretty relatable. He’s a reader, he immerses himself deeply in his fantasy books; but that’s what gets away from him in the end. Doing what he does — and I won’t go into the details but I thought Lewis’ actions were probably the worst and most gruesome in the book — he fully expects to find evidence of something monstrous, and in that to be justified in his actions. It seemed like a failure of imagination — not under but over-imagining. But at the same time, Lewis is under a lot of stress (being separated from his community and we get a taste of that stress of isolation in the scene where the police come to talk to him about his dog). I did get a sense — and I think a lot of us are hyper aware of the dangerous possibilities of police encounters now, if we weren’t before — that Lewis had experienced police harassment before.
So without giving away too much of the story, can we talk about Lewis’ actions, or the effect of them on the story? The effect of them on the reader? How they converge or diverge from horror tropes?
Violence Against Women and the Female Monster
KS: Yes, Lewis’ actions really shook me — I was truly not expecting the story to go in the direction it did. Violence against women is obviously quite prevalent in horror, speculative fiction, and culture generally, and it is a problem that many writers and creators have had to grapple with. My reading of Lewis’ actions are that they show how women ultimately pay the price for men’s own unaddressed traumas — perhaps even society’s repressed ills in general — and SGJ was trying to highlight that. While my initial response was disappointment that the story was rehashing the horror trope of violence against women, I started to interpret Lewis’ actions and how they fit into the novel’s social commentary differently after I finished the novel. I felt like Lewis was projecting his own guilt onto the women in his life to avoid taking responsibility for his past actions (in particular, the event that the whole novel centers around). Rather than confront the monstrosity in himself he projected that monstrosity onto the women close to him. I feel that the trope was used intentionally to draw attention to and critique the ways women (particularly Indigenous women and women of colour) are treated as disposable or as instrumental in the character development of men (in horror and in general). For me, my interpretation of this move was reinforced by the links that connect Elk Woman, Peta, Shaney, and even Denorah.
SM: I was also shocked and disappointed by the turn in Lewis’ story and the way the women around him get pulled into it. And I think you’re right about how this aspect of the narrative really underscores how women pay the price for systemic and unaddressed trauma. This part of the narrative was hard to take because I was reading it as part of the slasher arc — how certain kinds of women fall to the killer in a certain order. SGJ is definitely playing with that — the punishing of both the “too sexy” or “too confident” woman as well as the “good and faithful wife” (which I would put in a category with “the virgin” in slasher flicks — but I also think it’s important to note that here the “good wife” is a white woman and I think SGJ is probably criticizing the idea of white innocence).
But it’s shortly after this that the monster emerges as a character in the story–told in second person–and as I got to know what Elk Head Woman was about, and was further drawn into her concerns through the closeness of a second person narration, the horror I felt about Lewis’ actions started to change a bit. It’s subtle.
KS: Yes, the shift to second person that occurs changed my orientation to the story. It started to feel like Elk Head Woman’s story rather than the story of the four male protagonists. The use of second person increases the intimacy between the reader and Elk Head Woman, creating a connection between us that was not really cultivated as much between the reader and Lewis or Ricky at that point, at least in my reading. This was particularly interesting to me because horror doesn’t often humanize its villains, nor does horror have a great track record with women or even permit women to be villains. This occurs right after Lewis does some pretty horrible things, so the shift to second person — which creates the effect of a story being told to the reader from a woman/monster’s perspective — made me trust the narrative a bit more and consider how SGJ was exploring gender and its representation in horror rather than merely repeating the same violent tropes for shock value. It’s subtle and clever and puts the reader in a weird position where they have to negotiate their allegiances and commitment to certain character types. Clearly there is no singular or straightforward villain, nor are there any heroes, at least at this point.
Final Basketball Showdown
SM: Right, and when a kind of hero does emerge, it’s from a really unexpected place for a horror novel. I’m a bit annoyed that SGJ is making me talk about basketball, but let’s talk about basketball in the book. I started thinking about competitive sports as our modern version of war — this came through for me especially when SGJ describes the racist taunts that get thrown at the Native team. I suppose if you extend this metaphor then Denorah is a warrior and possibly the greatest warrior the Blackfeet have seen (at least in contemporary times). Denorah is a warrior, but she’s the one who stops the violence and it’s really cool to think of this as the responsibility of the warrior as well. Contrast this with the picture of a modern warrior that Lewis paints when he tells the story of the elk shoot that the four protagonists take part in. Four men heading out into the bush to bring back meat for the community is a pretty traditional set up; but they go where they’re not supposed to go, and end up wasting the lives and bodies of the elk in a pretty brutal and senseless way. When Denorah holds up her hand at the end of the book, it’s putting a stop to the violence of that original scene. That echo through history is really powerful. I kind of resent that it’s basketball that gets us there, but kudos to SGJ for making basketball relevant to someone who is not a fan.
KS: I’m not a basketball person either, so I’ll admit I’m not the intended audience for those parts. Despite my ignorance about basketball, I think that final confrontation on the court was really well-written and created a lot of tension. I love your point about competitive sports being a modern version of war. Traditionally both war and competitive sports are considered a masculine domain so it’s interesting to see that subverted here, as each of the women in the novel are described as skilled basketball players, and it is women who ultimately go head-to-head in the end rather than the typical final showdown between a male villain and final girl. Denorah holds up her hand at the end of the book putting a stop to the violence of the original scene, which again challenges the role of the final girl and traditional slasher conclusions, and she also subverts typical characterizations of women in horror as victims (virgin/whore) or damsels in distress. She breaks the pattern of violence and represents a kind of hybrid identity that doesn’t fall back onto stereotypes of femininity or seek to escape that by turning her into the cliche “strong” woman who just assumes traditionally masculine characteristics. Denorah for me represents a new kind of identity and a new kind of warrior. I was reminded of Grace Dillon’s concept of Indigenous futurism.
SM: Absolutely. I think SGJ is taking up this idea that Indigenous futures are always backward-facing. Challenging the idea that going back to the past and the way things were in the past, traditions as they were practiced in the past, is what an Indigneous future should look like. Here we get a future represented by a powerful, hybrid culture. A culture that forces questions about violence, gender roles, and what it means to be in relation with everyone and everything around you. That all of this is enfolded into a kind of oral storytelling style at the end is nice. It was a satisfying ending to a book that was sometimes really difficult.
There has been some conversation on social media lately about how presses acquire the titles they publish. Writers are asking how many of a press’s published titles are solicited versus how many are picked up from unsolicited submissions (in other words, the “slush pile”). So far, all of our acquisitions have been from slush. While writer and editor folk sometimes talk about the horrors of the slush pile, my experience with reading slush has so far been mostly delightful. Today I want to talk a bit about that experience of delight in the context of climate change narratives.
Most submissions I’ve read have been on topic, which means that most manuscripts have been about climate change and its effects on us and the other beings that live with us. The delightful thing about speculative fiction on this topic is that it allows for a bending of the rules of reality. Since we’re not looking for our climate change stories to reproduce reality, elements of the fantastic can shift the reader’s focus, help the reader to look away from the big picture of climate change for a moment. To dive deeper into specific perspectives and problems.
It’s important to carve out these spaces where the reader can sit for a moment — within a bigger problem always, but for a moment focusing on a small world that the fantastic creates for us. The feelings around climate change are big and oppressive and overwhelming and I’m not entirely interested in recreating that experience in Stelliform books. The world is doing that for us already.
Instead, I’ve been delighted to read stories that shape a smaller but still inter-connected experience. Most of the time this experience is created through character and character interactions with the fantastic. Characters open a window for us into their particular perspective. That perspective is part of the wider world, but we’re not asked to consider the entire world all at once. In a way, even though stories about environmental destruction are by their very nature frightening, Stelliform stories aren’t asking readers to experience that alone.
Fantasy worlds and the characters that live in them are creating mediated spaces for conversations that are removed from the reality of climate change which can be too frightening, too overwhelming. Within these worlds, characters guide us through their perspectives, their particular way of seeing the world. For a moment, we’re removed from our own concerns and, hopefully, the weight of the world’s larger problems while still considering climate change and experiencing the feeling attached to this specific perspective.
This is a crucial exercise that we can do again and again with different characters in different narratives. It’s an exercise that will help us to think through the bigger real-world problems when we encounter them. It’s an exercise that Stelliform presents to readers in hopes that such things will help us make the right decisions when we need to make them.
We’re delighted to welcome Cynthia Zhang to the Stelliform family with a debut novel. She comes to us with previous fiction and non-fiction published in Lunch Ticket, Leading Edge, Orca Literary, and Coffin Bell.
A science fantasy with LGBTQ protagonists, set in an alternate Beijing where dragons can be found perched on wires overhead and in gutters underfoot, After the Dragons is a debut novel for both author and publisher.
Read more about After the Dragons below:
They were fire and terror to the Western world, while in the East the dragons brought life-giving rain. Now, no longer hailed as gods and struggling in the overheated pollution of Beijing, only the Eastern species survives. As drought plagues the aquatic dragons, a mysterious disease—shaolong, or “burnt lung”—afflicts the city’s human inhabitants.
Jaded college student Xiang Kaifei scours Beijing streets for abandoned dragons, distracting himself from his diagnosis. Elijah Ahmed, a biracial American medical researcher, is drawn to Beijing by the memory of his grandmother and her death by shaolong. Interest in Beijing’s dragons leads Kai and Eli into an unlikely partnership. With the resources of Kai’s dragon rescue and Eli’s immunology research, can the pair find a cure for shaolong and safety for the dragons? The spectres of grief and disease hang heavy over their relationship and Eli and Kai must confront old ghosts and hard truths if there is any hope—for themselves or the dragons they love.
We’re excited to share more about this book in the coming months.
Fairy tales are a way of transmitting the deep past to future generations. While often told as lessons to children and thus morally coded, fairy tales also affirm a common experience within cultural boundaries. But Jennings’ Flyaway challenges these boundaries: the haunted landscape is one that has been altered beyond recovery by the presence of an alien: the colonizing settler. Reflecting the experience of life on the continent, Jennings’ weaves invasive plant and animal life into the fairy tales she tells.
The megaritty is a fantastical creature whose presence serves as a warning within its fairy tale. The megaritty is yellow-eyed and bronze-furred, and has the ability to mimic and ultimately replace those it targets. The tale explains the megaritty’s presence in a land that is not its own by citing the ways a creature might be transported: in a ship’s hold, as a pet, and as an animal or woman accidentally ensnared in hunting or marriage.
The megaritty’s story illustrates the multifaceted nature of colonial invasion. While invasion, when observed from the view-point of the individual settler, may not be intentional, the individual is part of a system which violently replaces indigenous plants and animals as well as Indigenous people.
Similarly, the lantern-bush is brought to the continent as a beautiful plant for settler gardens. Like all invasive life, the lantern-bush, once established, escapes the bounds of the colonial garden to occupy indigenous ecosystems.
The effect that the lantern-bush has on the communities surrounding Runagate is devastating. While the tale which depicts the way the lantern-bush overran whole buildings and swallowed people is fantastical hyperbole, the message that the alien plant life is destructive to ecosystems and human life alike is one that echoes through both the fantastic and realistic parts of the novella.
Coming Home and Flying Away
I enjoyed the way that Flyaway‘s combination of fairy tale and roadtrip mystery complicated the idea of home and what it means to make a place home, and particularly how it brought invasion and colonization into that conversation. The unreliable protagonist narrator combined with the magic of fairy tale makes this, sometimes, a difficult narrative to pin down. But the dreamy ending, which further destablizes the reader, is a good fit for an exploration of the effects of colonization. Colonization is, after all, a systemic problem that continues to threaten communities and the world at large.