Noah

I watched Noah last week with some friends from church. We weren’t expecting A Beautiful Mind, but I would have been happy with Gladiator.

I did not get Gladiator.

I wasn’t expecting it to be completely true to the biblical account.

Which is good, because there were some remarkably true-to-Bible bits (Noah does indeed get drunk and found by his sons in the nud)… but then there were weird magical type bits, too. Like Methuselah making a barren girl fecund, and a snake skin having maybe magical powers? Also, no UnknownGod. Rusty sometimes implored the clouds, and they talk about the Creator, but God never interacts.Unknown-1

I did not expect quite as much angsty Rusty, but I definitely got it; and I really didn’t expect such weird and dramatic hair, and hair changes, as I got. I also didn’t expect the film to be having an identity crisis about whether it was a BC Fantasy film, or a post-apocalyptic SF film. It had occasional moment of both.

The creators (heh) kept the basic story… which you’d kinda expect if you want to have even credence as a Noah story. So people have got bad and Noah has a dream (change) wherein he realises humanity will be wiped off the earth via a flood, and he builds an ark to save the animals and a few people – his family – coincidentally. The animals come in two by two (ish), there’s a dove brings notice of land being back, and oh yes, Noah gets drunk afterwards.

For the changes, though… the biggest one is the change to Noah’s family. Japheth is a child when they board the ark, and Ham does not have a wife or girlfriend or any prospect of one. Shem has Ila (Emma Watson), but she’s barren (or so Noah believes), so there is no chance for continuing humanity – and that’s a good thing because Noah comes to be convinced the humans need to be wiped off the planet, which is very convenient since he hasn’t managed to get ladeez for his lads anyways. When he discovers Ila’s pregnancy, he proclaims his intention to kill the child if it’s a daughter, because that would allow the race to continue. OH THE DRAHMAH. Then Ila gives birth to twin girls, and Noah finds – after oh such a high tension moment – that he can’t kill them. So now humanity is going to continue because CLEARLY Japheth and Ham will procreate with their much younger nieces EW EW. (Oh, did I forget to mention there are spoilers here?)

I guess I understand wanting to add family tension in to the story, but surely there are better ways than this. Even the tired old ‘sisters-in-law not getting along’ would have been better than this – and that’s saying something.

images Let’s stop and think about the women for a moment. Jennifer Connelly is a great with a rubbish script… although I don’t think her name is ever actually used (apparently she’s Naameh). There is at least one point at which it looks like she’s wearing a very finely woven garment, though, while everyone else is getting around in very natty leathers (Noah appears in what is almost a leather/rags suit towards the end), which is a bit weird and one of those which time period is this? moments. Her character is mostly the supportive-wife type – and since that’s biblically accurate, I suppose (she doesn’t get much airplay there), I guess it’s nice they gave her anything to do. She’s fierce in defence of Ila. And Ila – again, I think Watson does well with a rubbish script. She has quite a lot of agency, for a movie of this sort – she Unknown-2speaks without first being spoken to, she’s noble, she’s fiercely protective of her children and defiant as well. But this is all within the rubbishness of the script. There’s one other named woman, who appears for about five minutes – Na’el, I believe – whom Ham meets when he goes off to find himself a bride. They chat, she seems ok, they head back to the ark… and then she gets trampled to death when her leg is caught in a bear trap (this was another what the hell time period is this set in? moment), and Noah refuses to help. Which is about as bad as it gets for all the unnamed women in the camp of the Evil Mens who are planning to storm the ark when it’s time. Their fate is not explicitly shown, but there’s lots of screaming.

There’s a lot else to be said about this film but I’m not sure I have the energy required to take down the ONE HUNDRED AND THIRTY MINUTES in their entirety. The CGI/green screening was… actually some of it was really good – some of the animals were exceptionally lifelike. But overall it just felt so incredibly fake it was difficult to care. Also, they made the ark basically brick shaped. Also also, Anthony Hopkins are you so hard up for cash this was a necessary career choice? Fella, go on Patreon – I’m sure you’ll get lots of supporters and you’ll never need to think about this again. images

And then there are the Watchers. Who are kind of rock Ents, and kind of Transformers I guess, and kind of that turtle-mountain thing from Neverending Story, and kind of just really really weird. Because they’re fallen angels, see: they fell to earth to help Adam and Eve when they were kicked out of the Garden, and then their fiery essence was encased in rock? Or something? They end up helping Noah because he’s in the direct line of descent from Seth, and because he’s on a mission from God (it HAD to be said). They are, hands down, the WEIRDEST part of the entire film.

I will never get back those minutes. I am more glad than I can say that I spent them with friends, and not alone with the film; and it did involve tea and the last of last year’s mince pies, so I guess it wasn’t a complete loss. I guess.

Licence to Kill

 

 

UnknownThis review is part of Project Bond, wherein over the course of 2014 we watch all of the James Bond movies in production order.images-4

Summary: in which Bond goes off the range (again), Leiter loses a leg, and Bond meets a seriously awesome pilot. Also, Benicio del Toro chews some scenery.

Alex: I am still loving Timothy Dalton and wishing that there were more of him as Bond. I know that the coming Brosnan is a images-2lot of fun (well… I hope the Suck Fairy hasn’t visited too hard), but Dalton! He’s so cool! Sigh.

This film’s prologue involves Bond and someone we’ve never met going to Felix Leiter’s wedding… but on the way they go help out with a raid of some imagessort. OF COURSE. Because it’s only wimminz who get all hung up about weddings, and HA HA isn’t it funny when you switch the stereotype and it’s the man who’s late? oh the lolz. This raid introduces us to Sanchez, who is clearly evil because he drags a pretty girl out of bed and whips her for having left him. (If further proof is needed, his pet iguana has a diamond necklace.)

After the boob-heavy credits, Bond finds Leiter in his study – at a rather modern looking computer! – while the wedding party is going on; he’s talking to a woman who completely brushes off Bond. OOH, FORESHADOWING. Leiter’s wife Della makes some reference to marrying off Bond, and once again we get a nice moment of continuity as Bond goes all mopey at remembering his OTP. Dawwww. Also, they give him a monogrammed lighter. FROM THE LEITERS. GET IT? Meanwhile, Sanchez has escaped, and he and his goons come after Leiter. And then, just to prove that this is no Roger Moore film, Sanchez has his sharks BITE OFF FELIX LEITER’S LEG. And they also killed Della. At which I am completely

images Unknown-1 Unknown

imagesNaturally Bond wants revenge, and eventually he confronts M about this, in Ernest Hemingway’s house – and they’re only there to give Bond the excuse to say “I guess thus is a farewell to arms,” which… I dunno… it’s a long set up for little pay off.

Anyway the movie goes on and centres on both Bond getting revenge and a desire to stop a major drug lord from getting more power. Bond teams up with Pam Bouvier – she who brushed him off earlier – and proves herself early on by pulling a much larger gun than him when confronted with Dario (del Toro) and co. She’s what Dr Goodhead, in Moonraker, came closeimages-1 to being: proficient, professional, and awesome. They do eventually get it on… but she kisses him, prompting the (somewhat amused, still patronising) line “Why don’t you wait til you’re asked?” To which she replies, “Then why don’t you ask?”

Q turns up, in the field again; Wayne Newton also turns up, as a televangelist type who is helping Sanchez sell drugs to cartels in various cities. He is as grotesque as he always seems to be. Bond inveigles his way into Sanchez’ place… things go well, things badly, random Hong Kong ninjas working for HK narcotics turn up and stomp on him… Bond turns Sanchez into a paranoid maniac, and people die.

Women? Bouvier is indeed awesome. She has some great lines, she’s always competent and clear-headed, and she deals quite well with confronting Bond’s other love interest – is this the first time that’s happened in Bond films? The two sex objects actually meeting? The second is Lupe, and unfortunately all the awesomeness was spent on Bouvier because Lupe’s dialogue and characterisation are appalling. She falls for Bond too hard and too fast – and I guess you can explain this as her wanting to escape Sanchez, but it’s not framed that way.

Race? Leiter’s other groom is Sharkey, a black man, and there seem to be no issues with that. One of the DEA assistants is also black, and I think some other random background characters too. The story is set largely in “Isthmus City” so many of the goons and thugs are vaguely Latino; it was shot in Mexico so I’m sure that the cast was from a varied ethnic background. There’s also the “Eastern” drug lords that Sanchez is trying to woo. Overall, yes there’s the stereotype of Central/South America being in the drug trade, but there are also white people involved (Sanchez’ main helper is Anglo, his American contact is too), so I actually think it does mostly ok from a race perspective. For its day, especially.

James: Perhaps my favourite Bond theme music by Gladys Knight, great gadgets too thanks to Q Branch. “Everything for a man on holidays” – explosive alarm clock (never wake up), explosive toothpaste, a Hasselblad palm-reading gun camera and a Polaroid camera which shoots a laser and makes x-ray prints.  Dalton is enjoyable again and it will be interesting to see how the transition to Pierce Brosnan feels as we move into what I’ve always considered the modern Bond era.  We’re ordering our drinks shaken and not stirred again.  3 Martinis.

 

 

 

Landline: review

UnknownThis book was provided to me by the publisher.

I’ve never read anything else by Rainbow Rowell, but a lot of the Goodreads reviews talk about her style being really easy – and it is. I started reading this late one afternoon and I’d read the first 100 pages before I realised what had happened. The story is well-paced; officially it takes less than a week, although there are serious flashbacks that kinda make that a lie. The prose flows – lots of familiar-sounding dialogue, enough detail to sketch in believable places and people. I’m not great at explaining how prose works. All I know is that this was delightful to read, and partly that was the words themselves.

The premise: Georgie has the chance at a dream job – but she’ll have to work over Christmas. Husband and kids go off on their family holiday without her. Georgie discovers that the old landline at her mum’s house somehow allows her talk to her husband – but him from the past. The novel is then filled with the minutiae of daily life: work and memories and family relationships and that worrying and gnawing at problems that gets so familiar when you’re old and have lots of worrying to do. 

The best thing about this story is that it’s about a woman thinking about, and worrying about, her marriage. That sounds very self-indulgent and maybe a bit dull or stupid, but bear with me. It’s refreshing to read about a woman confronting problems like this and not taking all the blame, not taking a convenient way out, and not having things magically solved. (Maybe there are lots of books like this – in fact I’m sure there are – but they’re not on my radar.) Yes, there were a few points where I got a little uncomfortable about what might almost be being suggested about her (‘letting herself go’, etc), but for me at least they never quite got to the really problematic point; they were redeemed by some thought or action that pulled it back, didn’t make her the villain for not having time to buy new bras, and so on. And I liked that the focus was on the bit after the happily-ever-after – the bit after marriage, and after kids, and things aren’t entirely wonderful but they’re also not entirely horrid, they’re just… life. But they can still be better, and yes life and marriage require work and that’s ok. 

Georgie was pretty easy to identify with, and all the surrounding characters were too. At times I wondered if Rowell was trying too hard to be ‘inclusive’ – but then I realised that just maybe I was overthinking it, that actually there wasn’t a huge amount of diversity (although to be fair the cast isn’t that big), and that none of the ‘minority’ characters were such just to make a statement. (See how my brain gets me caught up in tangles?) Also, the pugs are hilarious. 

Self interrogation: 

I was going to start this review by saying “this isn’t the sort of book I normally read.” Which is basically true, but why start with that line? And I started thinking about the answer to that question. And then I thought about starting this review with this self interrogation… and I realised that that was still front-and-centring the issue, rather than the novel. It’s one worth talking about but it’s entirely too self-indulgent to make it the first bit. So, here it is, at the end.

This is not the sort of book I normally read. Because it is, first and foremost, a romance. And I don’t think of myself as someone who reads romance, even though actually I love ‘good’ romance in my novels and movies – by which I mean it’s realistic but/and sweet but not saccharine, and – most especially, in my head – not the focus of the story. So why was I so keen to defend myself? Because despite all the time I spend thinking about why reading SF isn’t a bad thing to do, I still automatically feel like I have to barricade myself away from that genre – the female one, the one that everyone else bashes when they’re not bashing romance – even though I am well, well aware – in my head – that oh my goodness there are so many things wrong in thinking/acting like that. And the other thing is that this is absolutely SF. If we’re happy to accept John Chu’s “The Water that Falls on you from Nowhere” as SF – and heck, we should be – then so is this. That short story is all about a romantic relationship and how it works out with the family; the SFnal element is water that, literally, falls on you from nowhere. It’s never explained. So this, a story that’s about a romantic relationship and family, where the main character has access to a phone that allows to talk to someone 15 years ago? This is absolutely SF. Was I more embarrassed because this was written by a woman, and therefore more clearly can be classified as a romance? Because it’s a novel rather than a short story from an obviously SF venue? Who knows. At any rate, I’m not embarrassed by having read it, because it’s one of the easiest – pleasant, fast, cosy – books I’ve read in ages.  

Alexandra Kollontai

Cranky Ladies logoThis post is was meant to be written as part of the Women’s History Month Cranky Ladies of History blog tour

… But I didn’t get there, which is all sorts of tragic and sad, because this lady is outrageously and fabulously fantastic. So, in brief, because I can’t stand to have this post sitting in my head and not share it:

If a memoir was published as “The Autobiography of a Sexually Emancipated Woman” in 2014, there would be, I think, three possibilities: it’s ironic, and actually about the difficulties of sex & the city; it’s the story of a woman from [insert stereotypically sexually-repressed religious group] discovering sex; it’s a woman who’s been living under a rock and missed the last fifty years of women and sexuality.

However… use that as your title in 1926? That makes you a seriously Cranky Lady. So does being centrally involved in a political revolution and then being the sole woman in a political administration.

Alexandra Kollontai was a firm believer in Marxist ideology, and its commitment to bettering the world via bettering the place of the proletariat. A Russian, she joined the Social Democratic Labour Party in 1899, but didn’t follow either the Mensheviks or the Bolsheviks when the party split in 1903. She did eventually join the Bolsheviks in 1915, and was appointed Commissar for Social Welfare in the new Bolshevik administration after October 1917. From about 1920 on, she began to have some problems with the directions being taken by Lenin and his closest allies. Rather than sitting back, Kollontai helped to form the Workers’ Opposition. Yes, she formed a group within the young Communist Russia that could be seen as directly opposing Lenin. How many others can claim that? Sadly, Lenin managed to close them down, and from this point Kollontai started getting pushed out. And she was even less welcome by Stalin, who got rid of her by sending her out of the country. But this wasn’t exile, and there was no ice-pick to the head (oh Trotsky); instead, she was invested as the USSR ambassador to Norway, then Mexico, then Sweden.

She was the first female ambassador not of Russia, but in the world.*

World’s first female ambassador. In 1923. As a way of getting rid of her. Lady, you are awesome. Stalin, you are… a bit of a dope.

Of course, it wasn’t just Kollontai’s political politics that some people had a problem with. It was her social politics that really stirred things up. Marxist and feminist theory have worked together in understanding the marginal place of women in the home as being a similar thing to the class problems of the proletariat: Engels suggested that women’s subordinate place in the home was part of the capitalist machinery. And Kollontai ran with this. And – note the autobiography’s title – she believed that this applied to sexual relationships as well. Some people got all antsy about her being all free-lovin’ and so on, but I don’t think she was a proto-hippy. I think she was in favour of monogamy, but not as a way of tying women down. As a partnership of equals.

Alexandra Kollontai is an aspect of the Russian Revolution that too often gets overlooked – as does what she and other women achieved for women in general. I understand that the legislative changes don’t make up for the lived horrors of those first few years, but when we ignore them (like when we ignore the radical changes to divorce laws in the French Revolution, in favour of concentrating on the Terror), we’re ignoring a significant part of history – and attempts to change the world should be regarded seriously, even if they get overshadowed by famine and war.

 

*Her Wikipedia page, which is wickedly short on details, calls her the first ambassador of modern times, stating Catherine of Aragon was briefly an ambassador to England before her marriage.

The Living Daylights

imagesThis review is part of Project Bond, wherein over the course of 2014 we watch all of the James Bond movies in production order.

Summary: in which, Timothy Dalton.Unknown-2

Alex: I guess it could be that thing where comparing something mediocre to something bad makes the mediocre thing look good. I’m not sure. But by golly, Timothy Dalton is my favourite Bond of the series so far. He’s not in his 60s, for a start! I’m not sure either whether there was a change in the writing team, but the script was way, way better than most of what we’d come to expect from the Moore era. Yes, there were a couple  of silly lines – but very few innuendos, and it was fast-paced, and it just worked. Intriguingly, Dalton managed to switch between cold-blooded-killer and warm-human quite convincingly: there’s a lovely line where he declares, freezingly, “Stuff my orders – I only kill professionals.” I think Dalton’s portrayal of Bond has a lot to do with the script, but I think also that Dalton is simply a better actor than Moore. His face comes alive when he’s talking to the love interest, and shuts down when faced with evil and crazies. Also, he asks for a martini “shaken not stirred” and THEN we meet Felix Leiter and we are BACK in truBondland!

In discussion, James and I decided that this movie felt, for us – as film-viewers in their 30s – like an action film. Not “a 60s action film” – something that you had to watch with period glasses on – it just felt like a normal movie. Yes, some of the effects have dated, and yes it’s clearly not a 21st century world. But overall it was… familiar. I don’t think I’d quite realised just how ‘period’ the earlier Bonds had been.

So. The film then. Bond goes to Czechoslovakia to assist a KGB general in defecting, and doesn’t kill the sniper who’s aiming for him. Koskov declares that the new head of the KGB, Pushkin, is looking to kill enemy spies and the British should therefore take him out. Bond is dubious, and MV5BMTg0MjI5NTg4MF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNDQ4OTgwMw@@._V1_SX99_CR0,0,99,99_AL_goes back to Czechoslovakia to check out follow up on the cellist, who was the sniper. To cut through the rather exciting chase scenes etc, it turns out Koskov is working with a crazy American mercenary/arms dealer to get arms into Russia and Pushkin is in the way, so they’re trying to set Bond up to get rid of him. The cellist is Koskov’s girlfriend but he’s unfaithful – which is fine, because she has Bond now, zing! – and because this is set during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, we end up with Bond being helped out by the “Afghan resistance” – the Mujahideen. Oh, the times and the way they do change. (They’re led, incidentally, by an Oxford-educated man with a delightful accent.) Unknown

The plot is fast-paced and well-paced: there are some nice quieter moments that don’t drag the whole movie down, and they work nicely for character development. There are some spectacular chases, and – what the Bonds have always done – there is glorious use of spectacular scenery. Going from the snow of Austria to the desert of Tangiers was breathtaking and really worked; I think they used Morocco for Afghanistan and it looked fantastic, too, although I can’t testify to its verisimilitude. Unknown-1

Women? We have a new Moneypenny! Which is sad, because Lois Maxwell was awesome, but her mooning over Bond at this point would have been… awkward… more awkward than it was when they were the same age, I mean. And this time Moneypenny (a sexy young blonde) doesn’t appear to be M’s secretary: she’s Doing Research and appears to be based in Q Branch. Nice step up in the world, girl! (… within the ideas of the film world, I mean.) There’s one incidental sexy woman, in the prologue: we nearly went the entire scene with nary a boob, but Bond ends up parachuting onto a boat where a rich young woman has been complaining of boredom. Not any more, honey! There’s also a woman who helps Bond get Koskov out of Czechoslovakia, who is played entirely for laughs: she’s one of those big, blocky women that often gets used to portray how dreadful it must be for the lads in Soviet countries, and she uses sex to distract a manager! oh the lolz! Yeh… Anyway, the main female character is Kara the cellist. She’s not a bad character, not as action-y as the last couple – she is a cellist after all! – but not completely useless. She was game to participate in Koskov’s defection, after all, even though it turned out her rifle was given only blanks and she was meant to be killed. She is suspicious of Bond, as you would be, and fights him at appropriate moments, but naturally ends up falling head over heels in love. Seriously such magic. At least she ended up with some of her dreams come true, like playing cello in the West.

Incidentally, there a couple of beefcake shots to try and complement the cheesecake ones; it doesn’t quite match yet, but points for trying I suppose. Also I loved John Rhys-Davies as Pushkin.

James:  The crunchy disco theme from the 70s (Man with the Golden Gun) gives way to an 80s electronica remix of the Bond theme for the opening chase and then we quickly move through to the credits with girls in swimsuits rather than naked silhouettes – moving on from the era of free love I guess.  I love the little touches with this film like the chunky walkie talkies for the KGB goons.

The Aston Martin in this film may very well be the best yet, from a gadget point of view anyway – lasers, rockets (“I’ve had a few optional extras installed”), modern ‘safety’ glass (bullet proof), spike tyres, skis and finally rocket propulsion.  All deployed in a single magnificent chase scene.  It was nice to see the man ordering a drink, shaken and not stirred of course.  It’s a new Bond for a new era, harder and yet more human.  3.5 Martinis, shaken and not stirred.

Galactic Suburbia 106

In which the Galactic Suburbia crew discuss the future and present death of blogs, explore our personal relationships with social media (but mostly Twitter), and stage a memorial ceremony for the death of Livejournal. WE LOVED YOU, LIVEJOURNAL.
You can get us from iTunes or at Galactic Suburbia.

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Patreon!
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Pet Topic

Future redundancy: The death of blogs?
What blogs do you still read? What blogs are the key places to find out about shiny new things?

What Culture Have we Consumed?

Tansy: Intelligence

Alex: Risk: Legacy; Monstrous Regiment, Terry Pratchett; Beacon

Alisa: yes we really are going to make her throw a book away every single time. She… reinterprets the term’s challenge. But the results are worth it.

Please send feedback to us at galacticsuburbia@gmail.com, follow us on Twitter at @galacticsuburbs, check out Galactic Suburbia Podcast on Facebook, support us at Patreon (http://www.patreon.com/galacticsuburbia) and don’t forget to leave a review on iTunes if you love us!

Snapshot: Ian Mond

Ian Mond is the co-host of the Hugo nominated podcast Writer and The Critic (with Kirstyn McDermott) and the very rude but sometimes informative podcast Shooting the Poo (with Dave Hoskin and Anthony Mitchell). Now that his two children sleep through the night he’s been able to carve out enough time to read stuff. Sometimes he will even blog about what he reads at his blog – The Hysterical Hamster.

1. Your podcast The Writer and the Critic was nominated for a Hugo Award for Best Fancast this year – congratulations! It’s continued to be popular here in Australia and obviously overseas as well; what do you think it is that makes it appealing to listeners? And why do you keep doing it? 

At first it was the definitely the pointy stick. But now I think it’s the unflinching criticism. I don’t believe there are many – if any – genre podcasts out there that specifically provide in-depth criticism of genre books. And I think people enjoy it when both of us get passionate about a work. Not just the snark, but the genuine appreciation we have for good writing.

We still do it because we love it. Yeah, we’ve had to go bi-monthly, but even with everything going on in our lives Kirstyn and I have never discussed putting the podcast to bed. We definitely want to reach episode 50 and I’m sure we will go beyond that. For all the rubbish that’s published on a minute by minute basis, there’s great stuff out there that we can’t wait to pick apart.

2. Your other podcast is the, ah, delicately named Shooting the Poo. What’s the inspiration behind that podcast?

Dave, Mitch and I would often catch up and shoot the shit for hours on end. Arrogantly we always thought it was a great shame that no-one was recording these significant discussions. They were lost to the ages. And so we decided to podcast – knowing that civilisation would thank us.

The title is all my fault. No-one likes it. Seriously. Not a person. We only went with it because “Dave, Ian and Mitch speak shit for 90 minutes” sounded worse.

As with Writer and The Critic, in spite of two of the hosts becoming fathers very recently we intend to continue. Expect future podcasts to discuss issues ranging from erotic fiction to Spielberg Movies.

3. Do you see yourself still doing podcasts over the next, say, five years? Do you think The Writer and the Critic can maintain its appeal?

Five years… yes… I can see it… though I’m not sure Kirstyn would agree. If we keep to a bi monthly schedule that would be 30 episodes.

Because we’re not podcasting every week, and because we try and choose interesting and varied books, and because we’re always looking at ways of tweaking the podcast without ever changing the basic core elements of what the podcast is about, then yes I think we can remain appealing.

At the very least people seem to like to come and hear us rant and bitch at each other and I can’t see that changing anytime soon.

4. What Australian works have you loved recently?

It’s terrible to say but I haven’t loved any Australian work recently. I liked Rupetta by Nike Sulway, and reviewed it on my blog, but never engaged with the characters. Max Barry’s Lexicon is fun but as Kirstyn and I pointed out on W&C it’s also a flawed book. I did get a kick out of Twinmaker by Sean Williams. It’s about time someone blew off the dust on teleportation. But I’m not sure, given the amount of stuff I have banked up to read, that I’ll be reading the sequels.

Actually, yes there was something I loved. It was Kirstyn McDermott’s small collection for Twelve Planets Press, “Caution: Contains Small Parts”. I know Kirstyn is a close friend, etc, etc, etc. But seriously these four stories are astonishing and it’s a tragedy that Kirstyn isn’t a household name – or at the least someone who is being published across the world.

5. Have recent changes in the publishing industry influenced the way you work? What do you think you will be reading in five years from now?

The only thing that’s changed is how I read. 85% of the books I’ve read this year have been electronic, not hard copy. This is major shift for me considering the thousands of hard copy books I own. But I find reading on phone or iPad to be easy and it’s resulted in me reading more.

I’m not interested in trawling through self published work. I’m happy to have gatekeepers – whether they be the big five publishers or small presses that care about the quality of the work – to determine the sort of fiction I read. The fact is, I’ll read about 80 novels this years. About 32,000 pages of fiction (yes, I keep track) and even with all that I’m not scratching the surface of the genuinely good stuff that’s published each year.

In five years I believe I’ll be doing the same thing. Reading on my tablet books that have been professionally edited and gone through some sort of quality assurance. Maybe that makes me a snob. Fine. And I’m willing to accept that there are outliers out there – self published books that are amazing. But for me, I’ll let others square that circle.

SnaphotLogo2014This interview was conducted as part of the 2014 Snapshot of Australian Speculative Fiction. We’ll be blogging interviews from 28 July to 10 August and archiving them at SF Signal. You can read interviews at:

Snapshot: Cat Sparks

Cat-portraitCat Sparks is fiction editor of Cosmos Magazine and former manager of Agog! Press. She’s won a total of nineteen Aurealis and Ditmar awards for writing, editing and art. Over sixty of her short stories have been published since 2000. She is currently engaged in a PhD examining young adult post-disaster literature. Her collection The Bride Price, was published by Ticonderoga Publications last year. Her first novel, Blue Lotus, is finally nearing completion. @catsparx

The Aussie spec fic snapshot project is starting to take on aspects of Michael Apted’s Up documentary series — you know, the ones profiling a group of British children, revisiting them again every seven years. Snapshot comes around more frequently, but I’m starting to see distinct parallels. The Snapshot is a worthy cultural endeavor but for me, it serves to highlight how little control I have over my own career, creative development and achievements.

1. Your collection The Bride Price took out the Ditmar for Best Collection, and its story “Scarp” took out the Ditmar for Best Short Story, this year – congratulations! What was it like to put this collection together? Did it achieve what you hoped it would?

Ticonderoga’s Russell B Farr approached me three times about doing this collection. Three other publishers had previously expressed interest – in the end Russ wore me down with sheer persistence and the offer of a Canberra Natcon launch. I was worried I wasn’t ready, a pointless concern harking back to a different era. Once, authors only got collected when they’d attained a certain level of achievement. Today’s market is saturated with short story collections. I was happy to win a Ditmar for mine.

2. As well as writing, you’ve been an editor and are a designer, including designing the remarkable cover for The Bride Price. Have these skills worked together for you, or are they sometimes in tension? 

The tension resulting is always about time and focus. Serious fiction takes serious slabs of time, commitment and research. The longer you’re at it, the more disassociated activities you end up having to shed. Personally I have never had more time to focus on writing than I have now, yet even writing full time isn’t enough. My output is slow, I am always behind and I never seem to achieve as much as I’d like to.

3. You’re currently working on a PhD, which is very exciting. What are you investigating, and how will this impact on your fiction? 

My PhD research question is:  How does real world climate change data and anxiety shape and inform post-disaster science fiction for young adults? I’m only halfway through but already my fiction has been permanently affected. I no longer believe in a non-climate changed future and expect fiction to acknowledge the dramatically altering landscape, be it science fiction, cli fi or more common garden varieties.

4. What Australian works have you loved recently?

I’ve bought so many Australian books this year but have barely had time to read them.  PhD material sucks up most of my reading time. The last thing I loved to pieces was Max Barry’s Lexicon. I also really dug Andy Macrae’s Trucksong and Lara Morgan’s The Rosie Black Chronicles. I’m currently picking my way through Ben Peek’s Dead Americans, Thoraiya Dyer’s Asymmetry and Kirstyn McDermott’s Caution, Contains Small Parts. Podcast-wise, I remain a steady fan of both The Coode St Podcast and Galactic Suburbia. Artwise, I adored Nick Stathopoulos’s portrait of Robert Hoge currently hanging in Sydney’s Salon Des Refuses, as well as the short film produced by Nick and Ryan Cauchi: It Grows. (disclaimer – I appear in that movie myself, a fact that serves to enhance hilarity as I can’t act to save my life!) Trailer link here

5. Have recent changes in the publishing industry influenced the way you work? What do you think you will be writing in five years from now?

I have zero interest in self-publishing or becoming a relentless self-promotion machine. I write what I’m interested in writing, study the form, work hard to lift my game. That’s what being an author means to me.

Right now, I’m two weeks off finishing a novel and delivering it to my agent. This novel in various forms and guises has been weighing heavily on my shoulders for a very long time. If I’m still working on the same book five years from now, do me a favour, please take me out and shoot me.

SnaphotLogo2014

This interview was conducted as part of the 2014 Snapshot of Australian Speculative Fiction. We’ll be blogging interviews from 28 July to 10 August and archiving them at SF Signal. You can read interviews at:

 

Snapshot: Alisa Krasnostein

Alisa Krasnostein is editor and publisher at Australian specialty press Twelfth Planet Press, a creative publishing PhD student and recently retired environmental engineer. In 2011, she won the World Fantasy Award for her work at Twelfth Planet Press. She was the executive editor and founder of the review website Aussie Specfic in Focus! from 2004 to 2012. In her spare time she is a critic, reader, reviewer, podcaster, environmentalist, knitter, quilter and puppy lover. And new mum.

1. You’re just about to launch the anthology Kaleidoscope, which you’ve coedited with Julia Rios and funded via crowdfunding. How has the experience of creating this anthology been different from previous ones you’ve done? And has it lived up to your hopes of being a political and diverse set of stories?
With every project I’m always evolving and learning. For a long time I’ve wanted to be able to pay pro rates so with the advent of crowdfunding platforms, I was able to explore that business model for this project (SFWA raised the pro rates after we ran our campaign which was bad timing!). Crowdfunding is a fascinating and time consuming business model and we learned a lot about the maths behind them and also the amount of marketing and promotion required. It definitely helped keep my mind off my delivery date of my baby!

Kaleidoscope has definitely lived up to my hopes of a political and diverse set of stories. I felt a lot of pressure to do that – when you are given the money up front. The editing process was also a fascinating one. It challenged a lot of my own ideas about creating a good book and in the way I acquire stories. It’s markedly changed the way I approach and read fiction. I’m still processing a lot of my thoughts about it. Which is lucky because that gives me food for the thesis! Kaleidoscope is filled with a really diverse array of stories and protagonists – straight, queer, of colour, disabled – we hope there is a story in there for every reader to identify with.

2. Another project that you’re still working on, which is now well on its way to finishing, is the Twelve Planets series wherein you decided to publish collections of short stories by Australian women. I know originally the plan was to publish these over a year, or a bit more, which I’m sure in hindsight seems crazy! What impact has the process of developing the Twelve Planets had on you as an editor and publisher, and has it met your expectations?
In hindsight, I’m not sure it was every feasible to publish the Twelve Planets across a year – it’s actually a very tall order to ask writers to produce 4 outstanding stories on so tight a turnaround! Most authors ended up submitting more than that before we got to their final collection of 4. I think I’ve grown a lot as an editor through these collections – both in terms of my editing ability and in the mechanics of how collections work. At times, choosing to do shorter collections was really challenging because you can’t get away with things that maybe you might in a longer collection – you can’t hide a bad story amongst three others. Which I guess has made me much less compromising as an editor – if I wouldn’t buy a story for a collection where I can’t hide it, why should I buy it ever?
As a publisher, the Twelve Planets taught me a lot about branding and the effectiveness of a series for promotion and marketing.

The Twelve Planets was conceived back in 2009 as a response to the lack of female authors on awards shortlists. I’m very proud of the work that’s been published in this series. I think it shows the outstanding quality of short stories being written by Australian female writers. The series has more than met my expectations and I can’t wait to see the full project sitting on my bookshelf!

3. You always seem to have a lot of projects on the go, and more bubbling to the surface all the time. Do you imagine that the next five years will see Twelfth Planet Press branching out into other areas, or strengthening the areas you already do well?
Publishing tends to work on a three to five year timeframe. The more books I publish, the more I am understanding that it really does take 2 to 3 years for a book to properly come to fruition, especially if you’re working on developing projects rather than just buying out of an open submissions process. That’s a long way around saying I have a lot of the next 3 years’ projects already in progress. And if I could source funding, a few more beyond that! I think the next 5 years will see us strengthening areas like novels, our crime line and young adult fiction. But yes, I have a view to branch out further. :)

4. What Australian works have you loved recently?
I’m currently enthralled by Sean Williams’ Twinmaker – I kind of want to read his PhD thesis after I finish with all his fiction related to matter transmitters. Twinmaker is a fast paced YA thriller and I can’t put it down.

5. Have recent changes in the publishing industry influenced the way you work? What do you think you will be publishing in five years from now?
Yes. How can they not? Adapt or die. I have absolutely no idea what the industry will look like in 5 years time. I know we’ll do our best to try and ride the wave but I suspect that what will be *it* in 5 years hasn’t even really begun to be a thing yet. Recent changes have had us learning how to make good quality, flexible ebooks and to do our best to bring release all formats in tandem. We’re now looking at keeping up with the ever expanding distribution channels for ebooks and wondering about the longterm viability of print book distribution. Bookstores keep closing even though readers still buy print books.

Snapshot: Max Barry

Max Barry is the author of five novels, including “Lexicon,” the New York Times Notable Book “Jennifer Government” and “Syrup,” now a film starring Amber Heard. He is also the creator of the online political simulation game “NationStates.” He lives in Melbourne with his wife and two daughters.

1. Your novel Lexicon won the Aurealis Award for Best SF Novel this year - congratulations! The novel’s plot revolves around the power of words, which isn’t in theory a new concept but you take it in a really remarkable direction. Did the plot and the SF aspect emerge separately or together? And were you pleased with the result? 

Thank you! I was very happy with how that book came out. The SF angle… I never think of my stories as science fiction or anything else until my agent or publisher starts talking about how to sell them. I have three or four novels now that could be correctly classified as science-fiction, in the sense that they deal with ideas and a slightly modified world, but to me they’re just stories. They’re about people in a particular situation. The characters don’t think they’re in a science fiction book so I don’t either.
2. An earlier novel, Machine Man, was adapted from an online serial that you started in March 2009 and continued for nine months. What was it like to have the deadline of completing a page a day? And was the process of turning it into a novel easier or harder than writing one from scratch? 

The serial was a brave experiment in writing with people looking over my shoulder. It was amazing to have that immediate feedback, posting a little page and seeing people react to it and comment the same day, so different to novel-writing, where I find out whether anyone likes what I’m writing two years later. It was terrifying, and raw and rough because I couldn’t take my time to build the story. It was just: Go!

Turning it into a novel was challenging because the serial was in bite-sized pieces, which doesn’t really work for a reader who wants to sit down for an hour and be immersed. I had to retell the whole story for the new medium. But I had a big first draft that I wrote quickly because I had to, so that was helpful. It made for a different kind of book, in the end; I think I mostly hid its roots but they’re still there.

3. On your blog you note that you’re working on “too many books.” Do you tend to work on more than one project at a time? Are the ideas all pushing impatiently to get out? 

It’s easy to lose perspective on a story when you work on it every day for months. You forget how to see the book through the eyes of a reader. So it’s valuable to take a break, go do something else, and come back a few days or even weeks later. When I do that, I see its strengths and weaknesses far more clearly.

But the drawback is, yeah, too many books. I get immersed in the thing that’s meant to be a temporary distraction and suddenly a month has gone by.

4. What Australian works have you loved recently?

“Splitsville” by Sean Condon. I had always really enjoyed Sean’s books but recently I got to hear him read some of one and it elevated the whole thing to a new level. Because Sean is not some writer sitting back cleverly constructing bitter, intricate, insane, gallows-humor fiction; he is actually intricate and bitter and insane. So it’s even funnier. You have to read his books slowly, and normally I hate that, writers being tricky with sentence structure, because I just want the story, but Sean is so hilarious he breaks the rule.

5. Have recent changes in the publishing industry influenced the way you work? What do you think you will be writing in five years from now?

The industry is undergoing change, for sure, but I don’t feel affected that much. It makes a difference to the finances and mechanics of how I publish books but in the end almost all of what I do that matters is between me and the reader. How I get words to them, exactly, is not that big a deal. Not compared to how important it is to make sure they’re the right words.

SnaphotLogo2014

This interview was conducted as part of the 2014 Snapshot of Australian Speculative Fiction. We’ll be blogging interviews from 28 July to 10 August and archiving them at SF Signal. You can read interviews at:

 

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