Landline: review

UnknownThis book was provided to me by the publisher.

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

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

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

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

Self interrogation: 

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

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

Alexandra Kollontai

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

The Living Daylights

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

Summary: in which, Timothy Dalton.Unknown-2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Galactic Suburbia 106

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

News


Patreon!
! Spoilerifics!! Oh my!

Pet Topic

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

What Culture Have we Consumed?

Tansy: Intelligence

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

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

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

Snapshot: Ian Mond

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. What Australian works have you loved recently?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Snapshot: Cat Sparks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. What Australian works have you loved recently?

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

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

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

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

SnaphotLogo2014

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

 

Snapshot: Alisa Krasnostein

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Snapshot: Max Barry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. What Australian works have you loved recently?

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

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

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

SnaphotLogo2014

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

 

The Sapphire Rose

UnknownEDDINGS RE-READ: The Sapphire Rose, BOOK THREE OF THE ELENIUM

Because we just don’t have enough to do, Alex, Joanne and I have decided to re-read The Elenium and The Tamuli trilogies by David (and Leigh) Eddings, and – partly to justify that, partly because it’s fun to compare notes – we’re blogging a conversation about each book. We respond to each other in the post itself, but you can find Tehani’s post over here and Jo’s post here if you’d like to read the conversation going on in the comments. Also, there are spoilers!

ALEX:
Almost the very first page of this book has an Author’s Note, which says that the wife wants to write the dedication. And “since she’s responsible for much of the work,” he’s going to let her. Why don’t you just acknowledge the co-authorship, DUDE?

JO:
I don’t see the ‘David Eddings’ on the covers any more. In my mind, it’s ‘David and Leigh’ :)

TEHANI:
Of course, when I first read these I had no idea, but since finding out, it’s been an annoyance every time I picked up one of the books.

Also, I think this is the first of the books where we see a really intrusive breaking of the fourth wall by the author/s? For example:
The appearance of the detachment at the gate was, in Preceptor – ah, shall we say instead Patriarch – Darellon’s words, disgraceful. (p. 155 of my version).

ALEX:
The descriptions of Ehlana, who gets cured of the poison in this book, are beyond horrid. There’s “overpowering femininity,” and women being “notoriously adept” at recognising things like a ring being an engagement ring (did I miss that seminar? How DO you tell that a ring is an engagement ring? How do I know whether I’ve been stooged?). Ehlana is unbearable smug about “netting” Sparhawk. I will admit that the point about wavering between wanting to flaunt her “womanly attributes” and wanting to hide them is fair – and even perceptive – but it’s surrounded by so much URGH. And I’d like to say that I, for one, am glad that Sparhawk tried to get out of their marriage. I know that 17 years’ difference doesn’t HAVE to be a barrier, but there is SUCH a difference between the two of them.

TEHANI:
By the end of this book, I was starting to get an uncomfortable feeling about the number of very young girls who become obsessed with older men. And Aphrael’s manipulation with kisses is most disturbing!

JO:
Oh yes that’s definitely a thing in these books.

ALEX:
urgh.

JO:
And we meet Mirtai! Isn’t she an interesting character? Super-strong, super-warrior who is quite happy to be a slave. In fact, she insists on it.

TEHANI:
Mirtai is such a contradiction! Not always deliberately on the author’s part, I think… This bit really got up my nose on this reread though:
Mirtai’s skin had a peculiarly exotic bronze tinge to it, and her braided hair was glossy black. In a woman of normal size, her features would have been considered beautiful, and her dark eyes, slightly upturned at the corners, ravishing. Mirtai, however, was not of normal size. (p. 324 of my version)
SO. MUCH. WRONG. To begin, what the heck is “normal size”? And the “exotic” bronze tinge of skin and “slightly upturned eyes”? ARGH!

JO:
I should probably leave this discussion for Domes of Fire, because there’s not much Mirtai in The Sapphire Rose.

ALEX:
Jo – indeed – but yes, that exoticising is repellant. And the whole ‘normal size’ thing makes me cross-eyed.

In the last book there was the issue of being ‘misshapen’. I couldn’t help but notice that in this one, when the Pandions are being domineering of the Elenian council, there’s the pederast Baron and Lenda and “the fat man”. Does the fat man ever get named? Fat isn’t entirely an evil thing like deformity is, in these books – Platime is fat but approaches genius-ness on the council, Patriarch Emban is very clever, and both of them are good – but it’s still always mentioned. There’s barely a reference to Emban without mention of his belly. And he uses that sometimes – to defuse tension, for instance – but I’m still not entirely comfortable with it.

TEHANI:
That’s interesting though, because both Platime and Emban are important, good characters – not presented as useless or bad people, and so I guess I read that as subverting the trope? Although there is Otha…

JO:
Even though Platime and Emban are good and important characters, their ‘fatness’ is mentioned a lot. Like it’s a personality trait.

TEHANI:
Very true.

ALEX:
Speaking of the council, I would like to declare my sympathy for Lycheas. He’s a dimwit and a pawn, but surely he deserves sympathy.

TEHANI:
Oh, I disagree! He’s not very bright and he’s been led astray I accept, but I think he knew he was doing wrong, and there were times he could have chosen another path. He was as hungry for power as the rest of them!

ALEX:
Hmm. Perhaps. How much choice did he have with a mother like that probably poisoning him from the start? (If we accept the premise of the story.) … oh wait, does that shoot my theory down, at least somewhat, given that is probably exactly the reason why he’s hungry for power? Dang.

JO:
I think the Eddings set him up to be disliked, and he simply has no say in the matter. He’s always portrayed as snivelling and pathetic and stupid. He may or may not be hungry for power, it doesn’t matter. He’s there to be a lesser baddy that everyone can look down on and routinely threaten to kill.

ALEX:
You’re saying he’s just a narrative device? SAY IT AINT SO.

A rather chilling part of this novel is the utter lack of regard for the civilians in Chyrellos, during the siege. It was really quite unpleasant reading.

JO:
I find the siege so boring I have to say that never really bothered me. The scene that does stick in my mind is when Sparhawk and an unnamed soldier witness a woman dragged into an alley and quite obviously raped (though thankfully off camera). The soldier, crying because she ‘could have been his sister’ shoots the rapist. But then the woman staggers out of the alley, sees her not-quite-dead rapist, takes his dagger and violently finishes the job and steals his loot. The soldier ‘retches’ and Sparhawk says “Nobody’s very civilised in those circumstances”.

This scene was always a WTF moment for me. When you consider Sparhawk’s career, what about her actions make them ‘uncivilised’, exactly? He does much worse things to people and is rewarded for them! Is it because she’s a woman? Or because she’s not a Church Knight and it’s okay when they do it. Or because she took the loot? I mean, seriously…?

ALEX:
Yes!! This!! I was so ANGRY at that reaction from the men – who are safe on so many levels from this sort of thing – getting all uppity about her taking revenge. I don’t like her doing it either, but I don’t like the initial rape even more.

I cried at Kurik’s funeral. Not at his death – that all happened too fast, I think – but when I got to the funeral…well, I was glad to be by myself. However, I am still suspicious of the idea of Aslade being quite so accommodating of Elys.

JO:
Kurik *sniff* :(

TEHANI:
And you know, none of that business really makes sense. Kurik is portrayed as steadfast, loyal, moral and really quite upright (even uptight?), so the fact he cheated on Aslade (and their four sons, essentially) is, well, just a bit weird. It was a useful way to have Talen important to the group, I guess, but the character path is very odd.

ALEX:
YES. Also it makes adultery completely fine, which… I know there are other ways of doing relationships than ‘conventional’ monogamy, etc etc, but not within THIS world’s framework – everyone else who does that is regarded severely. Whereas Sparhawk etc are all, “dude, no worries! Everyone sleeps around sometime, the wimmens is so attractive we can’t help it!”

JO:
YES from me too. Never felt right to me for exactly those reasons.

TEHANI:
I do like the way the Kurik’s sons talk about their “mothers” in the later books though. That said, remembering I read the Tamuli trilogy first, I was quite certain Aslade and Elys had been both married to Kurik, the way they are referred to there!

JO:
Heh yes. I can imagine. Although I was always proud of Aslade and Elys for being able to put aside their potential conflict and just get on with life. So often the relationships between women are portrayed as bitchy, jealous, spiteful things. And usually its over the attention of a man. So I appreciate that they went down the opposite path.

Actually, in the Tamuli there are a lot more examples of strong female friendship too.

TEHANI:
Some more perpetuation of stereotypes here, too. In this case, the temper of the red-head:
In Delada’s case all the cliches about red-haired people seemed to apply. (p. 282 of my version).

JO:
Yeah I thought they got a little carried away with that!

TEHANI:
And what the heck is this bit of elitism? Stragen says, Whores and thieves aren’t really very stimulating companions… (p. 410 of my version). Um, well Talen and Platime AND HIMSELF are thieves and all presented as quite stimulating! The whores get a poorer presentation, but still!

ALEX:
That bit also made me very cranky. Again with the superior attitude.

TEHANI:
And this awful bit of Ehlana characterisation:
“Would you all mind too terribly much?” Ehlana asked them in a little-girl sort of voice.
YUCK! The woman is a queen, and fully in command of herself and the power she wields, yet she resorts to that (for no reason, anyway!)?! No! We talked a bit about this in one of the earlier reviews, how the women themselves are supposed to be powerful, and there are quite a lot of them, which is nice, but the actual presentation of them really undermines this at times.

JO:
Yes! This is what’s been irritating me the whole time, and it only gets worse as the series goes on. Doesn’t matter how strong a woman is, she still resorts to hissy fits and theatrics or childishness to either get what she wants, or basically keep control of the ‘relationship’. Even Sephrenia does it in the later books! It just feels to me like the books believe that deep down, women are irrational children. OR that they will resort to acting like them as a way of keeping their men in line.

JO:
Am I the only one who finds Ehlana’s speech to the council a little…difficult to believe. All these supposedly hardened politicians/Patriarchs completely suckered in by her ‘divinely inspired’ speech? Just because she’s pretty, or something? And because she ‘fainted’?

TEHANI:
I have such a different view of the Patriarchs to you! I always read ANY of those political gatherings as being a bunch of little boys just grabbing for power, none of the “hardened” politicians at all! In fact, Eddings seems to have very little respect for political systems at all. They’re all corrupt or useless!

ALEX:
I don’t think they’re MEANT to look like that, but they sometimes do – and it’s another thing that annoys me about the Eddings portrayal of religion, because it’s JUST another instance of politics and again there’s so much uselessness and cunning and unpleasantness. Also, Ehlana manipulates them, and I think it manages to make her look silly – conniving and dangerous with the using feminine things in dangerous ways – AND it makes the Patriarchs look silly for falling for such obvious, feminine strategies. Way to go for insulting two groups there!

JO:
Last time I said that I found The Ruby Knight a lot faster-paced and more enjoyable than I remembered. I have to say the opposite for The Sapphire Rose. Oh god I was so sick of the siege by the time it ended, and it seemed to take forever to get to Zemoch. It felt like so much padding. Just destroy Azash already!

TEHANI:
Some excellent examples of Faran the human horse again:
Faran made a special point of grinding his steel-shod hooves into a number of very sensitive places on the officer’s body.
“Feel better now?” Sparhawk asked his horse.
Faran nickered wickedly. (p. 155 my version)

JO:
I could summarise the plot again but you probably don’t want me to do that this time!

They cure Ehlana. She’s all grown up now and in love with Sparhawk. They ‘accidently’ get engaged. Off to Chyrellos to stop Annias being elected Archprelate. There’s a siege which goes on forever. Then Wargun and Ehlana turn up and the siege is over. Ehlana and Sparhawk get married. They go to Zemoch with Bhelloim to kill Azash. It takes forever. They get to Zemoch. Kurik dies. Martel dies. Otha and Annias die. Azash dies. Lycheas dies. Arissa kills herself. They return to Cimmura. Everything’s peaceful, but kinda crappy, because the gods are shell-shocked by Azash’s death. Danae happens. Eventually, Aphrael and everyone go on holidays and spring returns.

ALEX:
Nice work there, Jo. I would add: Sparhawk and Ehlana get married in the same way that a person might buy a horse; Martel dies but everyone’s real sad, because actually he was decent and just led astray, y’know? And “Danae happens” means that a goddess is incarnate in a different racial family and that’s really kinda cool.

JO:
Heh, that’s awesome.

TEHANI:
Well, we’ve picked a lot of nits in the Elenium books, but final verdict on the first three? For me, I have to admit I still thoroughly enjoyed reading them, with grins and tears throughout, and the comfy blanket feeling of an old favourite that still (mostly) holds up. Although there were definitely a lot more grimaces at the rough patches than when I was younger!

ALEX:
I think I feel basically the same as you, Tehani. It really is a warm comfy blanket… with moth holes and a few scratchy bits… but a lot of love and memories holding it together.

JO:
Couldn’t agree more! I might snipe at them, but I still love these books and rereading them has been thoroughly comforting. It also reminds me what I love about reading and writing in the first place. It’s just so much fun!

Snapshot: Nike Sulway

Nike Sulway is an author and academic. She is the author of several novels, including Rupetta, which—in  2014—was the first work by an Australian writer to win the James Tiptree, Jr Award. The award, founded in 1991 by Pat Murphy and Karen Joy Fowler, is an annual award for a work of “science fiction or fantasy that expands or explores our understanding of gender”. She teaches creative writing at the University of Southern Queensland, loves rabbits, chocolate and children. Not all for eating or cuddling.

1. Your novel Rupetta won the Tiptree Award and the Norma K Hemming Award this year – congratulations! It’s a grand novel about love and family and history and automatons – do you feel that it accomplished all that you hoped?
I’m very pleased and grateful to have received both of these awards. Among other things, they have helped the book to find more readers – or perhaps that should be the other way around (it has helped readers find the book!).

As a writer, I’m incredibly ambitious. Perhaps all writers are. Not in a worldly sense, but in terms of what I want to achieve in the works themselves. For me, every work exists in an ideal state … before I start writing. Writing is, in one sense, the process of dismantling the Ideal/dream version of the book, and instead creating its shadowy reflection. A kind of fall from the Platonic Ideal to the Shade. So, in that sense, nothing I’ve ever written is a perfect realisation of all the dreams I dreamed for that work. I can’t remember which writer said that that’s why you write the next thing: because you still have work to do, ambitions to realise.

I’m very proud of some of the things I achieved in Rupetta. I’m pleased with small things. I love little Perihan; I love the relationships between Henri and Miri, and between the Salt Lane Witches. I’m proud of the fact that love is central to this book about war and ambition; that the daily experiences of women are at the centre of the story. Its strong, strange, complex spine.

But, there’s always more work to do.

2. You’ve written books for children as well as for adults… which do you think is harder? And do you start with an audience in mind, or a story?
I think writing both for children, and for older readers, are incredibly complex and difficult tasks. I think in writing for children, you have to work hard not to be condescending or overly romantic about children, and childhood. Not to diminish your sense of who your readers are, or your characters. I have this little bit of something I wrote on my blog called ‘How to write a story for a child’ which begins: First, consider the child. That’s not as easy as it sounds!  I think of writing as being about a particularly unusual and strangely intimate relationship between writer and reader. You have to be willing to encounter the other person as themselves, warts and all. I think building emotionally (and narratively) rewarding relationships is hard work! No matter who that relationship is with.

I start with … hmm … I start with an image, usually, and the image most often includes a character. With Rupetta, this was an image of a half-broken, half-repaired neglected piece of clockwork slowly decaying in a country barn. I’m trying to remember which comes first, but I think – for me – the two (readership and story) arrive together. Entwined.
3. Not all of your work has been speculative fiction. Do you anticipate writing more speculative fiction, or does the story idea dictate the genre?
When I sit down to write, I don’t really think of myself as working in a particular genre. Not exclusively, at least. I enjoy reading and writing speculative fiction; I enjoy reading and writing contemporary realist fiction, and picture books, and non-fiction. And the things I’m working on slide across all those boundaries, especially while I’m working on them.

I’m working on a trilogy at the moment, the first book of which is called The Orphan King. I’ve done a picture book version – no words – and a graphic novel version, and a textual version that draws a little on my reading of Henry James Turn of the Screw, in that whether you read it as speculative or realist depends on … well, depends on you. The text itself (the writer herself?) hasn’t yet decided. The final version will be a novel; if I think of it as belonging in a genre at all, I would like to think it is in the same little sub-genre/cross-genre field that Gary Wolfe uses to describe  Karen Joy Fowler’s work. He said her stories are “trapdoor genre stories”; stories which they can be read as non-genre until that one moment when you realise this isn’t quite what it seems.

4. What Australian works have you loved recently?
I absolutely adore Lisa Jacobson’s The Sunlit Zone, which is a verse narrative set in a dystopian future. It is astonishingly beautiful, and moving, and strange.

Marie Williams’ memoir Green Vanilla Tea will never leave me. I was lucky enough to work with Marie on this book about her family, and particularly about what happened to her family when her young husband is diagnosed with a terminal illness, and dementia.

Finally, Melissa Lucashenko’s Mullumbimby is a work of grace, courage and humour by an Australian writer we should all be reading more often. If only she would write more!

5. Have recent changes in the publishing industry influenced the way you work? What do you think you will be writing in five years from now?
As a writer, I have a rather ambivalent relationship to the writing and publishing industry. I know a little bit about it, and I try to stay aware of what’s going on, but at the same time I don’t want to let the market unduly influence what I write. At least, not in a negative, limiting way.  Plus, I think of ‘The Writing Industry’ as being a bit like the many-headed hydra, or at least of myself as being like one of the blind people who are asked to describe an elephant: what I think it is depends on which bits and pieces I get hold off on any particular day.

So, I’m not going to write a sparkly vampire erotic fan fiction in which lead characters are killed off at unexpected moments just because those are some aspects of some popular books right now.

I’m not going to lead the charge into hypertextual/hybrid forms of narrative, because I’m a writer, not a multi-platform artist. Though I would embrace working collaboratively with other artists/craftspeople across a range of mediums.

I can’t see myself pioneering a radical new form of storytelling cos, really, I like the old form. Words, in sentences, one after another, that somehow perform this magic trick of transforming into people, places, experiences and emotions.

I’m also, in the end, a bit of a romantic; I think stories and storytelling will endure, though perhaps the medium through which stories reach readers will change beyond recognition.

Five years from now, I’ll still be snuggled up in a comfy chair with a book of some kind, lost in some other world, with some people who never existed, and when I get up to make tea, I’ll stare out the window at the leaves all over my unraked lawn and wonder what on earth I’m going to write about next.

SnaphotLogo2014

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

 

 

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