The Tombs of Atuan

While there’s a similar feel in the language – sparse and intense – this is a very different book from A Wizard of Earthsea. It’s bound to just one place; it’s focussed on a girl. The struggle for identity is similar but Tenar/Arha has less agency than Ged, which is understandable given her very different situation. There’s very little magic.

I might love this more than A Wizard of Earthsea.

UnknownIt’s so… peculiar. It’s simple enough to find parallel stories – mythic ones, modern ones – for Ged, since he is basically a young man finding his purpose and his way in the world. It’s a coming of age story, if not ‘simply’. For Arha though… the situation is different. It’s still a coming of age story; it is about Arha finding her purpose and place and understanding the world. But it’s focussed so tightly on the Place that it feels completely different. Is there a difference in a girl coming of age and a boy? Certainly in terms of myth there is, and Le Guin is, I think, interested in writing Myth in these stories. In fact she makes some quite obvious comments about mythology; we know, in A Wizard of Earthsea, that Ged goes on to become something great (how’s that for foreshadowing and reassurance?), and that there are stories about him. Arha is basically living a myth.

I’m fascinated by Arha. I love Le Guin’s exploration of the fact that she is a wilful young girl – and who wouldn’t be, being told that they are the First Priestess reborn, and basically untouchable by any of the people around her? When you are so set apart from those around you, it makes sense that you would become aloof and indifferent. And yet Arha is also vulnerable; she fears Kossil, the High Priestess of the Godking, but also relies on her. She is overcome by her fear of the dark, when first taken to the Undertomb, and then overcomes the fear in turn. I can imagine that, left to her own devices, she would have become quite formidable… within the restricted space she can access.

This is a claustrophobic novel. Where A Wizard introduces the reader to many parts of Earthsea, this one only really allows us to see one remote, nearly forgotten, temple complex. And yet the plot itself doesn’t feel that constrained, perhaps because – for most of it – Arha doesn’t notice it. It’s a testament to Le Guin that she makes such a small area so intensely powerful and important.

I had forgotten how much I love this book. In fact, perhaps I didn’t used to love it so much, and this is a reflection of greater maturity… I guess I read this in early high school, and I don’t think since. Onwards to more Le Guin!

A Wizard of Earthsea

I first read this… I don’t remember when. I think I was at primary school. And I’m not sure whether I’ve read it since, but it had a very big impact on me. I could still remember a lot of the little details, and my fierce appreciation, fear, and sympathy for Ged.

UnknownA friend who read this as an adult just couldn’t cope with Le Guin. It made me think that perhaps Le Guin is like a really amazing pencil sketch, where someone like Martin or other such epic writers are oil painters. Le Guin doesn’t waste words; she doesn’t give lush, page-long descriptions. But this isn’t a detraction; she’s evocative and masterful in her language, and she tells a grand tale in (in my copy) well under 200 pages. That’s not something to be frowned upon! … but it could be something that people with tastes shaped by more modern fantasy writers find hard to cope with. And that’s fine; it’s just a different tastes thing.

I love that Le Guin starts with Ged as a wild young thing. I read somewhere that when she was commissioned to write a children’s book she looked at the wizards she knew and they were all old men (she’s a big LOTR fan), and she thought: how did they get there? So forty years before Rowling, she wrote of a wizard school. And Ged is nothing like Harry.

The friendships are wonderfully understated but nonetheless feel real; the dangers are never dwelt on in horrific detail but are nevertheless palpable. Ged’s efforts, his fears, his determination – all come through. Perhaps this is why I appreciate Rosaleen Love: her sparse language is a lot like Le Guin’s, and they both manage to capture a great deal in few words.

I also love that the only white-skinned people in this story are the invading barbarians, who only occupy a few pages.

Galactic Suburbia 114

In which the Champagne and Socks podcast casts on, Cranky Ladies is about to be launched, and it’s that time of year again, DITMAR CENTRAL. Get us from iTunes or at Galactic Suburbia.

Ditmar awards ballot is out
And the Sir Julius Vogel too

Champagne and Socks

Cranky Ladies launch March 8

What Culture Have we Consumed?

Alisa: Years Bests for Database, PhD Research, Helen Merrick
Alex: Of Mice and Men (National Theatre Live) – because I want an SF version; The Greatship, Robert Reed; Veronica Mars (season 1); Osiris, EJ Swift
Tansy: Daughters of the Storm by Kim Wilkins LOOK A REAL BOOK, Reign (Season 1), Agent Carter again. Operation: S.I.N.

Please send feedback to us at, 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!


This book was provided by the publisher.

I’m a little conflicted by this book, and I know I won’t write a review that does it, or that ambiguity, justice.

24796411On the one hand this is a book of gorgeous prose. It’s lyrical (heh) and it’s evocative, setting up beautiful word-pictures. This is a world where although sight still exists, hearing has become far more important for many people – an inversion of today? There’s talk of whistling directions, of using tunes as advertisements and as aides memoire, and then there’s Chimes. Chimes is music that plays at Matins and Vespers, and no matter where you are (well, within the small geographic scope of the novel) you have to pay attention. It’s fairly fast-paced; Smaill does a good job of showing the dystopian nature of the world without a whole lot of detail; I found the conclusion satisfyingly dramatic.

On the other hand… there are enormous questions that are never answered about how ‘the world’ got like this (there’s hints but that’s all), whether the entire world is like this or just some area around London, and there are a few plot holes here and there that are glanced over. What I can’t figure out is whether these things matter or not. On balance, I think I can live with those problems, and it’s mostly because of the beauty of the language. If this were a more pedestrian novel I would have more problems with it. The one problem with the language is the use of musical terms. No one does anything quickly or slowly; it’s all piano, lento, tacet… and I don’t even know if some of the words were invented. I have zero musical training so there were times where I was confused about whether we were rushing or going stealthy. Still, I coped. I was a bit sad at about the halfway mark that the novel was so boy-heavy (I hadn’t read the blurb so I actually thought the narrator was a girl, at the start), but by the end I was a bit more content with the gender choices overall.

The novel is written in the first person and in present tense; I feel like I haven’t read a whole lot of present-tense stuff recently, so that was intriguing. Our protag is off to London with a mission from his dying mother, but he has to hurry because he’ll lose his memory of what he’s doing pretty soon. Because everyone does. This is a world where people are just about living Fifty First Dates. They keep ‘bodymemory’ – usually – so they remember how to eat, how to do the manual parts of their job, and so on; and maybe ‘objectmemory’ can help with some specific events… but unless relationships, for instance, are renewed every day, pretty soon those people are gone from your mind. Because of Chimes. The music you can’t not hear.

Simon, of course, is a bit special – he’s got a slightly better memory – and while the whole You’re Special thing might be a bit old, that’s because it’s such a good way of making change happen in a difficult world. Anyway, Simon starts finding out more about his world, thanks to a new friend, and things progress from there. I liked Simon, overall, as a voice for showing the world, but really we don’t find out that much about him – I think as a factor of the first-person narration. That’s not necessarily a problem; you’re enough in his head on a day-by-day basis that I, at least, certainly cared what happened.

The musical aspect is original, at least in my reading experience, and the prose is a delight. For a debut novel I’m even more impressed – and not surprised to discover that Smaill is both a classically trained violinist and a published poet. I hope she gets to publish more books, and I hope this features on the Sir Julius Vogel ballot next year (she’s a Kiwi). You can get it from Fishpond. 

The Broken Eye

21800397I got this to review but I haven’t read the first two books in the trilogy.

I quite like the style and the colour magic stuff is fascinating; I like some of the characters and there are clearly complex relationships happening. But it’s inaccessible to someone who doesn’t know the context and I’m not sure I have the time to read massive fantasy trilogy.

Is this one I should keep, and go seek out the other ones? I’m not completely averse to the idea, but I do have a lot of unread books…

The Great Ship

UnknownI had read a few Great Ship stories before (two of which are in here), so I was really excited about getting a collection that has almost all of them, in some sort of order.

Let me get the annoying thing out of the way first. This collection was collated by Reed himself, as far as I can tell, with a bit of additional material to bridge the stories (and adding to “the resident confusion” apparently), and some stories altered as well to better fit with the others. There are a lot of typos, and a number of problems that I would have expected proofreading to catch. This didn’t detract from my overall enjoyment of the stories, but I found it really quite frustrating. Also, rather than having headers that give the name of each story, the header is a number: so it might have “5 95″ at the top of the page, which tells you you’re on p95 overall and section 5 on whichever story is on that page. But it doesn’t tell me which story! Argh. Anyway.

There’s no point in talking about every story; that would be tiresome. I realised as I read the last story that the collection as a whole rather put me in mind of Christopher Priest’s The Islanders. They have nothing in common in terms of themes or characters or setting, but there is a certain way in which their methods of connecting disparate elements feels similar. In Priest’s work, the same character might turn up on several different islands and you learn about them a little more. Here, there are a couple of characters who recur in a big way (Quee Lee especially, and Perri), and several others who appear intermittently. Additionally, the Great Ship is so very big that each story is set in a different place – and sometimes not even on the Great Ship – so that, like the Dream Archipelago for Priest, it’s the same place but very different.

The Great Ship is just that: a spaceship that is at one time described as being the size of Uranus. And there’s very few who live on the surface – which would be big, but not that impressive: rather, the entire innards of the Ship is honeycombed with a vast array of habitats, meaning that the Ship can support countless billions. For whatever reason it was launched into the universe, travelling along, and then humanity managed to board and claim it. But it’s not just a human ship; any species, as long as they’ve got the cash to pay their way, can come along for the ride. And what a ride: they’re doing the ultimate Grand Tour, around the Milky Way.

All of the stories are entirely standalone. There is no reason to read this collection in the order it’s presented. Except that Reed claims to have it in some sort of chronological order (and certainly the two bookending stories feel like a beginning and an end), and there is something very satisfying about feeling like you’re progressing through the history of the Great Ship and its passengers. And everyone is a passenger, whether they’re paying or working their way. I like that there are stories about rich folks as well as people who work on the ship; it wasn’t quite balanced, but it’s better than simply seeing the idle wealthy. There are stories of action and adventure; stories about relationships, and solitude, and time; there is death and birth and just getting on with things.

One of the odd things about these stories is the issue of time. Pretty much everyone on the Ship is functionally immortal. No diseases, no ageing; you get hurt but as long as your brain is intact it doesn’t even matter if you die. So ideas like your husband being away for a year (or ten), or a journey taking thirty years, or having to hide for centuries… those words, those time-concepts, are basically irrelevant. I didn’t end up with much of a sense of grandeur or the epic sweep of time because the numbers are so big that my mind just rebelled and basically say those as weeks, perhaps months. Which doesn’t make the stories any less interesting but perhaps is not the response Reed is hoping for.

I do intend to read the Great Ship novels… but I might go read something on a slightly smaller scale first…

Galactic Suburbia 113

In which we’re back, baby, all cultured up from our summer holiday to tell you what’s good in books, shows, comics & more. You can get us from iTunes or over at Galactic Suburbia.

Thank our Patreons for the Alisa’s headphones which have greatly improved our sound quality!

Alisa is about to go to print on the Year’s Best YA.

Over the summer, as well as appearing on Galactic Suburbia’s sister-wife podcast Verity!, Tansy also guested on the Two Minute Time Lord talking about the Doctor Who Christmas special. Yes, Chip’s episodes are totally 2 minutes or less most of the time, but of course Tansy talked for longer than that, don’t be ridiculous! Tansy also wrote an article on Sex & Science Fiction over at Uncanny Magazine.

Alex has an exciting new announcement too, but you’ll have to listen to find out what it is. (cough,, cough)

The Locus Recommended Reading List is out now, and features lots of Aussies.

What Culture Have we Consumed?

Alisa: Warehouse 13 Season 1; Twinmakers by Sean Williams; Crash by Sean Williams;
ODY-C #1 (Image); Federal Bureau of Physics Vol 1: The Paradigm Shift (Vertigo); Sex Criminals Vol 1 and Sex Criminals Issue 6 and 7; Julie Dillon’s Imagined Realms Book 1;Once Upon a Time Season 1 and 2; Serial

Tansy: The Fangirl Happy Hour podcast, Issue 1 reviews: Bitch Planet, The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, SHIELD, Hawkeye, Black Canary & Zatanna: Bloodspell, by Paul Dini; Agent Carter, Kameron Hurley on not quitting her dayjob.

Alex: Three Temeraire books, Naomi Novik; Haven season 4; The Female Factory, Lisa Hannett and Angela Slatter; Lies of Locke Lamora, Scott Lynch; A Face Like Glass, Frances Hardinge; Clariel, Garth Nix; Tam Lin, Pamela Dean. Abandoned: Orphans of Chaos and Hidden Empire

ZEROES – New superhero YA book deal from Scott Westerfeld, Deborah Biancotti & Margo Lanagan – words do not describe how excited Galactic Suburbia is about this one!!! Coming out from Simon Pulse in northern autumn this year.

Please send feedback to us at, 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!

Tam Lin

I was in my mid 30s when I finally watched The Breakfast Club. I rally enjoyed it but I’m glad I didn’t watch it when I was at high school; school was already something of a disappointment.

TamLinI read Tam Lin for the first time this year, 15 years after finishing my undergrad studies – yes, with a BA. I am really glad that I didn’t read this before or during my studies. I thoroughly enjoyed university, but there was very little spontaneous Shakespeare and Milton and Keats quoting going on.

I’ve heard about this on and off over the years; Tansy is a huge fan. I didn’t really have any idea of what to expect – I don’t know the ballad on which it is based, and although I knew there was some Fae element I think I was expecting a kind of Tom’s Midnight Garden experience, going in and out of fairyland? Or something. So it wasn’t what I expected, but mostly in a good way.

Spoilers ahead, if you’re like me and not up on your faery-tinged-undergrad-learning love story!

(That is, it’s a love story to undergrad learning. Although there are love stories in the novel as well.)

Like I said, I was expecting the fairy stuff a lot earlier than it actually turned up. To the point where I got to wondering that because the university experience was so exquisite, was that actually the fairy land? And Janet would eventually wake up? Or something? It was amusing to note the similarities in Janet’s experience of college and my own, as well as the differences, some of which are temporal (25 years different), many I suspect are geographical (US expectations of a ‘liberal arts degree’ are very different from Australian ones… doing physical education? As a compulsory unit??… plus I will never, ever understand the necessity of rooming at college – and I lived in residence for two years), and most of them are of course fiction v reality. With the hindsight of my mid-30s, I enjoyed this fantastical take on college, while acknowledging just how unreal it was. I really liked the discussions Janet and co had around poetry and theatre and what to major in – those discussions can be, and sometimes were, glorious – as well as the fact that Dean includes in-class stuff, with good lecturers and bad. It did make me a little sentimental for my own experience, which I am definitely seeing with a rosy tinge these days. I was also interested in the fact that, published in 1991, it was set 20 years prior. By the end this decision made sense – the stuff about pregnancy and being on the pill would presumably have been a much more raw and radical issue in the early 70s, socially speaking, than in the 90s. Plus I suspect that many people look back on the early 70s rather romantically, as a time of liberation and so on.

Obviously there are hints that things are A Bit Odd from quite early on: the stories about Classics majors (heh; I only have a minor in it), the odd temporal questions and connections, the intensity of some of the relationships…. I admit that I cracked about 2/3 of the way through and looked up some of the names… and yes, there were a couple of them, in the roll of Shakespeare’s company. So that gave me a bit of a clue of what was going on. Like a few reviewers on Goodreads I found the denouement a little bit rushed – in, what, the last 40 pages? it’s revealed what Medeous actually is, and is doing. But… ultimately, for me, the faery aspect isn’t what the book is actually about. But still, I liked the triumphal-tinged-with-doom ending – although a sequel would be extremely ill-advised. I hadn’t picked up the Thomas Lane/Tam Lin connection! Oops.

I liked Janet. Yes, she’s a bit spoiled, and she would almost certainly have driven me a bit mad if I’d met here at 18 – she’s so confident in her own knowledge. But I admired that, too, and the fact that she struggles and overcomes. I liked that her friendships weren’t always easy and that she acknowledged the necessity of working on them – even if she didn’t always do it well; I’m a nerd so I definitely liked her dedication (mostly) to learning!

I can imagine reading this again. I would love to recommend it to young friends, but I don’t think that in good conscience I can – not until they’ve finished at university.

Orphans of Chaos (John C Wright)

Yeh nah.

I am not into bondage; I don’t especially like reading about it. I understand that other people do, and that’s cool; I really don’t care. Whether I will keep reading a book that has bondage stuff in it depends on whether the plot and the characters warrant it, and how uncomfortable those scenes make me.

Enough of a prelude?

UnknownThis started out well enough. Five apparent orphans in a boarding school where they are the only students; odd goings-on, and at least one student convinced that they’re not actually on Earth (why? who knows). The student interactions were usually entertaining enough and the discomfort level wasn’t too high, for the first half or so. I was quite looking forward to finding out what odd thing was going on and whether the kids would have powers.

Then the governors etc of the school turned up and it was Lady Cyprian (although I was confused by her because I really thought they were saying her husband was the Unseen One, thus Hades, so I thought she was Persephone even though her attitude and name didn’t fit… nope, turns out I misunderstood and her husband was indeed Hephaestus). Some of the ways these characters were referred to was confusing, but then alternately transparent, so I got a bit impatient with the ‘are you trying to disguise their Greek god-ness or not’ – and then there were references to their Roman names but also that they were Greek gods – and I started to get doubtful.

Then the two girls dress up as very provocative maids in order to distract a cranky gardener called Grendel… which I can maybe come at because in theory they’re 16 but in reality there’s something weird about their ages… but THEN the three boys ‘vote’ on making them stay in those outfits, and the girls don’t get to ignore them.

So: yeh nah. I have no idea where I got this from; it’s been sitting on my iPad for ages, and I’ve never got around to reading it. Now I don’t have to finish it or worry about the sequels.

A Face like Glass

There is an exquisite agony in expectation.

A few years ago I read Gwyneth Jones’ Bold as Love sequence. I owned all of the books but I read them over almost a year… because it was kind of almost fun to wait, even though I had no need; and because I didn’t want the ride to be over.

Last year I did the same with Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series (which still isn’t finished because I haven’t got around to finding the last two), and Sarah Monette’s Mirador.

UnknownI had Frances Hardinge’s A Face Like Glass sitting on my desk for a full week, waiting to be read. It’s not exactly a year, but the principle is the same: knowing that I had it there waiting to read was incredibly exciting; knowing that as soon as I started reading it would soon be over was excruciating. Because oh my Hardinge is a glorious, glorious author.

And now I’ve read it and it was as I expected – which is to say even better than I expected – but now I am FINISHED and I am BEREFT.

A curmudgeonly cheesemonger is so antisocial he just lives in the tunnels with his cheeses (no ordinary cheese, it should be said, but cheese that can make you see visions and hear songs and maybe spit acid at you. TRUE Cheese). One day he finds a girl in a vat of whey… and her face: well, he makes her wear a mask.

Now, you might be thinking this guy is a bit odd. And he is. But the society he’s turned his back on is that of Caverna; they all live underground. And the other thing that’s different about them is that as babies, they don’t learn facial expressions. At all. Babies, toddlers, even adults if you’ve got the money, have to learn Faces: initially from family, and then from Facesmiths. Yes, this is as weird as it sounds… and it ends up being a really interesting reflection on class issues. Once you’re an adult, it costs a lot to learn new and interesting Faces; so of course, the poor don’t. And can’t. Does that mean they don’t have the emotions that require such a range of emotions?

Indeed, what does it mean to feel an emotion if you can’t express emotion via your features? Hardinge doesn’t pretend to have all the answers, but she makes a compelling, swoon-worthy novel from the issue.

It’s not all cheese and frowns, though. There’s also intrigue, friendship, losing your way, kleptomancy (my new favouritest way of telling the future), True Wine and Cartographers whose words can make you go crazy. There’s recognising your own emotions as well as others’, figuring out who to trust and how to trust yourself, and the willingness to Go With The Crazy.

And then there’s the glory that is Hardinge’s prose. Her words don’t just flow; sometimes they trickle and sometimes they gush but they always worm into your brain and create stunning pictures and magnificent juxtapositions. I’m pretty sure I could read Hardinge’s shopping list and it would be a work of lyrical beauty.

Get it from Fishpond. If you have never read a single Hardinge, read this one… and then read the rest….


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