The Book of Strange New Things

UnknownImportantly, I am a Christian.

Also, this is a complicated book and my reactions are complicated, so I may not always be completely coherent….

Overall:

A company called USIC has established a base – a colony in all but name – on a habitable planet they’ve called Oasis. It already has a sentient species living there. Peter, a Christian minister, gets the job to go and evangelise to these aliens. How is there even a question about whether this is science fiction?

The novel has a straightforward structure, with one intriguing aspect: the ‘title’ of each chapter is the last line, or sentence, of the chapter. This is… weird, and adds some remarkable suspense, and it means each chapter feels circular; it ends up where it began. I’m not sure whether this will turn out to have some greater significance than I currently perceive over the course of the novel.

Now, spoilers… Continue reading →

Ancillary Sword

Spoilers for Ancillary Justice (first review and second review).

UnknownI loved this second book possibly not quite as much as the first, for which my love burns for its originality as well as its characters and action; but it’s a true love nonetheless, for a book once again dealing with complex issues without making them un-complex, and for characters who aren’t cardboard, and a plot that – stripped back – is really very straight forward but that kept me reading voraciously.

The issues are similar to Justice, as you would expect, although with a different emphasis. Of course the gender aspect is still there; yes I still found myself wondering whether that deadbeat was female or male, that that leader a man or a woman, and so on. A little bit less than when reading Justice, I hope, since I read this immediately after my re-read and I was a bit more in practise of just reading ‘she’ and remembering that genitalia is irrelevant. More importantly, and indeed driving the action to a much greater extent than in Justice, are the twinned notions of imperialism and colonialism. How does an empire genuinely make sure all of its new citizens are treated like the old ones? How does an empire deal with pre-existing racial and other tensions that are going to manifest even though you’re all now officially the same? And then you add corruption to the mix and of course things will not be pretty. And THEN, into that mix, you add someone new – someone with a powerful sense of justice – and you watch how things fall, and which things blow up.

It amazed me to discover that Leckie is an American, what with her Radchaai obsession with tea.

Breq continues to develop across this novel. Justice saw her get some form of justice, and then has her direction changed by Mianaai herself. She has more time, here, to reflect on the pain of losing Awn, and the pain of losing the majority of herself; there are some intriguing moments where Leckie thinks through what it would be like to be that one, remaining, very small part of something previously so large. How does that one small segment develop an identity? Does that experience bestow compassion or impatience with others experiencing similar issues of dislocation?

I was pleased to have Seivarden sticking around, and not be so whingy as in the first. I am very pleased with the new characters introduced; they provide neat foils for Breq and Seivarden. One baby lieutenant with issues (oh how I love the discussions of baby lieutenants and how they are brought up by ships and crews)

My prediction for the third book: it will have to deal with the alien Presger, as well as the outcome of the civil war within Mianaai herself. In fact, I don’t really see how this can be resolved in just one more book. MOAR BOOKS, LECKIE.

Ancillary Justice

This is my second time around in reading this book. I knew I needed to reread it before reading Ancillary Sword. You can read my original review over here.

9780356502403-177x177Multiple spoilers ahead!

I still found the almost exclusive use of ‘she’ to be quite disconcerting, and I feel like I noticed those few times that someone is ‘properly’ gendered more than I did the first time I read it. I still found myself trying to pick gender clues from behaviour and descriptions, which of course says something about me… and also quite a lot about Leckie, since I really don’t think she enables such a reading of anyone. I have absolutely no clue what sort of genitalia Lieutenant Awn had.

Because I wasn’t so staggered by the gender issue this time I believe I felt the imperialism/colonialism aspect more. The Radch is a monumentally arrogant civilisation – and I felt very keenly those discussions about how such a sentence would be constructed in their language, since the word for ‘civilised’ IS the word FOR their civilisation, and for themselves: Radch. So this arrogance, this narrow vision, is constructed into their language – while I’m not a complete subscriber to the notion that language creates reality, it certainly has an impact on our perception of such. Leckie herself notes the similarities between the Radch and the Roman Empire, which is useful both for the yes and the no. Make new peoples citizens, subsume/ align their gods with your, but use ‘corpse soldiers’ to help make it work and have a bunch of apparently random cultural hang-ups.

I loved the gloves thing this time. I could drive myself mad trying to figure out how a culture develops a horror of bare hands except in the most intimate of circumstances.

I’m not sure I noticed the descriptions of skin colour last time (oh the advantages of being white). Much like the people of Earthsea, the Radch are dark-skinned… which is neither here nor there in the book’s greater scheme of plot and character and theme, but is nonetheless important in the greater scheme of, you know, the world.

Another aspect I feel I appreciate more deeply this time around is the religion. Everyone, basically, is religious. All of the ships are named after religious figures; all of the decades of soldiers likewise. There is an expectation that senior soldiers will pray and cast the omens each morning. Each new planet has their own religion whose parallels with the Radch’s own must be found – and there’s even discussion of a problematic, exclusively-monotheistic bunch who have caused issues in the past, who basically appear atheist to the Radch: either horrifying or bemusing, depending on your attitude. Not everyone is especially devout, but there is no doubt in anyone’s mind that religion belongs in humanity and in space and everywhere there are humans. This is refreshing.

Finally, the plot. Even though I did have some memory of how everything was going to play out (that notorious memory of mine), I still found it gripping. The massacre of civilians to the death of Awn, the gradual change in Seivarden, the drama at Omaugh: it’s not the most fast-paced space opera I’ve ever read, but it is definitely compelling and in no way just a vehicle for discussing Important Issues.

Galactic Suburbia 118

In which we take on the Hugosplosion, update you on Aussie awards, defy Doomsday, and address the possible misappropriation of the term glittery hoo-ha. It’s just been that sort of fortnight. … without me! It’s an epic one! You can get them from iTunes, or at Galactic Suburbia.

Defying Doomsday crowdfunding campaign.

Tin Ducks

Ditmar Winners for 2014

Aurealis Awards

Tiptree Award (more on this next time when Alex is with us)

HUGOSPLOSION – take a deep breath, we’re going in.

Updated Hugo ballot as of Sat 19 April

io9 – the withdrawal of two authors from the ballot.

Stats on the Hugos: Whose Rocket by Aidan Walsh

David Gerrold, this year’s GOH on the history of the Worldcon

#NewHugoCategories Hashtag on Twitter

Connie willis on Why I won’t be a presenter at this year’s awards

George RR Martin being outspoken on LJ about who is responsible for Sad & Rabid Puppies.

Kari Sperring on ego and the expectation of awards

N K Jemisin – Not the affirmative action you meant, not the history you’re making

Alisa’s proposal for her Hugo reading.

What Culture Have we Consumed?

Alisa: Lost, Sex Criminals, Daredevil Ep 1, Etiquette and Espionage by Gail Carriger (she’s an archaeologist? Oh man!)

Tansy: Rat Queens; Interstellar; Faerie Tale Theatre, Daredevil, The Blacklist; Eleanor Arnason – Me & Science Fiction, what are we, chopped liver?

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 and don’t forget to leave a review on iTunes if you love us!

Guns of the Dawn

This book was provided to my by the author at no cost.

UnknownThe main problem, for me, with Guns of the Dawn is that I thought I was getting a book based on the French Revolution, with a bit of magic. So I was expecting it to actually be about the French side, and I was excited to try and find familiar faces or at least familiar issues. However, that is not what I got. The extent to which this is based on the French Revolution is that Denland has had a revolution, and now has no king, and is at war with one of its neighbours. The Goodreads outline tells me that it’s pseudo-Napoleonic, and the era feels about right for that, but still there’s nothing obvious to connect them except the regicide bit and the war-with-neighbours bit (I’m not a Napoleonic Wars expert, so I’d be interested to hear from others who see closer resemblances). I freely admit this is a problem with my expectations and not a problem with the book, but it did colour my reading of it a lot and – well, that’s just the reality.

In attitude, this novel feels far more closely aligned with World War 1, reflecting its having been written (I presume) and published around the centenary anniversary. There’s a lot about the futility of war, and the horrendous conditions where most of the action takes place has thunderous echoes of trench warfare (and of jungle warfare too, from later wars). There’s also issues of new technology, mimicking some of the developments of WW1 (and the recount of a cavalry charge being mown down by artillery parallels the story often told about Poland and the Germans in WW2).

The book opens with the protagonist, Emily, in her first battle in an area known as the Levant. After that, the first third is mostly about Emily’s life before being called up as a soldier, and I guess it’s a story of manners: the family are gentry but poor, there’s three sisters and only one married and no parents; there’s a jumped-up, venal bureaucrat and problems with how to keep the estate going while the men are gradually drained off to go fight Denland. This section felt too long by about half. I understand that Tchaikovsky is trying to show how genteel and simultaneously how resourceful Emily is, but it really just dragged on and without the knowledge that she was soon going to be fighting, and that then something different would happen, I may have stopped. Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with that sort of book when I know what I’m in for. But the title doesn’t give any clue that one third of the book will be Austen-esque, and neither does the blurb. And even if I did anticipate it – Too. Long.

Most of the rest of the story is a fairly relentless meditation on the unpleasantness of war. Lots of people die. There are terrifying battles where finding the enemy and negotiating the ever-shifting swamp are equally difficult. There’s some of the difficulties you’d expect from having women in a man’s army. Tchaikovsky also includes those moments of camaraderie that every war-story needs, both for verisimilitude and to break up the unrelenting horror. Again, I found this part of the story too long. There was too much floundering in the swamp, too much focus on problems in the camp. It ended up losing some of its impact because I got impatient.

Is the book well written? Yes, the prose is entirely readable – after all, I read something like 650 pages (ebook) even though I wasn’t entirely convinced by the whole set up. Are some of my issues with the book entirely my own and not the book’s? Indubitably. But I still think it would have been better if it had been cut by a third.

Galactic Suburbia 117: Ursula le Guin essays

In which we take apart “The Space Crone” and “Is Gender Necessary (Redux)” from Dancing at the Edge of the World: Thoughts on Words, Women, and Places by Ursula Le Guin. Get us at iTunes or from Galactic Suburbia.

Defying Doomsday
Night Terrace

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 and don’t forget to leave a review on iTunes if you love us!

DancingAtTheEdgeOfTheWorld

Defying Doomsday

From Twelfth Planet Press:

Disabled characters are rarely seen in apocalypse stories, but Defying Doomsday is an anthology set to explore the tales of those usually left for dead.

While other apocalypse stories focus on the survival of the fittest, Defying Doomsday is an anthology placing disabled characters at the forefront of the narrative. Set for release in mid 2016, the anthology will be edited by two Australian women and will include stories from science fiction authors around the world.

Disability and chronic illnesses are not uncommon in society, yet the role they play in popular culture is limited and often depressing. Characters in apocalypse fiction often die early or are presented as burdens to the other characters. Defying Doomsday will be a collection of stories proving that disabled characters have more interesting stories to tell, even as the rest of the world is ending.

The anthology was conceived by Tsana Dolichva after she read a novel set in the Ravensbrück Nazi concentration camp. The story included a group of women who were used for medical experiments and mostly ended up disabled because of it. However, remarkably, most of those women survived the war thanks to the help of other inmates. The stark contrast with the usual “survival of the fittest” narratives got her thinking, and Defying Doomsday was born.

Defying Doomsday will be edited by Tsana Dolichva and Holly Kench, and published by Twelfth Planet Press.

Defying Doomsday will be an anthology showing that disabled characters have far more interesting stories to tell in post-apocalyptic/dystopian fiction. The anthology will be varied, with characters experiencing all kinds of disability from physical impairments, chronic illnesses, mental illnesses and/or neurodiverse characters. There will also be a variety of stories, including those that are fun, sad, adventurous and horrific.

The stories in Defying Doomsday will look at periods of upheaval from new and interesting perspectives. The anthology will share narratives about characters with disability, characters with chronic illnesses and other impairments, surviving the apocalypse and contending with the collapse of life as they know it.

Defying Doomsday will be seeking crowdfunding via a Pozible campaign, with the assistance of a Crowbar grant from Arts Tasmania (of $2000 for a successfully funded campaign). The campaign will run from April 1 2015 to May 1 2015, with a funding goal of US$13,000 to cover production costs, reward items, and the funds to pay authors the professional market rate. More information will be available here: http://pozi.be/defyingdoomsday

What are you waiting for?? Go support it! The only way you can get a hardback version is by backing it this month!

Night Terrace: promo!

Night Terrace stars Neighbours’ Jackie Woodburne (Susan Kennedy) as Anastasia Black, a scientist from a secret government organisation who used to save the world, but now just wants a quiet retirement in the suburbs. She’s understandably miffed when her house unexpectedly starts travelling through space and time. From the ancient past to the distant future, from pre-historic Melbourne to the edges of human understanding, Anastasia fights monsters and solves mysteries, all while trying to find a way home.

The cast list for the second season is just as remarkable, with current confirmations including actor and Doctor Who writer Gary Russell (Big Finish, The Famous Five, Octopussy), Dave Callan (Rove, JJJ) and Lawrence Leung (Unbelievable, Maximum Choppage). Returning from season one are Dave Lamb (Bell Shakespeare), Amanda Buckley (Impro Melbourne), Jane Badler (V, Mission: Impossible) and Virginia Gay (Winners and Losers, All Saints).

As well as a great cast, both seasons of Night Terrace involve members of the audience, who interact with the show through rewards in the Kickstarter campaign. You can choose to have your name incorporated into an episode; an “audio walk-on part” where you record a line of dialogue; or even an individualised mini-story (released on one-off 7″ record) in which your name and details are included in a standalone adventure with Anastasia and the crew.

Naturally, Night Terrace has a website – and you can download the first episode for free!

If you want to see (hear) season two, go throw them some money!

The Other Wind

And then I finished the Earthsea series and I was simultaneously overjoyed and despondent.

Spoilers for the entire series.

Unknown This is a great and wonderful novel, full of death and life and love and loss and powerful changes and the steadiness of hope. It’s a spectacular way of bringing all the threads of the past five books of Earthsea together, and addressing most (perhaps all) of the issues raised in them: men’s and women’s magics, dragons and humanity, the necessity and fearfulness of change.

The plot: a witch’s son has been having dreams about the place of death. The dead are able to call him and even touch him across the wall that separates that place from the living, and this is a fearful thing indeed. He goes to Roke for advice, from there is sent to Sparrowhawk as a man who has crossed the dead lands, and from there is sent on again to the new king, Lebannen, since that’s where Tehanu and Tenar are. Coming to Havnor, Alder finds himself in the most court intrigue Le Guin has ever shown: a princess has been sent from the Kargad Lands with the clear intention that she should wed Lebannen; Lebannen is all petulant about being forced into something, plus he finds it hard to accept her cultural differences. Then there’s the dragons who have come to ravage the inner lands of Earthsea – although not killing humans… and then they all – bar Sparrowhawk – end up on Roke, where the changes that were suggested in the world back in The Farthest Shore, and the ideas of death and shadows and Old Powers from the earliest books, all come together in a mighty crescendo.

It’s a captivating plot, and it’s one of the most plot-driven of the Earthsea stories, but the characters are absolutely still the essence of the book. I love that Sparrowhawk is an old man in this book. He has been in previous stories too, but I love how generally comfortable he is with his new station. He still mourns for wizardry but it’s an accustomed thing rather than a gaping wound. His happiness with Tenar is comfortable and comforting. Their adoption of Tehanu and their respect for her oddness is a lovely example of Family. Doing the hard things, and ensuring that your family does the hard but necessary things and supporting them in it… it’s strong and honest and inspiring. There may have been a tear at the very end, for Tehanu. And I love Tenar; she is an awesome example of old women doing what old women can do: say the truth, get things done, not care about perceptions – she’s the fictional example of Le Guin’s essay “The Space Crone.”

I was so excited to have Irian/Dragonfly back! To know that she has found her place in the world with the dragons is very satisfying. She’s another character who agrees to do the hard thing – come back and deal with the humans for a short time – even though she doesn’t especially want to. I like that aspect of her character. And her passion.

Seserakh, the Kargish princess, is the most intriguing of the new characters (Alder is vital for the plot, but he’s still just a man with an unfortunate manner of dreaming). I’m a little uncomfortable about the fact that she wears a red veil, and that going bare-faced is a really big deal – the women who made fun of her at home were “bare-faced whores” – because I can’t figure out whether this is a dig at Islam or not. Seserakh herself is a strong, vulnerable, determined and passionate character… but she does end up removing the veil to be accepted. So I don’t know whether to be disappointed by this aspect or not.

Basically everything about this novel (with exception above) is wonderful and I’m so sad that it’s the end of Earthsea.

Tales from Earthsea

The joy of being able to read a new (for me) Ursula le Guin is hard to describe. It’s like reading a new Tolkien…

imagesAlthough this is a set of short stories (and maybe a novella?), it’s described as the fifth book of the Earthsea set. This is certainly appropriate; the first four stories give more context for Earthsea as a whole, and the last story – which I think I’d read before? – is definitely a bridge between Tehanu and The Other Wind. And I loved it.

“The Finder” deals with the setting up of the school for wizards on Roke, and while it’s a lovely and intriguing story it ultimately made me really sad. Because men and women set it up together, and then at some point (not in this story) it becomes just men.

(I think it’s really interesting, actually, that across all of these stories (except perhaps “On the High Marsh”) the difficulties of wizards-as-men and women-with-magic is pretty much central. And it hasn’t been, until now. Tehanu starts to touch on it, but it’s not yet central.)

Anyway, I love the context provided by “The Finder,” as a prequel to everything that goes on in the rest of the set.

“Darkrose and Diamond” really surprised me. It’s a conventional enough love story, at the start; girl and boy, boy’s family doesn’t approve, etc. It was the conclusion that surprised, because it’s so different from everything else that happens in the Earthsea stories. It gives, I think, a useful reminder that individuals don’t have to follow what seems to be the obvious or apparently best path before them.

“The Bones of the Earth” gives us Ogion, Sparrowhawk’s original master, in a story that somewhat matches Sparrowhawk’s own early story. I have a fierce love for this silent man: so strong, so fragile, so loving and generous. And that was from just a few pages in two books before this. Now that I know his own learning-to-be-a-wizard story, and what he did with his master to hold the earthquake on Gont… well. Also: that particular event, with its connection to the old powers: oh. my. goodness. Le Guin manages epic in just a few short paragraphs and totally blows me away. Such profundity.

“On the High Marsh” brings us closer to ‘now’ – it’s set during Sparrowhawk’s time as Archmage, and although he turns up he’s not the focus. This time it’s a man whose magic is awry, and the impact on him – I guess this is a bit like what might have happened to Sparrowhawk if he hadn’t had compassionate teachers early on. I liked here the focus on other people’s reactions to wizardry; the kindness of Gift, the fear of other townspeople. It’s a useful reminder that Earthsea isn’t just about wizards.

Finally, “Dragonfly.” It’s hard to talk about this story without spoiling it – even saying that there are strong and important connection to Tehanu is something of a spoiler. It’s very definitely set now; indeed, the ending makes it clear that it’s happening while the events of Tehanu are occurring. It forms a really great bookend with “The Finder,” I think, dealing with the issue of men and women and wizardry. And it forms a most excellent springboard from Tehanu – the changes that are beginning to occur in the world – to The Other Wind, which brings these to crisis.

Such, such joy in reading these stories.

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