Speculating Canada is speculative with me

I recent­ly had a chance to talk (email-wise) with Derek New­man-Stile of the amaz­ing Cana­di­an genre blog Spec­u­lat­ing Cana­da, a web­site chock full of Cana­di­an sci­ence-fic­tion, fan­ta­sy, hor­ror, and oth­er what-have-yous. Derek is a tire­less review­er and a peer­less inter­view­er, as I found out, and while my fin­gers were nigh-exhaust­ed by the end, this is one of the most inter­est­ing inter­views I’ve par­tic­i­pat­ed in. [The fol­low­ing was orig­i­nal­ly post­ed on Spec­u­lat­ing Cana­da on March 14, 2013.]

Wouldn’t the world be bet­ter if we just asked the mon­sters polite­ly if they could please not eat us at the moment? Corey Redekop and I had a chance in this inter­view to explore the fig­ure of the mon­ster and its role as a rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the social out­cast, the reject­ed. It is great to talk to an author who shares my belief that hor­ror and SF in gen­er­al can be a medi­um of social change. I hope that you enjoy our inter­view as much as I enjoyed talk­ing to Corey Redekop.

Spec Can: Could you tell us a lit­tle bit about your­self to begin this inter­view?

Corey Redekop: I was hatched in the Cana­di­an north, and spent the next 18 years build­ing up my strength to order to escape. After bounc­ing around for a few decades, I wrote my debut nov­el Shelf Mon­key, which helped open some doors I didn’t know exist­ed. Cur­rent­ly I eke out a liv­ing as pub­li­cist for book pub­lish­er Goose Lane Edi­tions in Fred­er­ic­ton, NB.

Spec Can: Why is the zom­bie so appeal­ing to peo­ple right now? What has led to the cur­rent excite­ment about the fig­ure of the zom­bie?

Corey Redekop: It’s well known that peo­ple flock to mon­sters and hor­ror in times of stress, which explains the pop­u­lar­i­ty of giant radioac­tive mon­sters dur­ing the begin­nings of the nuclear age. I don’t know why zom­bies in par­tic­u­lar have tak­en off. I think it has to do with the fear that we are the ulti­mate mon­sters in our world. If we want to bet­ter this plan­et, we have to fight our own fears, our own weak­ness­es, and our own igno­rance.

Spec Can: What are some of the things that the zom­bie can rep­re­sent in our soci­ety?

Corey Redekop: Zom­bies are a ter­rif­i­cal­ly mal­leable mon­ster, the “jack of all trades” of sym­bol­ism, capa­ble of sub­tex­tu­al­ly rep­re­sent­ing almost any­thing we care to name. Crime, dis­ease, ego, sex­u­al­i­ty, bureau­crats, con­sumerism, class war­fare, con­ser­v­a­tives; you name it, they can do it.

Spec Can: What myths of the zom­bie influ­enced the type of zom­bie that you cre­at­ed in Husk and what zom­bie myths fas­ci­nat­ed you most?

Corey Redekop: Much of my ini­tial idea had to do with the res­ur­rec­tion myths that per­me­ate mod­ern and ancient reli­gions. In a real sense, they may be the prog­en­i­tors to the zom­bie of today. What was Jesus post-death, real­ly, if not a zom­bie with func­tion­ing brain? In my orig­i­nal man­u­script, I played a lot more with this theme, try­ing to push the rot­ting corpse of Shel­don into a mes­si­ah fig­ure. By com­bin­ing the two, I tried to find a way that Shel­don could be both a zom­bie in the b-movie Hol­ly­wood sense and a ful­ly sen­sate indi­vid­ual.

Spec Can: What made you decide to write Husk from the per­spec­tive of the zom­bie?

Corey Redekop: I didn’t want anoth­er “us vs. them” sto­ry. I like sto­ries about out­siders and lon­ers, which all mon­sters are to some extent. I also like tales where pro­tag­o­nists have to adapt or fight against some­thing com­plete­ly out of their con­trol. (Which, I sup­pose, is the basis for all fic­tion, now that I think about it).

I love body hor­ror, which is hor­ror of the most unset­tling sort; the hor­ror of being trapped with­in flesh, a pris­on­er of your own DNA. David Cro­nen­berg — whose movies The Fly, The Brood, and Video­drome are required view­ing for those who appre­ci­ate both the form and a great mix of gore and intel­li­gence — is the pre­em­i­nent pur­vey­or of the theme, and I wish he’d go back to it. I also find the idea of a man con­tin­u­al­ly try­ing to keep his innards in check very fun­ny, as well as gross; I rec­om­mend Stu­art Gordon’s Re-Ani­ma­tor and From Beyond as two exam­ples of just absolute­ly grotesque trans­mo­gri­fi­ca­tions of the human form that are hor­ri­fy­ing and hor­ri­fy­ing fun­ny. It seemed nat­ur­al that I com­bine the two.

Spec Can: Is there some­thing dis­tinc­tive about Cana­di­an hor­ror? How so? What dis­tin­guish­es it?

Corey Redekop: All hor­ror is about com­ing across some form of evil; Cana­di­an hor­ror is about con­fronting such evil with unfail­ing polite­ness. Why thrust a wood­en stake through the heart of the vam­pire when a strong­ly word­ed let­ter can be just as effec­tive? “Dear ancient evil; I must strong­ly object to your recent killing spree…” (joke)

Hor­ror is hor­ror, no mat­ter who writes it. I don’t think that there’s a nec­es­sar­i­ly Cana­di­an POV that per­me­ates north­ern hor­ror, oth­er than pos­si­bly set­ting (which doesn’t even work, since fic­tion cross­es bor­ders with such ease; one of my favourite hor­ror nov­els, Cabal by Clive Bark­er, is set in Alber­ta, yet the author is British). I think this may be because fear is a pri­mal instinct, some­thing shared between peo­ples across the globe. Authors such as Andrew Pyper, David Nick­le, Gem­ma Files, Michael Rowe, Susie Moloney, Ian Rogers, and Tony Burgess stand firm­ly with the best hor­ror fic­tion avail­able in the world. This could be because hor­ror authors are all of a sim­i­lar breed, a sect of dam­aged indi­vid­u­als who yearn to explore the dark­er cor­ners of the world. Some are dark­er than oth­ers, but all appre­ci­ate what con­fronting our demons can achieve.

Spec Can: In your nov­el Husk, you wrote about a gay zom­bie. What inspired you to make your zom­bie char­ac­ter gay?

Corey Redekop: I actu­al­ly didn’t know Shel­don was gay until (*SPOILER*) he killed his boyfriend. It just wrote out that way, but as soon as it did, I knew there could be no oth­er choice. Shel­don has always been uncom­fort­able as him­self, which may explain his striv­ing to be an actor. He was nev­er tru­ly at ease with his homo­sex­u­al­i­ty, a dis­com­fort that can be placed at the feet of dom­i­neer­ing reli­gious moth­er. In our soci­ety, homo­sex­u­al­i­ty is one of the last per­son­al char­ac­ter­is­tics that some peo­ple feel very com­fort­able dis­crim­i­nat­ing against because of their bla­tant fears and will­ful mis­read­ing of age-old texts that have very lit­tle bear­ing on the world of today (although this is less­en­ing, thank God). Allow­ing Shel­don that expe­ri­ence informs his refusal to ful­ly “mon­ster up” and embrace his new iden­ti­ty as a mem­ber of the undead.

Spec Can: What can hor­ror reveal about ‘oth­er­ness’ and the out­sider expe­ri­ence?

Corey Redekop: In Richard Matheson’s I Am Leg­end, the hero Neville, after fight­ing vam­pires for what seems like ages, sud­den­ly under­stands him­self to be the out­sider, the mon­ster that preys on inno­cent vic­tims. Sim­i­lar­ly, in Cabal, Boone, filled with self-loathing and believ­ing him­self a mon­ster, real­izes that the mon­sters are in actu­al­i­ty the prey, liv­ing for­ev­er in fear of human­i­ty. Like the best of any fic­tion, hor­ror allows us to turn the mir­ror and see our­selves as oth­ers see us, as mon­sters in our own right. This isn’t meant to excuse the mon­strous acts of oth­ers, of course, but is it right to con­demn the mon­ster (or the out­sider) as evil sim­ply for fol­low­ing its own instincts? A zom­bie isn’t intrin­si­cal­ly evil; it is sim­ply fol­low­ing an impulse we do not share. A vam­pire is only try­ing to sur­vive, the same as us, react­ing in the same way as any ani­mal that has its habi­tat threat­ened through civilization’s con­tin­u­ing encroach­ment.

Spec Can: Can hor­ror be a medi­um for empow­er­ing peo­ple who have been oppressed? How so?

Corey Redekop: Sto­ry­telling can always be empow­er­ing, and using ele­ments of hor­ror in the medi­um is no dif­fer­ent. Look at how many authors are impris­oned for their sto­ries; there is great pow­er in words and tales, which explains why some gov­ern­ments are so wary and dis­trust­ful of their artists. The more we dis­cuss a sub­ject, the more peo­ple begin to under­stand it, come to grips with it, and accept it. This is what some peo­ple find so dan­ger­ous. The world is a place of con­stant change and evo­lu­tion, and that scares some peo­ple to the core of their being. This is why Har­ry Pot­ter gets chal­lenged and banned, because in its own way it chal­lenges some people’s belief as to the way the world works.

Spec Can: Why does hor­ror lit­er­a­ture show such a fas­ci­na­tion with the body? What does the body inter­est us so much?

Corey Redekop: The fas­ci­na­tion lies in the body’s fragili­ty. The prick of a pin can lead to infec­tion; the eat­ing of a peanut may close our breath­ing pas­sages. It doesn’t take much to kill us, real­ly, and while we may fight dis­ease, we all know that it is ulti­mate­ly a los­ing bat­tle.

There’s also the absolute unfair­ness of the body that ter­ri­fies us. When peo­ple die from out­side actions, there is always a rea­son we can attach a form of blame to. The gird­er wasn’t built to spec­i­fi­ca­tions, the ter­ror­ist was angry at gov­ern­ment inac­tion, the brakes on the bus failed. We get that; we can deal with it ratio­nal­ly. When our body rebels, how­ev­er, we have no one to blame, no one to con­front, no one to fight back against. That body you took such good care of is now a prison you nev­er escape from. You could apply the term Kafkaesque to the process, although the machi­na­tions of the body is even more unfath­omable that poor Josef K’s predica­ment.

Spec Can: What can Spec­u­la­tive Fic­tion do that ‘real­ist’ fic­tion can’t?

Corey Redekop: When peo­ple read spec­u­la­tive fic­tion, they are already primed to accept any­thing that would, under almost every oth­er cir­cum­stance, be viewed as ludi­crous. Once you accept that (in the world you’ve just begun read­ing about) star­ships trav­el faster than the speed of light, the colour of your hair may lead to insan­i­ty, a soci­ety of frog-peo­ple live beneath the sur­face of the lake, Trafal­mado­ri­ans can expe­ri­ence any point in time at will, and the dead get up and walk around and hold down a job, you’re up for any­thing.

Spec­u­la­tive makes the impos­si­ble pos­si­ble and the sub­text palat­able. A read­er may not want to read a trea­tise on the dam­ag­ing mix­ture of reli­gion and pol­i­tics, but a read­er will read an enor­mous set of vol­umes on just that theme as long as its set on Arrakis. A view­er will not care to sit through a doc­u­men­tary on racial vio­lence, but will watch again and again a tale of space prawns unwill­ing trapped in South Africa.

I actu­al­ly don’t care for the term, actu­al­ly; by def­i­n­i­tion, all fic­tion is “spec­u­la­tive.” It feels like a cheat to me, a way of ele­vat­ing a genre through seman­tics. I’m all for declar­ing all genre clas­si­fi­ca­tions null and void. How­ev­er, the librar­i­an in me protests that form of anar­chy, because then where would we put the books?

Spec Can: What drew you to write spec­u­la­tive fic­tion? Why do you write it?

Corey Redekop: This is the only spec-fic I’ve ever writ­ten, and I’m not sure I’ll return to the genre soon (I’m now start­ing work on a crime nov­el). But I love it. My child­hood was made up of equal parts Star Trek, Star Wars, The Pris­on­er, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, The Wild Wild West, Stephen King, and Mon­ty Python’s Fly­ing Cir­cus. I wasn’t pop­u­lar as a kid, so most of my free time was spent in my imag­i­na­tions, and the more out­lets I could find, the bet­ter. I love sto­ries that give you an alter­nate view of the world, a view­point you nev­er con­sid­ered.

Spec Can: What role can Spec­u­la­tive Fic­tion have in pro­vok­ing peo­ple to think about new things and new ideas?

Corey Redekop: Fic­tion push­es at the bound­ary of what’s pos­si­ble, and encour­ages read­ers to learn from exam­ple and then cre­ate them­selves what they love in their sto­ries. We dreamed of space trav­el through our sto­ries, and then achieved it. Jules Verne and H.G. Wells were enor­mous­ly influ­en­tial, as is William Gib­son today. Yet we’ve now advanced to such a point where such out­ward inno­va­tion has almost caught up to our imag­i­na­tions. I think spec­u­la­tive fic­tion will have to look inward now, to expand­ing our con­scious­ness beyond mor­tal lim­its. We see hints of this in talk of Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence and The Sin­gu­lar­i­ty.

Spec­u­la­tive fic­tion can also act as a warn­ing by pro­vid­ing glimpses at what may hap­pen should sci­ence go awry. Mar­garet Atwood’s books are ter­rif­ic exam­ples of real-world sce­nar­ios and advance­ments hav­ing dev­as­tat­ing con­se­quences.

Spec Can: Is there any­thing dis­tinct­ly Cana­di­an about the worlds and char­ac­ters you cre­ate?

Corey Redekop: I don’t know. I write what I want, and leave the dis­cus­sion on sub­text and cul­tur­al influ­ences to oth­ers. I like to think my pro­tag­o­nists so far have been polite, which works to their dis­ad­van­tage.

Spec Can: In Husk, med­ical doc­tors are large­ly cor­rupt and dis­in­ter­est­ed in the human ele­ment. They priv­i­lege their research and eco­nom­ic fac­tors over humane treat­ment. What influ­enced this image of sci­ence?

Corey Redekop: I cer­tain­ly didn’t mean for my doc­tors to infer a dis­trust of the med­ical pro­fes­sion. I think doc­tors (the good ones) are some of the noblest peo­ple of the plan­et. I far more dis­trust cor­po­ra­tions that under­write research, politi­cians who sup­press research and inno­va­tion because of ide­o­log­i­cal bent, and good old basic human greed. I also fol­low Vonnegut’s satir­i­cal writ­ing rule, “Be a sadist. No mat­ter how sweet and inno­cent your lead­ing char­ac­ters, make awful things hap­pen to them—in order that the read­er may see what they are made of.” I need bad things to hap­pen to Shel­don, and uncar­ing sci­en­tists seemed a good way to test his met­tle.

Spec Can: Why focus Husk on an actor? What is the sig­nif­i­cance of the act­ing pro­fes­sion and how does it relate to your sto­ry line?

Corey Redekop: I thought act­ing would be a fine way for Shel­don to avoid being him­self. Act­ing can be a psy­cho­log­i­cal­ly dam­ag­ing pro­fes­sion (I know from expe­ri­ence), and I thought it a nice touch that Shel­don can’t seem to get any­where either as him­self. I also want­ed to play with some of the themes of fame, or more specif­i­cal­ly, celebri­ty. I hate that in this world you can become a celebri­ty by virtue of being an absolute ass­hole with no redeem­ing qual­i­ties who some­how lucked into hav­ing a tele­vi­sion cam­era catch every revolt­ing act. Shel­don want­ed fame, but not celebri­ty.

Spec Can: Is there any­thing fur­ther that you would like to add to this inter­view?

Corey Redekop: Only that the response has been far greater than any­thing I could have hoped for. I’m tru­ly grat­i­fied that peo­ple have so enjoyed such a deeply weird sto­ry.

I want to thank Corey Redekop for this insight­ful and thought-pro­vok­ing inter­view, as well as for his sense of humour. It is always delight­ful to talk to some­one who can pon­der about the nature of the Out­sider effect in our soci­ety and then also joke about Cana­di­an polite­ness.