As a society, we undervalue care and undervalue care workers. We tend to assume that people who do care work are doing it because they like helping people and we assume that the job is compensation enough. Even in the home, we de-value family members who provide care, viewing their care work as something that doesn’t need compensation. Care work is consistently treated as though it is not real labour and isn’t valued or compensated for.
Part of this lack of value for care work stems from patriarchal beliefs that position care work as a feminine labour and therefore de-value it the same way that patriarchy de-values anything viewed as feminine.
Care work has been in need to reimagining for some time. It has needed a fundamental disruption of social assumptions and a re-evaluating of the meaning of this labour. Using the medium of speculative fiction, a genre devoted to asking questions, Susan Forest and Lucas K. Law’s The Sum of Us: Tales of the Bonded and Bound brings together stories that critically interrogate the way that we imagine care and care-giving. These stories take a broad exploration of what care can mean, looking at parental care, long term care homes, social responsibilities for care, foster care, maternal care, elder care, medical care by doctors and nurses, the care relationships of pets, and even the care roles of insectile species’ (since care isn’t just a human trait). These stories examine complexities of care that are critical to this culture moment such as what is the value of care?, what difference does quality care make?, what is quality of life?, is care the role of home or the state?, what are the gendered dynamics of care-giving?, why do we de-value care-givers?, how much responsibility should parents have in the care of their children?, and what is the role of robotics in care? These are all critical questions that are in need of complex and creative answers and The Sum of Us invites readers to think critically about them. It doesn’t introduce easy answers about care-giving, but instead invites readers to explore often contrary ideas about care, asking readers to come up with their own critical questions and creative answers to the meaning of care.
These are tales of robots, aliens, insects, future wars, supervillains, nanites, other worlds, plagues, and mutants, but at their core, these are all tales about what caring means, and these are real, human questions. They may be explored through the lens of the alien, but they are fundamentally about human values and what care means to us. Sometimes the only way to get us to ask critical questions about the way that we value (or de-value) caring labour is to project our modes of care onto another, onto the future, onto another society, onto the inhuman so that we ask ourselves “if this makes us upset when we see an alien doing it, what does it mean that we are doing the same thing?”
To read some of the reviews of individual stories in this collection, see my review of:
Claire Humphrey’s “Number One Draft Pick”
Juliet Marillier’s “The Gatekeeper”
Edward Willett’s “The Mother’s Keeper”
Sandra Kasturi’s “The Beautiful Gears of Dying”
A.M. Dellamonica’s “Bottleneck”
Caroline M. Yoachim’s “Dreams as Fragile as Glass”
Kate Story’s “Am I Not A Proud Outlier”
Derek Newman-Stille is a PhD student in Canadian Studies at Trent University. He believes that the role of an academic should be to open conversations about ideas wherever possible, which is why he created Speculating Canada, a website focused on opening Canadian Speculative Fiction to critical questions. On Speculating Canada, Derek reviews Canadian Spec Fic, writes editorials about various issues in genre fiction, and conducts interviews with authors. You can explore Speculating Canada at http://speculatingcanada.ca/ . In order to create a forum for discussion and exploration on the air, Derek Newman-Stille created Speculating Canada on Trent Radio (92.7 FM) to invite conversations about Canadian Speculative Fiction. Each week, Derek appears on the radio to raise critical questions about genre fiction, talking about current issues and how these are portrayed through our fiction. Trent Radio can be reached at http://www.trentu.ca/org/trentradio/ . Derek archives past shows at http://speculatingcanada.ca/category/on-air/ .