Galactic Suburbia 122

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Continuum 11 debrief: panels and programme stuff we loved.

Tansy’s Guest of Honour speech: Fantasy, Female Authors & the Politics of Influence.

FictionMachine announcement: Something New Can Come Into This World, a book of film essays by Grant Watson.

Discussion piece: “Stop Asking Is This Feminist” at the Mary Sue.

What Culture Have we Consumed?

Alisa: Prep for the Alice Sheldon’s 100th Birthday Spoilerific episode in August: James Tiptree Jr: The Double Life of Alice Sheldon, Julie Phillips; Tiptree’s short stories – read “Houston, Houston Do You Read?”, “Your Faces, O my Sisters, your Faces filled of Light!”; Call the Midwife S1 -3

Alex: All Men of Genius, Lev AC Rosen; Prudence, Gail Carriger; Aurora, Kim Stanley Robinson; Jurassic World

Tansy: Lois Lane: Fallout, by Gwenda Bond; Uprooted, by Naomi Novik, “Waters of Versailles” by Kelly Robson, illustrated by Kathleen Jennings; Once Upon A Time Seasons 1 & 2

Alex is reading fiction for Hugo voting next episode!

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!

The Duke and I

Or, I read a (…nother…) Julia Quinn novel and quite liked it.

 I am not a connoisseur of Regency romance (having only read… one? maybe two?) before this, so I have no idea what conventions Quinn might be playing, breaking, or taking outrageous advantage of. So I can only comment on the book itself, not its place in the genre.

duke-uk_276Did I know basically what was going to happen within the first chapter?
Yup.

Did the book still serve up a few surprises?
Yes, a couple. They were quite fun, actually, since most of the plot was predictable.

Did I enjoy reading it?
I read it in a sitting. So, yes. The writing is light and witty, winsome and undemanding. I liked the alternating perspective between Our Romantic Heroes. I liked (sorry Gail Carriger) that there wasn’t a big emphasis on the clothes, nor the food. I like banter, and this has quite a lot.

What about the characters?
Daphne is a forthright, sensible woman who holds out little hope of romance but would at least like to like her husband. She comes from a big, loving family. I liked her, overall; I was a bit disappointed by her eagerness to marry and have children as the be-all, but: a) why not? She’s allowed to desire that; b) as we’re reminded early on, she’s not allowed to go to university if she wants to, and she can’t aim for an awesome career – partly because she’s female, and partly because she’s gentry and they just… don’t work.

Simon had a damaged childhood. Now he’s the duke. He’s been a rake, has no intention of marrying… etc. While I sympathised with his experiences, he was certainly less interesting to me than Daphne.

Are there problematic bits?
Sure. I am always uncomfortable with the Mrs Bennett-ing of all mothers. Quinn turns the tables somewhat with Violet, and gives a marvellous hint at her actually being a very smart woman, but it wasn’t quite enough to stop me from sighing a few times at the ‘must catch the daughter a husband’ thing. Maybe it’s historical verisimilitude, but that doesn’t make it pleasant to read about.

There’s also an instance of maybe-taking-advantage-of-someone that made me uncomfortable, which then did get explored for ‘who did what’ but it still made me sad.

Will I read more?
Daphne is one of eight children. I did wonder why Quinn was ravishing so much attention on the beauty and allure of Daphne’s brothers… and then I discovered that there are, of course, eight novels in this series. Marrying off each of the children, one by one. I must admit to being somewhat intrigued, not least because I really want to find out who the gossip columnist, Lady Whistledown, is. Two of my candidates got blown out of the water by the last page, but I still have one possibility in mind…. So, maybe.

Blankets

I made one. Here, it is being modelled by its possessive would-be owner. Yes, it is that big (the would-be owner is an adult).

IMG_0029

Aurora, by Kim Stanley Robinson

New science fiction from Kim Stanley Robinson! HOORAY.

(This book was provided to me by the publisher. You can get it from Fishpond.)

UnknownPRETTY excited to get this book. Enough that I actually started reading it the day it arrived – and would have finished it that day too had I not decided to Be An Adult and stop reading at a somewhat sensible hour in order to sleep. And overall I was very happy with it – some nice big ideas, characters fairly good, some action and good plot twists. My delight is not unalloyed, but the issues I had are not enough to stop me from being happy about Aurora‘s existence.

The non-spoilers should-you-read-it: did you like Robinson’s 2312? Do you like Alastair Reynolds books? Then probably yes: don’t read more here, just go get it.

Slightly more detail: the book opens with Freya and her family living what appears to be a normal life. Her mother, Devi, is kept very busy dealing with issues of algae and salt and oxygen, because they live on a generation ship that is heading to what they hope will be a habitable world. I love a good generation ship story: Elizabeth Bear’s Jacob’s Ladder series was awesome, I enjoyed much of Beth RevisAcross the Universe stories (although the relationships were wearing by the end), and Stephen Baxter’s had a go at it too (plot taking precedence over character, usually). So this is already a good premise for me.

We join the crew within years of arriving at Aurora – of course, because it’s hard to do a good story about the middle of the journey, unless something is going drastically wrong. Anyway, they do eventually get to Aurora, and Things Happen (it’s approaching 500 pages in trade paperback; you didn’t think it was going to be all sunshine and roses, did you?). The Things That Happen are logical and consistent with the characters as revealed; they also give insights into how Robinson views humanity which, while not earth-shattering revelations, are nonetheless poignant and worthy of consideration. How do humans cope with setbacks? How do humans cope with disagreement? What price progress?

For a ship of 2000-odd, the cast of central characters is relatively small. Freya is the central human character, so there’s an element of the coming-of-age story – she’s becoming an adult as the ship completes its quest, there’s dissension within the family, and so on. I wasn’t entirely happy with Robinson’s description of Freya at some points; he suggests things about her nature and then never builds on it or challenges it. Nonetheless I found her a useful focus for the narrative; being young she’s out and about learning and meeting people, rather than stuck in a job. And given that the novel covers a fair amount of time, Freya gets to age and I think that’s often a really great thing in a character.

Interestingly, the other point of view character is the ship’s AI, thus allowing Robinson to have intimate knowledge of humanity and show the broader sweep of actions, decisions, and ramifications. I liked, too, that the AI developed and changed. There’s a little section that tickled the Arts student in me pink: the computer learning about how to construct a narrative. So meta, very wonderful.

However… issues. I had a couple.

Firstly, it surprised me that a book set in the 26th century would talk about the Old and New Worlds. Really? Maybe this is an American thing because it’s not something we in Australia say – and surely in 500 years that will be even less relevant? If the builders of the ship (who lived around Saturn, making this demarcation even weirder) insisted on some Earth-analogue in splitting up the two Rings, why not make it Northern and Southern Hemisphere? It does at least have some basis in geography, rather than an old and surely irrelevant socio-political perspective.

Secondly, the ending. SPOILERS. (Other spoilers follow, too.)

 

WHY? I presume Robinson is trying to say something about physicality and Earth being the right place to be? I dunno. To me it came across as ‘if you don’t surf you don’t understand the world.’ It felt out of place in the story overall and disappointed me given how much I liked the rest of it. I would have liked a bit more from Freya’s arc.

Thirdly – and something that I’m not sure, overall, whether I’m entirely on board with – the decision to go back to Earth. It’s only feasible, in the end, because they get the hibernation thing worked out, although I guess when they leave Aurora the situation didn’t look so dire. But… it’s been seven generations. Most people haven’t been paying attention to any of the news feeds from Earth for years, if ever. Would they really feel such a deep call to go back, when Aurora is a failure? I guess most of them would just have been thinking they’d be staying on the ship (all they’d ever known), and their children’s children etc would be the ones to arrive in the home solar system… but still. I’m really not sure. It feels like Robinson is suggesting there’s a deep feeling of attachment to this ball of mud that doesn’t just rely on personal experience.

Prudence

Screen Shot 2014-03-02 at 11.10.30 AMI just love Carriger’s work. I love her attention to detail, I love her wild ideas, I love the banter.

An important thing to note: you could absolutely read this without reading the Alexia Tarabotti novels. While they are set in the same universe, this novel gives you enough background information about the older characters to be going on with. And although, as is only natural, Prudence does reflect on her mother, it’s not an overwhelming part of her character – and one of the most awesome things is that Prudence is NOT her mother. And isn’t even the antithesis of her. Instead, she is very definitely herself.

The plot, briefly: Prudence goes to India and gets into all sorts of shenanigans while preparing to go, while on the way, and while there. Said shenanigans involve numerous supernatural creatures, a couple of boys, her best friend Primrose, several hats, and a rather large dirigible named The Spotted Custard. There is copious amounts of tea, a great deal of banter and snark, a tinge of British imperialism critique, and a lot of dresses.

The set of characters Carriger has brought together bode well for future books in the series; they fall into tropes, but they also have their amusing quirks and individuality. The best friend, Primrose, is very concerned about niceties of language and dress and manners; she’s also intelligent, socially sensitive, and I’m fairly sure she’s quite ruthless. Her twin is Percy, absent-minded professor type with loony ideas; he’s probably the least developed in this novel, but I trust will come properly into his own in the future. The fourth in the quartet is Quesnal, whose family I won’t reveal because that would be a bit of a spoiler but made me happy. He’s the engineering one, more practically-minded than the others, but also French – which in a novel like this is taken by the characters themselves to mean that he’s more emotional and sensuous (in good ways) than the more prim British.

Oh, and Prudence of course. Her family situation has meant that she is quite worldly in some ways, while still naive in others – and she knows it. She’s curious and game for adventure, intelligent and witty, and aware of her own faults. Perhaps the most intriguing part about her is her conscious use of character. She pays attention to those around her and she deliberately adopts mannerisms – mostly from her parents – that she thinks will help her in different situations. This idea of re-negotiating identity, in effect, is fascinating.

I love that Carriger is exploring more of the world that she created initially in Soulless. I love that we’ve now got a young adolescent perspective (in The Finishing School books), the 20-something perspective (here, in The Custard Protocol books), and the… 30-40, I guess? perspective (Parasol Protectorate). If I started re-reading the last again, maybe a book every six months, I could get myself thoroughly chronologically confused.

I’m really looking forward to the next book in this series (Imprudence).

Note: I had a… discussion… with some friends about whether there’s a typo on the first page, where Prudence is described as inspiring “immanent dread” in people. Given who and what she is, I think this spelling of ‘immanent’ is fine. However, I was disappointed to find a number of typos throughout the book. I’m not silly enough to blame Carriger for this and it doesn’t really subtract from my enjoyment of the novel itself, but I am quite disappointed by finding them and they do detract somewhat from my reading experience.

Blackmail Blend

BlackmailBlend-115x188 IMG_0710Set between A Trifle Dead and Drowned Vanilla, Tabitha once again has complicated boy issues, complicated food issues, and complicated I’m-not-a-detective issues, not necessarily in that order of importance. This time Livia Day has gone suspiciously meta on us, by having the victim of an attempted crime be a glamorous author; the situation is a writers’ retreat. I can’t help but wonder whether she is channelling her own experiences, or vengeful dreams….

As always there is excellent food, although perhaps not quite enough tea. There’s definitely not enough Ceege, although the presence of Xanthippe almost makes up for it, while Nin’s eyebrows only appear once. Tabitha’s discovery regarding high tea is pretty much worth the price of admission, and there is an adequate level of snark.

I read this while drinking Perth Breakfast rather than the specified Blackmail Blend. But that’s because I took Tabitha’s tea to work.

Galactic Suburbia 121: Live from Melbourne!

Galactic Suburbia 121: Live From Melbourne

The Tea Salon edition in which we drink the Tabitha Blend in front of a live studio audience at Continuum XI and chat about feminist hashtags and vampire college girl romance.

Kathleen Jennings drew us while we talked!

Tehani storified some of the tweets from Writing While Female.

What Culture Have we Consumed?

Alisa: Emerging Writers’ Festival: Writing while Female (How To Be A Woman in Any Boys Club); Bitch Planet, Issues 1-2; Twelve Monkeys
Alex: Cranky Ladies of History; Carmilla (based on J. Sheridan Le Fanu Novella); Veronica Mars; Radio Lab podcast catch up
Tansy: Sons of Anarchy; A-Force by Marguerite Bennett & G.Willow Wilson – AND Carmilla!

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!

Cranky Ladies of History

This is another book that I’ve given my mum recently. She started reading it and rather smugly emailed to say that now she doesn’t feel so bad about being one sometimes. She says:

I particularly loved “A Song for Sacagawea” because it is the story of all those unsung women who were forced to help conquerors take their lands. They were looked on as trade goods, but much of the exploration/exploitation wouldn’t have occurred without them. There is a similar story of a woman who translated for the conquistadors in Central America [she means Malinche]. Much as I admire those women, their treatment really p….d me off, of course. Don’t quote me on that, though.

(Oops. Heh.)

Anyway, I am so totally excited that this book exists. I supported it in its Pozible funding, I did a little bit of supporting in terms of writing a blog post (I had big intentions to do a few but whoosh there went the month), and generally YAY stories about real historical ladies!

!!

So I finally got around to actually reading it. Firstly let me say I SEE WHAT YOU DID THERE WITH THE ORDER OF THE STORIES, TEHANI AND TANSY.

Ahem.

The first few stories were the sorts of things I expected. Mary I as a child, Lady Godiva, Mary Wollstonecraft… and then Bathory Erzsebet. Who is someone I had never come across and who was very, very not nice. Very not nice. Like, Deborah Biancotti you had already scarred me with your Ishtar and now my brain is even WORSE. Because this story does not redeem Erszebet. It shows that women are quite capable of being cold and cruel and nasty. And, at a chronological and geographical distance, this is almost something to be pleased about… since after all, we are just human.

Hmm. Getting to Erszebet has meant skipping over Mary (a story showing how difficult her childhood must have been, thanks Liz Barr), and Godiva (thank you, Garth Nix, for making her more than just That Nude Lady) and Wollstonecraft (Kirstyn McDermott, I have always loved her at a remove – that is, knowing only basics of her life, I knew she was wonderful. This fictional take helps just a bit more).

Leaving Europe, Foz Meadows goes to the Asian steppes with “Bright Moon” and a fierce tale of battle and kinship obligation; Joyce Chng to China and silkworms and captivity. Nice Shawl teases with “A Beautiful Stream” by talking about events and people from the 20th century I felt I ought to know and drove me to google find out if I was right (yes); Amanda Pillar pleased me immensely by being all provocative about Hatshepsut, one of my favourite historical women ever.

Sylvia Kelso stunned me by talking about two women from Australia’s history that I had no knowledge of (a doctor? lesbians?? in the early 20th century?!) and Stephanie Lai puts flesh on the bones of Ching Shih, the female Chinese pirate I’ve only encountered in passing. I would like to thank Barbara Robson profusely for writing Theodora so magnificently and by incorporating Procopius, to show just how such historical sources can be used. Lisa L Hannett continues (what I think of as) her Viking trend, while Havva Murat takes on Albania’s medieval past and the trials of being born female when your father wants a son.

I don’t mean this as a negative, but I am so not surprised that Dirk Flinthart wrote of Granuaile, the Irish pirate. I was surprised where he took her; pleasantly so, of course. LM Myles brought in one of my other very favourite and bestest, Eleanor of Aquitaine, this time as an old, old woman – still cranky and sprightly and everything that was great about her. I didn’t love Kaaron Warren’s “Another Week in the Future,” but I have no knowledge of Catherine Helen Spence so I had no  prior experience to hang the story on. Laura Lam brought in a female pirate I’d never even heard of, the French Jeanne de Clisson, while Sandra McDonald writes a complicated narrative of Cora Crane: there are unreliable narrators and then there are unreliable timelines and sources and they get fascinating.

Thoraiya Dyer introduces someone else I’ve never heard of, by way of 19th century Madagascar and a royal family negotiating the introduction/imposition of European ideas. Juliet Marillier brings a compassionate, loving and beloved Hildegard of Bingen, while Faith Mudge caps the whole anthology with Elizabeth I.

Look, it’s just great. A wonderful range of stories, of women, of styles, of close-to-history and far (but still with that element of Truthiness). I think we need a follow-up volume. I’d like to order Jeanne d’Arc, Julia Gillard, the Empress Matilda, Pocahontas, Eleanor Roosevelt, Malinche, and the Trung sisters. Kthxbai.

You can find Cranky Ladies over here.

The Summer Prince

UnknownSometime in the future, when things have gone very pear-shaped, there’s a thriving city in what used to be Brazil. They’re ruled by a queen and the aunties. There’s a king, too; but he dies every year, thanks to a ritual that goes back to the setting up of the settlement and issues around who caused the world’s problems and oh yes there was a plague, too. Plus, there’s life-prolonging treatments so you’re a child, in the ideas of society, for a really long time. And we all know how people respond to the idea of being treated like a child when they think they’re totally adult and ought to be consulted on, like, stuff.

With this as the basis, now add a girl who has parental issues and a deep, deep desire to do something serious – something political – with her art. Things can’t help but get explosive, right? ART. Let’s rock the world with art. Make political statements and confront the authorities and be provocative so they can’t ignore us any more. And if they don’t like it let’s do it some more.

I was somewhat reminded of Osiris, by EJ Swift – just a bit in the post-apocalyptic nature of the world. The issues are different, in that the haves and have-nots are differently conceived, as is the outside world. But it’s still interesting to see visions of the future like this getting explored in different ways.

It’s a fast-paced ride, and very easy to read. Johnson juggles love and sex and sexuality, tradition, art, technology, family relationships, despair and hope and ambition. And right up until the very end I had no idea how Johnson was going to be able to bring it to a satisfactory conclusion – satisfactory for me, that is. And she pulls off something very clever indeed.

This was my first taste of Johnson’s novels. I am fully intending to read more.

All Men of Genius

Unknown

Rosen takes a large dose of Shakespeare (As You Like it, specifically); adds a liberal dose of mad science and a pinch of Ada Lovelace; shakes gently, and decants the resulting mixture in fairly smooth prose to produce a generally enjoyable book, with a somewhat abrupt and disappointing finish.

The first thing to know about me and this book is that with one exception (Much Ado About Nothing, thank you Kenneth and Emma), I basically loathe Shakespeare’s comedies. I do not like twins. I do not like mistaken identity. I do not care. I will not go and watch a comedy if I have a choice do not even try.

Rosen, however, made me care, because finally there is a good reason for identity swapping rather than just the amusement of seeing a man in a skirt pretending to be a man (oh HA HA geroffthastage). But taking your brother’s identity in order to get into the most prestigious science academy in London in order to make crazy beautiful science with the full intention of revealing yourself as a lady at the end of your first year? VIOLET I LOVE YOU.

The fact that your brother is gay and you don’t have a problem with that is just extra cute and an additional bit of sticking it to the establishment.

I liked it. If you like slightly artificial prose (not as jaunty as Gail Carriger but that sort of thing) and some seriously mad science, this is a fun book. There are lots of gears. And talking rabbits. No really, it’s funny, if lacking in ethics. Also invisible cats, difficult decisions, and cranky professors.

Thoughts for people who’ve read the book: SPOILERS AHOY!
I really enjoyed Violet’s interactions with the other students, overall; it’s a slightly grown-up version of boarding school romps, basically (like, the drinking is legal). I was really pleased that Rosen allowed Jack and Violet to be and remain good friends – I guess it helped that Jack had his sights firmly fixed on Cecily – and that it turns out Drew knew she was female for a while and it just didn’t matter. Hooray for cross-gender friendships!

I generally liked Cecily. I liked that she was good at science, and wanted to be good at science. I was bemused by her attachment to the rabbit, since it made this intelligent young woman seem like she was about six. I also generally liked Miriam, and I was fascinated by her status as a dark-skinned, widowed, Jew… but it did feel a bit tokenistic. That is, I am perfectly fine with her being all of those things, but Rosen begins to explore the ramifications of those aspects of her identity aaaaaand doesn’t fulfil the promise.

Other things that didn’t work so well:

The relationship between Violet and the duke is a bit ugh. The age difference is icky. The ‘but I don’t think I’m an invert!’ (Rosen’s word, presumably – I hope! – historically appropriate) attitude from the duke after kissing Violet-as-Ashton skirted, and may have fallen into, problematic (I’m cis, I’m no judge).

The switching of voices. What for, Rosen? The fact that it doesn’t properly start until well into the book makes it particularly weird. I liked Fiona well enough but I really didn’t need her perspective, nor that of the duke, nor Cecily or Miriam’s, unless they were all going to be as thoroughly explored as Violet’s. Which they’re not. And Ashton is distinctly left out, really, which makes no sense.

The ending. The marriage happens waaay too fast – or it could have happened in as few pages but there needed to be a bit more about how it all got resolved, and wait a minute isn’t she a bit young??

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