The Tamuli

Earlier this year, Tehani, Jo and I read and reviewed The Elenium (The Diamond ThroneThe Ruby KnightSapphire Rose). It was fun! We enjoyed them – again! So we decided to do the same for The Tamuli! … and that took a bit longer. 

ALEX:

Dear readers,

Here’s an interesting thing. We’ve been writing these reviews in a Google document. This one, entitled Domes of Fire, has existed for a few months without anything being written in it. This is despite the fact that I think we would all have said that we enjoyed the second trilogy a lot, if not as much as the first, and that we all devoured the second trilogy on this re-read just like we did the first.

TEHANI:

Aw Alex. You don’t think all of us being crazy busy had anything to do with it? :)

ALEX:

It’s just that…well, there’s not really that much to say. We said most of it with the first trilogy, and the reality is that this second set, the Tamuli, is basically a reworking of the first.

TEHANI:

Heh, I like that Eddings pretty much acknowledges that about halfway through The Shining City:

“It has a sort of familiar ring to it, doesn’t it Sparhawk?” Kalten said with a tight grin. “Didn’t Martel – and Annias – have the same sort of notion?”

“Oh my goodness, yes,” Ehlana agreed. “I feel as if I’ve lived through all of this before.”

JO:

One will not point out similarities to the Belgariad either. Or the Mallorean. One will not.

ALEX:

Almost identical set of people, very similar set up – except just like any sequel, things are More Impressive and More Worse. Not just a puny god, but a serious one! Bhelliom’s not just an object but an imprisoned eternal spirit! Sparhawk is Amazing!!

…ok that one’s not that new.

What follows therefore is a general discussion of the entirety of the Tamuli – what we liked, what disappointed us, etc.

TEHANI:

I think part of the problem was that once we started reading, we just couldn’t stop – having glommed all six books in such short order made it super hard to separate this batch into separate reviews! So this one giant piece is a much more sensible idea.

JO:

Oh that’s absolutely it! I read all six in this big BINGE… and then you wanted me to sit down and be sensible about each one? Can’t I just say ‘yay’ Sparhawk? Also where are my notes…?

ALEX:

I quite like the opening to Domes of Fire proper, with Sparhawk riding through the streets but this time being recognised. It sets up the idea of familiarity and parallels with the first trilogy very neatly, and suggests that it’s all done deliberately. While I do recognise that this is somewhat lazy writing, I definitely understand the appeal of it for readers – because it appeals to me, when its done well: it’s the same reason why people like staying in the same hotel chain everywhere. Familiarity is comforting. I like reading for comfort sometimes.

JO:

I don’t see it as lazy at all. I see it as fanservice :)

TEHANI:

You know what else can be lazy writing? The “As you know, Bob” thing, which Eddings employs over and over to let us know/remind us what’s going on. AND I DON’T CARE THAT HE DOES! It’s still completely and utterly readable. I’m not sure what it says about me. Or maybe it’s just that even something “lazy” can actually be done well?

ALEX:

I think it’s done with humour, too, often, and that certainly helps his cause.

JO:

Yeah usually it’s just so much fun to read the ‘as you know’ doesn’t bother me as much as it should.

ALEX:

We are such fan girls.

So, straight into the issues: Danae manipulates a lot of people with kisses in these stories. It made me uncomfortable.

TEHANI:

Yeah. Despite the efforts to show women in positions of power, and able to WIELD that power, with Sephrenia, Xanetia, Ehlana, and even Aphrael/Danae herself and so on, there is still a lot of dodgy gender stuff going on.

ALEX:

Women and power… Ehlana comes into her own, but she does still get damsel’d – again. She shows herself quite resilient etc, but still… I’m really not sure what I think of Melidere. Great that she’s smart. Kinda fun the way she plays Stragen and all – you never see it but I have no doubt Stragen sees himself as a stud. Very uncomfortable about her manipulation of him into marriage. Urgh.

JO:
Yeah the gender stuff in these books really pissed me off by the end. SO MANY of the female characters are ‘strong’ because of their ability to manipulate the men around them. And do so ‘prettily’ so awww it’s actually ok. We got more ‘haha women are obsessed with marriage, poor men’ too.

ALEX:
Yes. Icky.

However and meanwhile, SEPHRENIA AND VANION 4EVA.

TEHANI:

They are so adorable! And I love that even though things get tough, they work things out. I also love they are a mature and completely lovely couple who appreciate and work with each others’ strengths!

ALEX:

And a Styric city! While there are some uncomfortable instances of racism that don’t get dealt with, I think this trilogy makes a sturdy – if, I don’t know, simplistic? – attempt at confronting it. Sparhawk confronting his own prejudices – being willing to protect meek and submissive Styrics but being affronted when they’re all assertive and happy – is a really nice moment.

JO:

Simplistic, definitely. But yes, at least it’s there.

TEHANI:

Yes! An excellently written scene. Very impressive to see this sort of examination of prejudice (however briefly) and the understanding that it can be unconscious and inherent to human nature, and challenging to deal with even when one is self-aware. Sparhawk’s conversation with Stragen where he says, “I just found something in myself that I don’t like.” is so short but encapsulates things very well.

ALEX:

Aw Sparhawk. Poor darling. Also? Older man learning about himself and still growing as a person? That is awesome.

JO:

Yes, very good point! That’s not something you usually see, is it. Older men are so often described as set in their ways etc. That’s a part of Sparhawk’s character I’d not noticed before. And it’s nice that he can be strong in ways like this, not just chopping off heads, but emotionally too.

TEHANI:

I particularly like how this comes around again later, when Vanion confronts Sephrenia about her behaviour towards the Delphae, and he says, “Nobody’s different! We have to believe that, because if we don’t, we deny our own humanity as well.”

ALEX:

And Sephrenia’s whole arc for the last novel or so is dealing with her prejudice against Xanetia and the Delphae.

That said, a “universal sisterhood of all women”?? Uh. No. Not until a lot of other issues are dealt with.

JO:

I have a BIG issue with Xanetia that I’d not noticed before, but this re-reading really hammered it home. She and her ability to read people’s minds are just one big plot device. After all the machinations and the foreshadowing, how do we bring the conspiracy out into the open? Xanetia reads people’s minds. BAM. How convenient.

I like her relationship with Sephrenia and the growth that Sephrenia goes through, but Xanetia herself… she’s just there to tell everyone who the bad guy really is so the story can progress. And it’s a revelation that isn’t earned, at all.

ALEX:

I quite like Xanetia – she’s kind of taken Sephrenia’s role as serene and helpful lady, in this series, because Sephrenia gets a bit more development. But yes, the mind-reading is a leedle too convenient.

JO:

Oh don’t get me wrong, I *like* Xanetia, because she’s an Eddings character so how can you not? I just find her mind reading abilities and their place in the plot a little bit of a cop-out. Same can be said for Bhelliom’s ability to jump around the world in the blink of an eye, but that doesn’t stop it being hilarious and cool.

ALEX:

Also meanwhile, I heart Bhlokw. And the Troll-Gods as a collective.

TEHANI:

They definitely grow on you! I really enjoyed how much more intelligent they are by the end than they are first presented. In fact, Eddings was actually rather clever there – when we first meet trolls, they are scarcely more than animals, but by the end of the series we have come to realise they are a complex culture with a firm religious beliefs and a strong sense of right and wrong. Fascinating really, if you’re looking at it from a tolerance and acceptance point of view…

JO:

Or he hadn’t thought that far ahead and just kinda shoe-horns the trolls into that role… but hey, maybe I’m a cynic.

TEHANI:

The whole religion thing in this trilogy is much more in-depth than in the Elenium I thought. There was more exploration of the idea that Danae is actually a goddess, but one among many, and that the gods and goddesses of Styricum are quite different from the other religions as well. I found some of the discussion, particularly pertaining to the Elene god, rather interesting.

ALEX:

There’s definitely more about religion here. The bits about the exquisite politeness between them – how hard it was to get the Atan god in the right frame of mind – is mostly endearing.

TEHANI:

The discussion of slavery in this series (focussed around the Atans and Mirtai in particular) is interesting. On one hand, that Atans are effectively a slave race, yet they are self-governing and pretty much are the means by which the Tamul empire works. However, Mirtai’s experience in slavery outside of this context was pretty horrific. I’m not sure how to unpack that juxtaposition.

ALEX:

It made me quite uncomfortable a lot of the time. The idea that the Atans had put themselves into slavery to look after themselves seemed way too disingenuous… and the fact that they basically rule themselves and that the ‘slavery’ is largely titular does nothing to make it feel better. Because SLAVERY. And as you say, it does lead to Mirtai having a seriously awful set of experiences.

JO:

Yeah, I agree with you there. It always made me feel uncomfortable. They whole “oh but they WANT to be slaves! They’re better off that way. No really, see if they weren’t slaves they’d all kill each other” made my skin crawl.

TEHANI:

It was good to see Eddings didn’t skip the class issues in this trilogy either. Khalad takes Kurik’s role in examining the nobility, but there are lots of instances where peasants are underestimated and aristocrats proven silly. Does it go too far, do you think?

ALEX:

I think it does, mostly because Our Heroes are almost all nobly born but they’re not idiots – which just adds to their exceptionalism. Which is now so overloaded it’s groaning.

JO:

Aristocrats who aren’t knights are usually the silly ones. Funny that.

ALEX:

Do you know, I don’t think I’d picked up that differentiation! and you are so right!!

TEHANI:

I originally read these trilogies in the wrong order, with the Tamuli first, and I still think that Eddings did a really great job with them. I didn’t ever feel when reading that I didn’t know the characters and it was never a problem figuring out what had gone before, or the dynamics of the relationships. Not because Eddings over-explained, but because the characters are so well-drawn. Take Kurik and Khalad for example. They essentially play the same role in the two trilogies, but they are still distinct people (and it’s lovely that Sparhawk never stops missing Kurik throughout the books). That’s not easy to achieve with a large cast.

JO:

It still breaks my brain that you read them out of order!

ALEX:

Me too!! That’s just… inconceivable  ;)

Anyway – it would have been so easy to treat Kurik as “hey, remember that guy?” I’m so glad the Eddingses didn’t. I really like Khalad.

JO:

And the brief moment where we get to see Kurik again… *sniff*

TEHANI:

The way Bhelliom slowly grew a personality was sweet – I particularly liked the scene where Sparhawk has it create a wall to stop the trolls, and when Sparhawk compliments the wall, it gets all self-deprecating. I also enjoyed the point where Aphrael realises that it seems Bhelliom had actually manipulated her into the events of the world, rather than her machinations being at her own instigation.

ALEX:

Oh I do love Bhelliom. Referring to the Earth as its child is so cute! And that brief SF moment of showing other worlds, and the alien soldiers they’re fighting, is quite weird. The discussions of origins is fun.

JO:

Oh me too! Love how it starts off all formal and uber-god-like, but Sparhawk and the gang rub off on it. Soon enough its cracking jokes. Pure Eddings.

TEHANI:

Some favourite quotes:

“I wish she wouldn’t do that,” Stragen complained.

“What’s the problem?” Kalten asked him.

“She makes it seem as if the light in her eyes is the sun streaming in through the hole in the back of her head. I know she’s far more clever than that. I hate dishonest people.”

“You?”

“Let it lie, Kalten.” (Domes of Fire)

“Is she speaking for all of us?” Talen whispered to Berit. “I didn’t really have a girlhood, you know.” (Domes of Fire)

“You’re all just itching for the chance to do Elenish things to those border guards.”

“Did you want to do Elenish things to people, Ulath?” Kalten asked mildly.

“I was suggesting constructive Elenishism before we even got here.” (The Shining Ones)

“Thine Elenes are droll and frolicsome, Sephrenia of Ylara,” Xanetia said.

“I know, Anarae,” Sephrenia sighed. “It’s one of the burdens I bear.” (The Shining Ones)

“Knights, your Grace,” Komier mildly corrected his countryman. “We’re called Knights now. We used to be brigands, but now we’re behaving ourselves.” (The Hidden City)

ALEX:

omg I loved that we got more of the Preceptors in these books. Also eeee Bergsten!

JO:

Personally, I never understood the ending. Would you really give up godlike powers to live a normal life? I mean REALLY? Maybe that’s just me, but that’s never rung true to me. Hmm superamazingmagic or your ‘humanity’. I’ll take the powers thank you very much. (My husband informs me that yes, this is probably just me…)

TEHANI:

He knows you well…

ALEX:

It would have been a very different book if that had happened; Sparhawk would not have been the hero we know if he had kept the powers. I’m not saying I wouldn’t read that book, but I think it would have been super jarring. For all he’s awesome etc, there is an effort to make him at least a little humble, and certainly content with his station in life. Staying a godlike being would have been a serious curve ball.

JO:

Maybe I should change that to – I never understood Sparhawk’s choice at the end. I mean yeah, totally works from a character and story telling point of view but… god-like powers man! I’d keep ‘em :D

TEHANI:

So the verdict? Clearly we still loved the experience of reading these novels again — not just a nostalgia trip but a genuine pleasure. And yet, with the weight of experience and a few years, we also can clearly see there are problematic elements with the books that we may not have noticed when we first fell in love with them, or they may not have seemed quite so concerning then. Is it okay to like books even though they are flawed?

JO:

This is pretty much what we decided for the first three, wasn’t it? Yep, flawed but still so much fun. I think it’s perfectly reasonable to like any media AND be aware of its flaws at the same time. I know that a big part of it for me is that I read these at just the right time and fell so completely in love with them. That feeling stays with me, flaws and all.

ALEX:

As you say, I think that loving any problematic thing is ok – we’re women, we kinda have to be ok with it on some level, right? Doesn’t mean we shouldn’t point out the flaws and work for things to be better, but nothing is going to be perfect and accepting that can sometimes be ok… I think? I hope so. Because while I may never read these again (although I wouldn’t rule it out!), this has been a fun ride.

Project Bond: the Wrap Up Post

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

What, you thought that with us having watched all 23 movies there would be no more posts?! HA!

Alex: I love lists. They amuse me greatly. So I thought I would make some lists of things from the Bond movies. I also love tables…

Best Bonds: it has to be done. How do we rank the Bonds, best to worst?

Alex James
 Craig  Craig
 Dalton  Connery (too many fond childhood memories I think)
 Brosnan  Dalton
 Connery  Brosnan
 Lazenby  Moore
 Moore  Lazenby

Alex: Connery? Really? You let the nostalgia blind you. Also how can you put Moore above Lazenby? Hooooooow?!?

James: Lazenby is ok, but while Moore is cheesy as a body of work the combination of films is still more impressive than the bumbling efforts of Lazenby for one films as ‘Hilly’.  Neither of them are great, even Brosnan wasn’t as good as my faded memory.  The strength of Dalton was a surprise for me.

Best Bond girls: choose whatever metric you like, but pick the top six (because there are six Bonds)…

Alex James
 Vesper Lynd (Casino Royale)  Vesper Lynd (Casino Royale)
 Wai Lin (Tomorrow Never Dies)  Honey Ryder (Dr No)
 Pam Bouvier (Licensed to Kill)  Dr Goodhead (Moonraker)
 Triple X (The Spy who Loved Me)  Wai Lin (Tomorrow Never Dies)
 Tracy di Vicenzo (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service)  Kara (The Living Daylights)
 Camille (Quantum of Solace)  Camille (Quantum of Solace)

James: What about Dr Christmas Jones (The World is not Enough)? Quality Acting… or Bibi (For Your Eyes Only).  Notes: Vesper is clearly the strongest character across all the films, Honey Ryder iconic,  Goodhead just appeals to me, geek girl.  Wai Lin kicks arse, Kara is the best of the innocent but involved girls and Camille is great, but not top 5.

Alex: I cannot believe you went there with Dr Jones. Seriously. I love that Pam Bouvier takes the lead in kissing Bond, and that she takes no crap from him. Tracy was always going to be a favourite of mine because Diana Rigg… and also she’s quite plucky. The other one that nearly made my top 6 is Melina, from For Your Eyes Only, and yes I agree that Dr Goodhead is indeed awesome. The ‘innocent’ girls have never worked for me – it’s too much like Bond is taking advantage of them. Which he does.

Best theme songs: let’s go with six again.

Alex: with the caveat that on a different day I might pick quite different songs… well, maybe three would be the same, but they too might be different on different days…

Alex James
 Skyfall  Thunderball
 Casino Royale  Skyfall
 From Russia with Love  A View to a Kill
 Live and Let Die  From Russia with Love
 Thunderball  Goldfinger
 Quantum of Solace  Quantum of Solace

Alex: I am astonished that we have so many in common!

James: Yes

Best Bond villain:

Alex James
 Blofeld (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service)
 Drax (Moonraker)
 Scaramanga (The Man with the Golden Gun… does he really count as a villain?)
 Alec Trevalyan (Golden Eye)
 Kananga and Sanchez (Live and Let Die/ Licence to Kill)
 Elliot Carver (Tomorrow Never Dies)

James: I’m struggling to get excited about the baddie list, there are a few I don’t mind, Carver, Trevalyan and Blofeld.  Scaramanga is a fun character, but he’s not a villain like the others.  Largo? Number 1? I do like the SPECTRE films, but maybe that’s just because they remind me of Inspector Gadget somehow? Oh I like Dr No also.  But the best? I just dunno.

Alex: this is my problem too! I think we (society) have this vague idea of Bond dealing with nemesis after nemesis, but the reality is that very few of them actually come close to being as good as Bond. I think the other thing that we sometimes forget is that Bond is an employee: with very few exceptions (Scaramanga, Silva) the villains are not after Bond as Bond. They are interested in either World Destruction/Domination, or Making A Great Deal of Money – and Bond keeps getting in the way of that.

I was also going to suggest we talk about Best Henchmen too, but since the winner is clearly Jaws by an enormous margin there’s just no point in even discussing it. (OK, Dario – played by Benicio del Toro – comes a close second for sheer insanity.) And as for Bond henchmen, Leiter (especially Jeffrey Wright) and Quarrel, for me, are the best.

Themes

Alex: I think one of the most interesting things about looking at the entire oeuvre of Bond films is the different (British?) preoccupations they each reveal – what disasters are most relevant at this time? Are we more worried about a country or a person? The flip in GoldenEye to being more worried about intangibles – information – than about physical death and destruction is a really significant one that you maybe don’t get without considering the whole suite.

f19cda1fbbf7b65182fb4761e2eb845fd9dbf59d4dfc7466a148ba6d1aa164abJames: I was struck by the preoccupation with space lasers… Always space lasers.  I was also surprised by how little time Bond actually spends in casinos and ordering Martinis shaken not stirred; somehow that and the gadgets is my strong memory from childhood.

Alex: it’s completely the stereotype of Bond, which means I think that those childhood memories get reinforced by cultural/societal ‘memories’. I really liked that the writers for Craig in particular played with those expectations a bit; in fact it happened a few times, that Bond got all meta on itself. I approve of this.

Overall

Alex: it has certainly been an … interesting… experience. I have to admit that actually, I am disappointed by the franchise overall. Perhaps that’s too strong, perhaps that’s not fair; until you hit about Dalton you actually can’t judge the films by modern standards – well you can but, well, you just get disappointed. Having said that though there are lots of films made post-1990 that I don’t think meet what I consider even mediocre modern standards, so maybe my standards are too high? So be it.

My main problem has been the level of cheese. I pass over the sexism – in the early Bonds that’s part and parcel of the era, in the later Bonds it’s slowly improving, and in all of them it’s not like they’re out to challenge Hollywood which we all know isn’t great on the Women Existing As Characters front. And while there are problematic racial aspects I feel that Bond is less problematic in that regard – over the 23 films – than might be expected (not great, but not entirely cringeworthy). No, it’s the number of times that the story isn’t taken seriously, that silly glib lines are used to no effect – this is what I did not really expect to see as a feature, despite having seen a few Moores before this year. It really doesn’t work for me. And it’s also (to hark back to the previous discussion) not something that features in the cultural memory of Bond, so I was quite unprepared for it.

Will I watch some of these again? Absolutely. I can see myself rewatching the Daltons, possibly the early Brosnans, and the first and third Craigs. Maybe one or two of the Connerys? When enough time has passed? If the Moores all develop unexpected scratches, though, I will not lose any sleep.

James: Perhaps in future Bond should consider not pointing out to his arch enemy that he knows, that they know, that he knows.  I’d re-watch Dr No, From Russia with Love, perhaps the Daltons, Golden Eye and Tomorrow Never Dies plus the Daniel Craigs.  Only Casino Royal and Skyfall could even be considered great films and even then none of them are desert island material.

Bond, James Bond… now for a Martini or three.

James Bond’s suits

Apparently it’s a thing to be a serious sartorial nerd, to the point where you a) examine all of James Bond’s suits, know what they’re made of, whether they have buttons or cuff links, and the colour as well; and b) look down your nose at people who use ‘tux’ instead of tuxedo and dare to wear them when the sun’s in the sky.

Don’t believe me? Read this – and read the comments too.

Galactic Suburbia 112

In which we help you with your (possibly last minute) Christmas shopping with a ton of our favourite recommendations from the year, plus culture consumed. You can get us from iTunes or at Galactic Suburbia.

Don’t forget to send us your recommendations for the GS Award: for activism and/or communication that advances the feminist conversation in the field of speculative fiction

Christmas gift suggestions!!

Alisa: Soapasaurus; Ancient Arts Yarn
Alex: Orphan Black. Abhorsen trilogy (plus prequel), Garth Nix. Bitterwood Bible and Other Recountings, Angela Slatter. Hav, Jan Morris. Rupetta, Nike Sulway.
Tansy: Ms Marvel Vol 1: No Normal, G.Willow Wilson; Teen Titans Go; Dimetrodon, The Doubleclicks; The Musketeers (BBC 2014); Sex Criminals, Matt Fraction
TPP: Drowned Vanilla! Secret Lives of Books; The Female Factory, Kaleidoscope, The Total Devotion Machine and Other Stories; Perfections;
Other Personal Stuff to Plug: The GS Scrapbook, The Twelfth Planet Press Tab, Musketeer Space

What Culture Have we Consumed?

Alisa: Scrivener; Monstrous Affections edited by Kelly Link and Gavin Grant; Champagne and Socks (Alisa’s personal blog)
Alex: The Slow Regard of Silent Things, Patrick Rothfuss; Troll: A Love Story, Joanne Sinisalo; Uncanny #1; finished Project Bond.
Tansy: Young Avengers 2: Family Matters; Civil War: Young Avengers/Runaways; Young Avengers Presents, The West Wing, Chicks Dig Gaming, Jennifer Brozek & Robert Smith?

Have a great summer… even if it’s winter where you live.

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!

Clariel

7489530Some spoilers for the Abhorsen trilogy at the start; spoilers for this book at the bottom, and flagged.

Clariel is another wonderful addition to the world of the Old Kingdom, with magic (good and bad), Abhorsens dealing with the dead, and a complex and compelling young woman growing up in a difficult world with a difficult family. There’s adventure and misadventure, a few friends, unwanted romance, moving to a new place and being forced to do what you don’t want to do. A lot of people – I’m going to assume, anyway – will be able to identify with Clariel being forced to go somewhere and consider a future that are neither of her own choosing; I could absolutely identify with her desire to just be left alone. The first is something that young adults are often dealing with in novels; the second is rarer, and it was really nice to see, rather than always having it suggested that gregariousness and being in groups is automatically a good thing and to be desired.

There was one thing that frustrated me enormously, and it has nothing to do with the plot and everything to do with my desire to see sentences constructed well: there were far, far too many comma splices. They prevent sentence flow and sometimes they actively interfere with meaning making. And now I can’t find any examples but THEY ARE THERE.

For those of us who know and love the ‘original’ Abhorsen trilogy, Clariel (set 600 years before Sabriel) is a little bit unbearable. While those books take place in an Old Kingdom bereft of a king, at least the Abhorsen is doing his job – and I submit that the Abhorsen making sure that the dead stay dead, and that necromancers aren’t being evil, is of more immediate import than a king making laws. Yes the lawlessness helps the necromancers, but at least the Charter Magic is strong and there is someone to combat the problems. … I found this excruciating.

And…

SPOILERS!!

When I first heard about this I thought it was a sequel, and I was kinda hoping for a continuation of Lirael. Then someone told me it was a prequel, and I immediately wondered if it was the story of Chlorr of the Mask given it’s suggested she was an Abhorsen and OMG I WAS RIGHT. I was SUPER excited to realise that Clariel would indeed eventually become Chlorr, and I loved how Nix made this more and more obvious but actually only confirms it right at the very end – in fact not in the story proper. Of course it’s pretty obvious when she puts on the mask. And I really love that this book absolutely stands alone… and actually now it occurs to me that I kinda wish Nix hadn’t confirmed her as Chlorr, because that’s a spoiler for people who come to this fresh. Sigh. Anyway, this is probably the darkest of the Abhorsen books so far, but perhaps only for those of us with knowledge of the future: it looks like Clariel could possibly avoid Free Magic, although of course that conniving Mogget certainly is going out of his way to make that not be the case. MOGGET. That treacherous beast. Imagine coming to Sabriel etc knowing what Mogget is actually capable of! That’s going to really influence your reading. I was intrigued that there was no connection with the non-magic world, given how wide-ranging it is otherwise, and the suggestion that the Old Kingdom and magical territory apparently extend quite a lot further than might be guessed from the original books. And how on EARTH does the Abhorsen family fall so far?!?

I’m excited that Nix is writing another in the Old Kingdom, too – this time following on from the original set!

Skyfall

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 EEE we finish Project Bond!! Also, M is a target, Bond is broken, and this time they’re fighting one of their own.

Alex: before I get into more details, I want to get my very great disappointment with this film out of the way. Now I love this film, but there is one thing that makes me see red. All of my notes – because I wrote them like this was a first-time viewing – refer to “the black woman” until right at the end, when the MI6 operative who’s been fairly important finally gets introduced. Her being nameless is not the problem, because it doesn’t get in the way of her competence. And the big reveal – that she is Moneypenny!!! – is not the problem and actually that is SO COOL. I am happy to have Moneypenny back in the franchise, and I am beyond excited to have her as a former field agent. My problem is with why she is now M’s secretary. Bond expresses surprise early on that she wants to go back into the field after she’s cocked up badly (that is, shot Bond instead of the villain), saying “it’s not for everyone.” And then, at the end, after proving that she’s cool under pressure and all of that, Moneypenny agrees that field work “isn’t for everyone.” And I KNOW that that’s true, and I don’t MIND that Moneypenny has chosen a different way of serving queen and country. What I have a problem with is that a) it’s only a woman shown making this choice; and b) more importantly, WHY she makes this choice is NEVER explained. It would have been so easy to have her wounded in the line of duty and make it impossible to keep being in the field; or, sensitively, to somehow show her not coping in the field.

I may still be angry about this.

Anyway. Overall, I really like Skyfall. Apparently it’s the highest grossing Bond yet. It’s not as good as Casino Royale, but it makes up for Quantum of Solace.

images3I’ve loved the recent development of having M play a real role in the narrative, not just be a hand presenting an envelope, and this is taken to the ultimate here: M is the target of an ex-agent who is seeking to take down all of MI6 in revenge. M is tough as nails – shoot even if you think you might hit Bond; “to hell with dignity, I’ll leave when the job’s done” – as well as becoming more rounded: reference to a poetry-loving deceased husband, her lovely interactions with Bond’s gamekeeper Kincaid, making bombs from lightbulbs… I just love Dench. When I first saw the film I was really, really sad that they killed her off (that plus the Moneypenny issue made me very cranky), but I do accept that perhaps she wanted out of the franchise, and on reflection I have less problem with her going out in the field than simply retiring to get grumpy at her roses. (Actually, now I think about it I do believe she would have turned out like Helen Mirren in RED, and taken jobs on the side…). And while I’m talking about M, I like that Mallory is the new one. Yes it’s sad that we’re back to having a boy ordering a boy around; but Mallory has a proven track record (Northern Ireland, held by the IRA; saving M from Silva), and I like his spiky-with-respect relationship to Bond. I hope they get to keep Fiennes for the next one.

The narrative, of an ex-agent seeking revenge on MI6 in general and M in particular for selling him out, is not overly complicated (although getting there is; the first half feels far more devious than perhaps it needed to), but I found it thrilling nonetheless. Starting with someone stealing a list of NATO agents embedded in terrorist organisations, it looks like someone just out to make money, but then the information is revealed on YouTube… and Bond eventually finds his way to Silva and takes him into custody.

The concept that Silva wanted to be caught and taken to MI6’s new underground digs, that this was all “years in the planning,” is the first time in 23 films that I thought “well that’s a bit preposterous.”

images4Silva is an interesting villain and is a call back to Alec Trevelyan. While Alec had decades of familial revenge on his mind, Silva’s is entirely personal: he was traded to the Chinese for other British agents before the Hong Kong transfer. So he was genuinely badly treated – and when he reveals that he did, eventually, take his cyanide but it didn’t kill him, instead horrible mutilating him (oh look, the villain is physically scarred) – well. I do feel some sympathy. Of course he has already shown that he’s a psychopath (killing Severine; plus he was going against orders already when M gave him up), and continues to do so (and seems a bit Oedipal towards M), so it’s not too much sympathy.

Despite the narrative being focussed on Silva and his angst, let’s be honest: Bond is the focus of this film in a way that he is in no other one except perhaps Casino Royale. He’s at his worst in this film, spending the first part ‘enjoying death’, as he tells M, and looking haggard; and then trying to get back into shape… it’s not often that I actually feel sympathy for Bond, but it happens here. And then there’s Skyfall. His family home. A bleak house in a bleak part of Scotland that he hasn’t been back to as an adult, that has been sold since he was declared dead, and is still being looked after by a cranky gamekeeper who delights in putting Bond in his place (“jumped up little shit”). And we see a gravestone that seems to confirm that Bond is actually his name, which I was doubting after the discussion about M saying Silva’s real name.

images1Meanwhile, Q is back! I love Ben Wishaw as Q. I like Bond’s shock at his youth and their developing camaraderie as Q is unruffled and gives as good as he gets; I love Q’s aplomb and that he is comfortable with his own genius (no false humility here) Swoon.

And I also love the theme song.

images2James: Straight into the action, Bond with his gun drawn; cars and motorbikes in Istanbul, then onto a train with a Cat excavator as the finale to one of the more spectacular openings yet – Bond is shot and falls from the moving train to his apparent death in a raging river.  The credits continue with the modern Bond graphic novel-style with daggers turning into crosses in a graveyard, blood and water.  The Adelle penned and performed theme song harks back to the Shirley Bassey era.  For the film nerds this is the movie where Bond ends up going digital – shot on an ARRI ALEXA – the end of an era.

We return from the credits with  M writing Bond’s obituary while he’s living on a beach enjoying the company of a young lady and doing bar tricks for money.  He looks quite grumpy though.  Next Bond appears in M’s house (again) … “Where the hell have you been ?” – “Dead” … Testing … Testing … Training … Bond and Q … “A gun and a radio.” … “That’s it ?” … “Were you expecting an exploding pen? We don’t really go in for that anymore”.  The cinematic style and the soundtrack is very Christopher Nolan, very Batman.  Some things happen and then there is a car chase back in the DB5, out of secret storage with the classic Bond theme music to lead into the finale – many things blow up and M dies.  3.5 Martinis with a bitter twist.

John Kessel

16566454I have had this collection on my electronic TBR shelf since… well, the info at the start says it was being given away free when it first came out in 2008, so I guess for six years. And I have had no recollection as to why I might have wanted to grab it; I vaguely knew Kessel’s name but couldn’t associate anything with it. Until I got to the last story.

This is the author of “Pride and Prometheus,” which I read in 2008 (when it was published) and must absolutely have been the reason for me wanting more of his stuff. Because I really, really liked “Pride.”

The collection is an interesting assortment of stories. Some riff off others – Austen, obviously, and Orson Welles, and The Wizard of Oz, and just possibly Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s series, at least for part of one story, and maybe X-Men too. Other stories are straight “lit’ratyoor” with nary a scrap of speculative about them; “The Snake Girl” is a bittersweet undergraduate tale, for instance. Some I really didn’t connect with; “Every Angel is Terrifying” drags you in but it’s the sort of horrified fascination where you can’t look away. Others…

“The Last American” is one of those stories that is genuinely post-apocalyptic – there’s been gross climate change and massive die-offs due to disease – and dystopic; it’s the story of a man who was the president of America for 33 years, whose life spanned the 21st century. It’s told, though, as a review of someone’s new biography of the man, which has been constructed both as a sensory experience (normal) and with these odd inclusions of text – which is so not normal that you have to download a patch to allow you to experience it. This is the one with the Scott Card and X-Men resonances.

The centre of the collection (just about literally, perhaps metaphorically) is the “Lunar Quartet,” described somewhere in the opening as a ‘modern classic… about life on the moon.’ But it’s not life everywhere on the moon; it’s life in the Society of Cousins, which is run as a matriarchy. You are surnamed for your mother, fathers are largely irrelevant, men have the option of living on centrally provided subsistence which means they don’t get to vote… as a feminist I can tell you it sounds absolutely horrendous. It comes out that this is intended to curb men’s propensity for violence and domination, but it just ends up sounding like an incredibly restrictive society where you almost don’t blame some of the men for acting out. One of the stories is focussed on that, and I was also incredibly uncomfortable with the words coming out of the rebel’s mouth – it was horrid, repellant, appalling. So Kessel takes the opportunity to start a new human society and imagines its possibilities, and is pretty damned ruthless in the process. It’s almost enough to make you despair of hoping for real change. But I don’t think that’s what Kessel wants. I think he’s just being honest about how hard it’s going to be – and that crushing the spirit of half the population is never going to be the answer.

A good eclectic collection. Another one I can finally tick off my TBR list, which is very exciting, and all because I thought I was running out…

Uncanny #1

Uncanny_Issue1_FINAL_large1-340x510Space unicorns, they did it! Uncanny was Kickstarted earlier this year.

The opening story is by Maria Dahvana Headley – “If You were a Tiger, I’d have to Wear White” – and I thought it was weird and clever and, indeed, uncanny while reading it and then I discovered just how much of it is true. It’s a reporter going to Jungleland (real) to interview the MGM lion (who really lived there, but probably not in a smoking jacket) and who ends up talking to Mabel Stark, the tiger tamer (real). Love and loss and memory; commercialism, culture and the crass.

Ken Liu’s “Presence” is sad and sweet and uncomfortable-making. One of those lovely sf pieces that brings together awesome tech with very real human stories.

“Late Nights at the Cape and Cane,” from Max Gladstone, isn’t really my thing. Nor was “Celia and the Conservation of Entropy” by Amelia Beamer.

Kat Howard’s “Migration” takes a quirky look at the idea of death and rebirth, while Christopher Barzak takes a Peter Pan story I had never heard of and updates it somewhat in “The Boy Who Grew Up.” And the fiction is rounded out by a reprint of a Jay Lake story, “Her Fingers like Whips, her Eyes like Razors” which also does interesting things with death – this time, challenging it, which I can’t help but imagine was inspired by Lake’s own cancer.

There are three poems included – from Neil Gaiman, Amal El-Mohtar, and Sonya Taaffe. I am not a connoisseur of poetry.

Then there’s the non-fiction. I have to say that my one disappointment with this first issue of the magazine is that there wasn’t more non-fiction, which I thought was going to be a bit of a Thing. Anyway, Sarah Kuhn talks by way of cosplaying as Sailor Mars about the reception of geeky women in fan spaces over the last few years, which felt like a round-up of some of the issues for people who haven’t been following it all closely. I did enjoy the discussion of becoming more and more involved in the Sailor fandom. Tansy Rayner Roberts’ “Does Sex mark Science Fiction ‘Soft’?” never answers its own question but does discuss the ways in which some in the sf scene have tried to banish stories with Too Much Sex/Kissing/Whatever out of sf… although they wouldn’t be accepted by romance immediately anyway. And Christopher J Garcia’s “The Ten Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Shorts on the Web” is a really great sort of article to include in a magazine like this and indeed makes its online nature an absolute positive. So too does the fact that the interview with Headley (there are interviews with Barzak and about Lake too) contains links to pictures of Stark. Overall this is a positive start to the magazine and I look forward to more.

Mitosis

imagesI haven’t read Steelheart so the characters and the problems in this short story didn’t mean as much to me as they would to someone who has read it. And it turns out that the story is actually half of this cute little number’s pages; the other half is a teaser for the second book in the series.

Still, I read it, and I think it does actually work as a stand-alone. There’s obviously a lot that’s gone on in the past, but that’s often true of a good short story. The one thing that could have been cleared up by a single additional sentence is the nature of the ‘Epics’, who are clearly the villains (usually) and clearly some sort of humans but… that’s all a bit obscure.

Anyway, it’s got a good pace and the setting – Newcago – is nicely set out. The narrator, David, is a bit of a nothing character to be honest; this is more about action than it is about character, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The villain was quite fun and I enjoyed Sanderson’s take on his particular ability.

This book was provided to me by the publisher.

Troll: A Love Story

100485I am torn.

On the one hand, this is a beautifully written story that deals with some fascinating issues. And trolls are real.

On the other hand, I was uncomfortable with the implications of some of the relationships.

So, the first hand: it is lovely, and made all the more impressive by the fact that it’s translated – that can never be an easy task. I love the fact that it alternates story with ‘non-fiction’ grabs from pseudo-websites, dusty old tomes, poems and mythology – some of those are real, I’m pretty sure – and newspaper reports. I know that some people find this annoying; don’t read the book if that’s you. And I know that sometimes it really doesn’t work. But here I lay claim that it adds wonderfully to the depth surrounding the central idea of trolls being a real animal, known to science for the last century or so, and that this story is seeking to add to what humanity knows about Felipithecus trollius. Additionally, although there is a central narrator – Angel – as the story proceeds more of the incidental characters get to add their own perspectives, also in the first person. I know some people have found this changing around to be irritating or confusing, but at least in my edition each chapter clearly labels who is speaking, so rather than confusing I found that it added to the richness of the novel.

Sinisalo raises a diverse range of issues in her story, some more central than others. Trust and love and manipulation; ethics in art and journalism and business; the relationship between humanity and the natural world; mail-order brides, sex as power, desire as all-consuming. Angel, the central narrator, finds a wounded young troll and decides to care for it… which leads to encounters with a neighbour, an ex-lover, a would-be lover, and an object of his affection. Plus a business opportunity.

Which leads me to the other hand. And from this point on, SPOILERS.

Firstly, I know Angel ended up feeling ashamed of taking advantage of the troll, but it was still an unpleasant thing to do – taking advantage of Pessi’s trust in him for entirely mercantile purposes. Given how much Sinisalo works to make Pessi seem if not human then certainly above the animal, I really didn’t like it. Again, I’m sure that was the point, but it doesn’t matter; I still read it, and felt uncomfortable.

And then there’s the implications of the relationship between Pessi and Angel. Perhaps it’s prudish but I was very uncomfortable by Angel’s sexual reaction to Pessi. This is partly because Pessi is coded as being quite young, so the power differential of age exists; partly that Pessi is clearly in a submissive position with regard to Angel in tribal terms, so again the power differential; partly, hello different species – where Pessi is <i>not</i>, especially at first, coded as being as capable/sentient as a human. I know that Sinisalo is trying to problematise issues of desire and sexuality – Palomita’s experience as a mail-order bride is certainly not meant to be endorsed but is still far more socially acceptable – but… it was a problem for me.

Lastly, the ending. I knew it was coming – that Sinisalo was working up to the idea that trolls were either evolving, and catching up with humanity, or that they had always been that clever and were now coming out of the forest and starting to demonstrate it. I really liked it, and but for the sexual relationship stuff I really liked the ambiguity of what was going to happen to Angel, too.

I think, on balance, that I really liked this book. Sinisalo is certainly doing intriguing things, and she does write beautifully.

You can get Troll from Fishpond.

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