Attack of the Clones

Our idea initially was that we would watch one episode a week, which would get us about up to episode 7. But Phantom Menace left such a bad taste in our mouths that we decided we had to watch the second: it’s not a great film, but at least it’s not as bad as the first. Right?


Unknown-1Attack of the Clones: things that weren’t too bad:

  • Jay Laga’aia.
  • Ewan McGregor’s hair is definitely better in this film.
    • Obi-wan in general is better in this film. He’s better when he’s stern.
  • Female assassin.
  • Female Jedi!!
  • Yoda in a city.
    • Yoda taking part in politics.
  • Jedi younglings are super cute.
  • Jango Fett.
  • Boba Fett.
  • Christopher Lee!Unknown
    • Christopher Lee in a speed racer!
    • Christopher Lee with a light sabre!
    • Christopher Lee fighting Yoda!!
  • James: at least they got John Williams back.
    • And the use of CG isn’t quite as bad as Episode 1.

What were you thinking, George?

  • Not enough Jay Laga’aia.
  • You kept Jar Jar, George. You kept Jar Jar.
  • Amidala + Anakin: everything about every scene they are in together.
    • Amidala’s clothing choices. I’m not presuming to speak for every woman here, George, but I think it would have been more realistic for a woman who is being forced to be alone with a man whose romantic interest makes her uncomfortable not to wear provocative clothing. YES she has a choice in what she chooses to wear, NO I am not blaming her for Anakin’s infatuation, but nonetheless it’s a dubious choice for your costuming.
  • Anakin in general.
    • So petulant
    • So creepy towards Amidala
    • His rebelliousness towards Obi-wan is just embarrassing.
  • You have NO RESPECT FOR PHYSICS, George. Super leaps between struts is one thing. But the level of timing required to jump from the speeder onto the assassin’s speeder, not to mention the leap itself, is truly ludicrous. NO RESPECT, George.
  • Amidala always getting pushed around by the menfolks. Boring, George.
  • You fridged Shmi Skywalker, George. Couldn’t you at least have given her a bit more of a story for herself? Shown her with Jack and the kids?
  • You made Christopher Lee say some really bad dialogue, George. That’s nearly unforgivable.
  • James: the CG is still pretty bad.

The Phantom Menace

In honour of The Force Awakens coming out… whenever that is, we’ve decided to rewatch Star Wars. All six. In in-universe chronology.

Yes, today we watched The Phantom Menace.

The Phantom Menace: things that weren’t too bad:

  • The references to the original trilogy were mostly kinda cute, and not all of them were over the top. The “I have a bad feeling about this” is meant to immediately make someone like me feel at home, and I liked that. Also going through a ventilation shaft was pretty funny.
  • UnknownThe meet-cute of C3PO and R2-D2 is, indeed, quite cute.
  • The cameo from Warwick Davis: weird! But cool.
  • Samuel L. Jackson.
  • A nod to diversity: at least two noticeable black humans and two female pilots! Amazing.
  • Liam Neeson’s hair.
  • imagesThe fight between Qui-Gon and Darth Maul is fantastic.
    • Double-ended light sabre!!
  • James: the music. At least they got John Williams back.

What were you thinking, George?

  • It’s a film about trade negotiations going wrong. I mean really.
  • TOO MUCH CGI GEORGE. This is why we can’t have nice things.
  • Qui-Gon’s use of mind tricks as soon as things are slightly difficult is just repulsive.
  • Darth Maul. Not his existence, his lack of one. What a wasted character, man.
    • He has basically no dialogue!
    • He has no motivation!
    • His fight with Qui-Gon is too short.
  • The pod race. I did not need to see all three laps, George.
  • The Gungans. I am all in favour of ignored/oppressed people showing they have something to contribute, but did it have to be in such a racist and boring way?
  • Jar Jar Binks. Everything about him.
    • I do mean everything.
  • Anakin.
    • Ani? Really? For the boy who grows up to be Darth Vader? Seriously.
    • Why did you make him so young?
    • Why did you make him so petulant?
    • Didn’t your casting call throw up any other options?
  • Ewan McGregor’s hair.
  • Qui-Gon is a master Jedi and he’s fooled by some make-up as to who actually has the power in the entourage of women? Really?
  • George, you made Anakin the product of a virgin birth and only spent ten seconds thinking about it. I mean, seriously, man, what the hell?
  • James: the visuals reminded of Bedknobs and Broomsticks. It just looked plastic.

Galactic Suburbia 129

In which we explain the metaphorically violent nature of Australian politics, celebrate the return of Feminist Frequency and our faces are on the internet.
And I am late in posting this! Holidays will do that, when you don’t take a laptop camping… you can get us from iTunes or Galactic Suburbia, anyway.

What’s New on the Internet

Malcolm Turnbull is not Tony Abbott: the Australian Spill Story
Our national sport
The onion thing, no we don’t get it either.

New Feminist Frequency Tropes v Women in Video Games – Women as Reward & Special DLC Mini Episode.

The Three Hoarsemen Podcast Episode 25 featuring Alisa

Galactic Suburbia on Books and Pieces

What Culture Have we Consumed?

Alisa: Mad Max Fury Road; Undisclosed: The State vs Adnan Syed Podcast

Alex: Slaughterhouse 5, Kurt Vonnegut; Archer’s Goon, Diana Wynne Jones; I finished Stranger in a Strange Land!! Also Of Sorrow and Such, Angela Slatter

Tansy: Dawn, Octavia E. Butler; Bombshells #1, Marguerite Sauvage & Marguerite Bennett; The Cornell Collective; Supernatural

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!


By Diana Peterfreund

Sadly I did not love this book as much as I had hoped. Partly this is me, partly it is the book.

I had read the novella, Errant, so I thought I kinda knew what the story was going to be about. But Errant is set… I forget when, some time in the past. Rampant is not; it’s about a girl in modern America learning about unicorns. Which is fine, it was just a bit of a surprise. I had t read the blurb, deliberately; I didn’t want any spoilers since I figured it was going to be the sort of book I’d like anyway.

Killer unicorns? How can that not be awesome? That’s what it’s about, by the way. Unicorns are real and they hunt animals and people. Only certain people can hunt them in return. This is the learning-about-your-abilities book. If that’s your thing, feel free to ignore my whinging! Just go read it; it’s certainly enjoyable enough that I wouldn’t dissuade potential readers automatically.

Anyway, what I really had not expected was how much the book would be focussed in sex. Not having it, how people feel about you if you do or don’t, etc (do American teens really feel pressured to have sex before they leave high school??). It does make sense, given that Peterfreund has kept the virginity aspect for her unicorn hunters, but… it felt like it got in the way of what I was expecting, which was learning about unicorn hunting and dealing with that aspect of your nature. Which, yes, virginity is part of that. But there was a lot of going on dates and agonising which I guess just isn’t what I was interested in reading. 

So I’m willing to agree that in that aspect, definitely a problem of my expectations. And I did like the discussion around rape, attitudes towards and reactions to, although the victim seemed to deal with it faster than I would expect. (Not that I want intense victiming either, necessarily.)

On the book’s side, I felt that the plot went a bit too fast sometimes; fast enough that things got a bit improbable (yes yes, around the killer unicorns bits) and too convenient. In the characters I  especially found Astrid’s mother a bit much; a bit ridiculous.

For all its faults I will definitely read the sequel, Ascendant, at some point.

Up the Walls of the World

This book is absolutely bonkers. Mad. And completely wonderful.

This was Tiptree’s first novel, but naturally enough many of the concerns and interests of his short stories are present here as well. I am so sad that he did not write more novels; this made me so happy, as did Brightness Falls from the Air, that I do wonder what else could have come from that amazing brain.

Let’s start by talking about the authorial situation and get that out of the way. This was published in 1978. Tiptree had been revealed as Alice Sheldon at the end of 1976.  I was surprised therefore to discover that the brief bio in the end flap (oh hard backs I really do love you)  makes no mention of him being her, although it does acknowledge Tiptree as a pseudonym. But I guess that pre internet, how are people going to know about the identity? Via Locus maybe, and fanzines, and word of mouth. Tiptree was not such a big deal that the New York Times was going to run an expose. Presumably therefor with this publication your more casual, less crazy SF fans aren’t going to know who Tiptree ‘really’ is – and Tiptree is enough of a name (… and male…?) to make it worth keeping the pseudonym. But THEN I turned to the back and the back cover image is Sheldon! Now I’ve seen the pic before and it’s quite obvious to me who this is; but others have suggested that this could, actually, be an ambiguously gendered person. I’m not entirely convinced. But anyway, there’s that.

Now, to plot. I’m going to be entirely spoilery because I really want to think about what Tiptree is doing here.

The story is told for about the first half or so from three alternating perspectives. The first, IN ALL CAPS BECAUSE  THAT’S HOW A LEVIATHAN OUGHT TO BE REPRESENTED THANK YOU VERY MUCH, is some sort of being that is mammoth on a scale humans cannot comprehend. The wee beastie doesn’t get that much page time, but it’s enough to set up a vague sympathy; it’s alone and cannot fulfil its duty. SAD. This being doesn’t have much of a plot by itself, although it does play crucial roles in the lives and deaths of others.

The second is told mostly from the perspective of Tivonel, a flighty female of Tyree who enjoys hunting and gathering and is happy to leave such momentous tasks as Fathering to the Fathers; she’d rather be out flying on the High Winds. Because she is of a race of enormous manta-life beings who live in the winds of their planet, rarely interacting with solid matter. These beings mostly just live normal lives, thinking about who will Father their next child and whether to stay in the Deep for a long time or go flying the winds… until their scientist-equivalents report that the stars in a certain section of the sky are going out, and that they are receiving telepathic signals (which is how they communicate) from dying planets. And this wave of death is coming closer. So what can they do to save themselves and their children?

And there’s the third part of the plot. The human one. Here, Doctor Daniel Dann is helping out with. Trial into the use of psionic skills with a ragtag group of people that he doesn’t believe are capable of any such thing, with paranoid military types looking over their shoulder, and meanwhile he’s heavily dosing himself with  all sorts of not-meant-for -recreational-use drugs. He falls in love or lust or wonder with their computer analyst, and the discovers himself on Tyree. Because what the folk of Tyree discover is that they can swap minds and bodies with others. Of course on Tyree this is a life-crime, but if it’s aliens and it’s to save the children it doesn’t really count… Right?

Eventually the plots join up, with Dann rather enjoying himself on Tyree and then some of them ending up with the GREAT LEVIATHAN TYPE THING IN SOME SORT OF MYSTERIOUS WAY. Its duty is revealed which is nice. Although then it’s subverted which is for the good of others but I can’t help but feel sad for a being whose entire existence is coopted by tiny little atoms of life who have the arrogance to think they know best.
Let’s stop and consider for a moment that Tiptree is writing a story about experimental psychology, basically, using humans as test subjects. And the military and some sort of covert operations people are watching with paranoid glee wanting to control what goes on. Also quite a lot of this can be seen as first contact and exploration fiction. This, people, is what happens when someone with the life experience of Sheldon, and the imagination of Sheldon, writes a novel following Hemingways injunction to write what you know.

Anyway. The characters. Oh the characters. The humans are definitely the most interesting but I’ll start by talking about Tyree, where Tiptree is setting up a a little gender mischief just because . You might have picked the idea that there, it’s the males who care for the children. Fathering is considered the greatest and most important of skills and as a consequences the Fathers are the biggest, the strongest, the most revered. At the time we come to Tyree there are some females who are agitating for females to be allowed to develop Fathering skills, in the expectation that this will help them to develop their life field and you know, be more respected. OH THE LOLZ. Tivonel is our main focus here, and she’s not one of these uppity females. In fact she doesn’t really see the point in it all; why would you want to be tied down with children when you could be off exploring instead? She changes a little over the course of the story, becoming a but more reserved and interested in thinking beyond her own experiences, but that’s about it. This isn’t to say I didn’t like her, I did – I don’t know that she really needed to change all that much. It wouldn’t have made  sense for her to become the equivalent of a woman’s-libber, since the planet is destroyed by the end and she’s staying to be a part of the crew of the leviathan for possibly all time.

The humans, though. This is where Tiptree does some lovely things.

Dan isn’t an especially nice person, although he takes his job seriously and tries to help those who need it. He’s too caught up in his own grief to really comprehe d those around him, which begins to change when he has an experience with Margaret Omali in which they experience the worst event of the other’s life. For him, that was his wife and child dying in a fire and the fear that he could have saved them. For her, it was a cliterodectomy in her early teens. Yes this is a book that mentions that this really happens. More in her in a minute. This is the beginning of Dan becoming empathetic, and he genuinely evolves and becomes more sympathetic as a character. Through him Tiptree explores the impossibility of knowing another human and the possible consequences if we did know another. We become more human. If we’re not scared off. Also that taking lots of drugs is a bad idea.

Margaret… scarred physically and emotionally as an adolescent, incapable of having human relationships of any sort and far more interested in computers, is a cousin of the Parson women in “The Women Men Don’t See.” As soon as she’s given an out she takes it, flying into the galaxy as pure life and taking up residence inside the great star beast/ship and far more at. Home there than on earth. Where, by the way, she is not alone because there’s a Computer program – a ghost program from an early version of the Internet – – which has also made its way there. Of course. It is sad that Tiptree presents Margaret as incapable of even friendship because of that psychic scarring, although at the same time it’s not necessarily so unlikely either, since it was inflicted by her stepfather and her mother seems not to have interfered. That’s going to lose you trustIn humanity. She changes because she uses her skills to interact with something so completely alien as to be virtually unknowable, and she also starts to have friendships, on her own terms and because she wants to in her own way, not because she’s expected to. And she is respected for what she is able to do.

The people who are being tested for their psychic abilities are the humans who get the rest of the page time, and it’s the women who are most present. At first this is became of the way Dan looks at them, again like in “The Women Men Don’t See.”  But ultimately they develop as their own human selves and Dan acknowledges his errors. The generic housewife type, Winona, is disregarded by Dan as having no brains to speak of and completely frumpy besides. But when she gets to Tyree, she is hugely valued because of her skills in Fathering,  which of course is as it should be. She is more than just a mother though, contributing to their survival in real ways. Which don’t involve sex.

Valerie, whom Dan regarded as basically a nice body and not much else, comes into her own once she is out of a system where men are all around ogling her body, as Dan had been; she flourishes in experimenting and investigating. Which is a bit hard on her friend, Fredericka, known as Frodo. Theirs is clearly a lesbian relationship, if so discretely described that I’m sure you could pretend not to see it if you wanted to. Frodo doesn’t have that much to do aside from me a bit surly, but her moment of realising that Valerie doesn’t need her as her only friend anymore and that this makes her sad is one of the more poignant and human-true moments of the story.

Most of the men are crazy. Noah, the investigator into psychic abilities, isn’t, but he’s largely ineffectual. The military man is nuts, the maybe-CIA man is definitely nuts, and the male psychic subjects are also basically nuts. Except for the young twins, who once they are reunited with one another are basically human and not nuts.

Things that this reminds me of: FarScape, since the leviathan beastie is somewhat like Moya. It also reminds me of the mysterious creature in Marianne de Pierres’ Sentients of Orion series. There are some similarities to Paul McCauley work, although I can’t pinpoint details. And with Margaret Omali being a computer programmer, with the TOTAL program inside the leviathan, and the possibility that our heroes are all actually existing as energy bundles within the synapses of some sort of a computer in the end, there are clearly some connections to cyberpunk too.

This book is crazy and awesome and trust me, I have not completely spoiled it and you should totally go out and read it. If you can find a copy. I’ll lend you mine if you promise to return it.

Aurora: Beyond Equality

I felt like a traitor giving this book only three stars on Goodreads. But it has to be said that I don’t feel the anthology lived up to what it was setting out to do.Does that make me a heretic? Possibly.

In the introduction, Susan Janice Anderson discusses how hard a lot of people said they found the topic. That they had to invent an entirely new society in order to talk about men and women being actually equal (to which in my head I say, duh; you’re writing SF aren’t you? Maybe that’s a bit harsh). It was very interesting reading about what they wanted to avoid (female monsters), and how hard it was to find models of what they did want. The Dispossessed and “When it changed” were of course mentioned.
The stories:

I’d read the Raccoona Sheldon story, “Your Faces, O My Sisters! Your Faces Filled of Light!” Really recently for the Galactic Suburbia Alice Sheldon spoiler ep, but I decided to reread it to get the full experience. Here a woman is living in two places – from the outside, it looks like she’s delusional. In that place every one is a ‘sister’ and I’ve never been quite sure whether this is a term of equality, or whether there are no men. At any rate that world is quite pleasant, living in the aftermath of some cataclysm, but her body is in the ‘real’ world and that doesn’t have a good ending. So… you can dream of freedom but it has consequences? Note that I’m not saying these stories of beyond equality should be all sunshine and rainbows, I’m just commenting on what Sheldon is saying.

James Tiptree Jr’s “Houston. Houston, Do you read?” Is another that I read for our spoiler ep – and let’s stop and admire Alice Sheldon for a moment by realising that she wrote two stories for this anthology, including this mammoth novella. Anyway here three astronauts from the late 20th century have been slingshot around the sun and into the future (that bit’s by accident) where they find the world distinctly changed. <spoiler>The world is inhabited only by women, and those clones of only about eleven thousand originals.</spoiler> Does this really count as beyond equality? I’m not sure. I’m not even really sure that that’s the question the story is addressing,

Dave Skal write “The Mothers, the Mothers, How eerily it sounds…” and it’s an interesting enough story about recovering from some sort of environmental cataclysm (Anderson notes in her intro how many writers addressed that issue) but again it’s not clear that the sexes have moved beyond equality. One of the main characters is a competent anthropologist (female) but the main action seems to take place between two male characters rather than Ana having much to do with it. Mildred Downey Broxon gives a fairly classic under-the-fairy-hill story with a slight twist in the woman going to rescue the man, in “The Antrim Hills,” and I guess the fairy King and Queen are equals, and I know that the point shouldn’t be to focus on the equality itself but it’s hard to SEE the equality when there’s no focus on it. 

Including Ursula Le Guin’s “Is Gender Necessary?” is an interesting interlude for its discussion of some of the issues involved in writing about sex and gender, and I liked that Anderson and McIntyre didn’t feel it necessary to include only fiction.

Then there’s a few stories I don’t really get. Joanna Russ’ “Corruption” sort of has a male-only society that’s being eroded by an intruder? I think? I feel a bit uncomfortable about this story given the way the only female character is discussed and as with much Russ work I think I’m missing some points. This was definitely the case with Craig Strete’s “Why has the Virgin Mary never entered the wigwam of Standing Bear?” Strete is (was?) Cherokee so I presume at least some of what I don’t get here has to do with narrative style and expectations. I liked some of the ideas of exploring the clash of white/Cherokee assumptions about life, and I think the female narrator is shown to be Standing Bear’s equal, but I also think I missed some of the ideas being discussed.

PJ Plauger’s “Here be Dragons” is a classic story of post colonisation where things have gone bad so groups have split up etc. I quite liked it I terms of thinking about technology and how politics might develop and hierarchies and so on. But for a story that’s meant to be beyond gender – slight spoiler, but I guessed I. The first paragraphs, when Captain Grimes is not described as having a beard, that this must be a woman (and she’s revealed to be so on the second page). There are a few other incidental women, which I appreciated. However Grimes appears a couple of times as the captain, and competent, and then her other appearances are as being available for sex. She’s not developed at all like Karl Dedalus, the focus of the story. Dedalus’ mother is clearly a powerhouse and he’s taken her name, but this is not enough to claim gender is irrelevant.

The final story is another I was already familiar with: it’s excerpted from the novel Woman on the Edge of Time which I read a few years ago. Here Marge Piercy really has done the heavy lifting to imagine what would be required in a society that saw zero differences between sexes, to the point of making men able to breastfeed and removing the idea of live-bearing children… which the traveller from the 20th century, battered though she is, finds horrific. Now it’s true that Piercy is clearly writing a much more obvious story another gender equality and that’s not the only way of showing gender equality. But the society she shows does have so much more obvious equality than, really ANY other story in the collection.

Perhaps these reflections are the result of reading the stories in 2015. Perhaps they were more bold, more daring, in 1976. I can’t apologise for reading in my own time. I can find it fascinating that writing gender equality as natural was clearly so hard then, and apparently still seems to be so now. 

Sorcerer of the Wildeeps

This was provided to me by the publisher.

UnknownThis is not a straightforward novel. The plot is not linear, the characters are slippery, and so is the language sometimes. But it is engaging and haunting and (much as its trite to say) challenging.

1. The plot is not linear. The focal character, Demane, sometimes has flashbacks to his past experiences – and sometimes to the experiences of other people, and sometimes he’s simply reflecting on history. It’s not always clear when this is happening, which I think is a stylistic choice; it took me a little while to understand when that was happening, but once I left myself go with the flow it usually made sense. The only frustrating thing by the end of it was that I really, really wanted to know more about Demane’s history and that of the world he lives in, with its Towers and demigods gods who have gone back to the stars…
2. The characters are slippery: this is somewhat related to the lack of narrative linearity (did I mention this isn’t a problem? It’s not a problem, as long as you don’t mind having to work a bit). Demane is definitely not straightforward – he’s got one mammoth backstory that only gets revealed in dribs and drabs, and that’s nothing on Captain, whose life is like a picture that’s entirely in shadow except for one tiny bit where one spotlight hits. Again, not a problem, but it does make it hard to explain what you’ve just read: “There’s this guy who works with a merchant caravan at the moment but he’s had this amazing life in the past, where he was kinda taught magic except it’s not magic, and in the present he’s trying to keep everyone around him alive…”
3. The language is slippery too. I’m not referring to the dialogue here, which is written very much in a spoken style (I know nothing about Wilson but I presume he’s thought long and hard about the use of the n-word; I can’t imagine Tor leaving that in a book without it being very deliberate and considered, either); dialogue doesn’t bother me. I think the elusiveness of the language often related to the non-linearity of the narrative actually. It took me a few pages to get the hang of it anyway, and once I was properly immersed it flowed beautifully.

I will look out for more work by Kai Ashante Wilson. Well recommended.

Night Sky Mine

I feel conflicted about rating this on Goodreads. I’d like to make it 3.5 – I’m such a sucker for half marks; I guess I tend towards ambivalence? I dunno…

(see what I did there?)

UnknownThe set-up is great, as I’ve come to expect from a Scott novel. In fact after I read the first few pages I sighed with happiness and wondered why it took me so long to get around to reading this – it’s been on my shelf for ages – since the writing is lovely and captivating and immediately immersive. So that’s a wonderful thing and the prose itself stays very readable. The plot, though… it feels like a very long build up to a very abrupt and somewhat unsatisfying conclusion. I was surprised, as I read, that there were increasingly few pages left to go and no sign of clima – oh, there it went! Blink and you just about miss it. It felt like Scott either got bored by the story and/or characters (I’m going with the latter), and just wanted out, or she’d been given a timeframe that meant she had to rush the conclusion. Perhaps that’s a disservice and she always intended it to work that way, but it didn’t work for me.

Anyway: the story has two different plots that end up entangled. In one, Ista lives on a station owned and run by the Night Sky Mine Company, and she’s learning to be a hypothecary – someone who deals with what we would call the virtual world. There are safe nets, controlled by companies and governments, and then there are the wildnets – where anything might develop. Programs are flora – basically immobile – or fauna; Scott has developed an awesome nomenclature that give teasing hints as to characteristics of these programs (chogets and hug-me-tights and walaroo…). That was the aspect that felt really familiar from other Scott novels and that playfulness is something I really enjoyed.

The second plot involves Justin and Tarasov, men of very different backgrounds trying to make their relationship work dirt-side. Tarasov works in policing and they end up getting involved in an investigation that leads them to the Night Sky Mine system, and meeting up with Ista, and discovering that they all have some common interests that they want investigated.

The virtual world aspect is intriguing; there are hints at how it developed and got away from strict human control, but nothing too definite. The other world-building aspect that is intriguing is how Scott imagines human society working; this is no utopia, although it’s not quite a dystopia either (so quite realistic then). Humanity, at least within the Federation systems, are born into quite distinct castes – Union, Management, Transport, probably a few others – and there are definite resentments towards the different groups; Union always feels hard done by and that they are always the bottom of the pile. Friendships across castes are difficult, and love even more so. And then Scott adds another group, which I think is absolutely true to human nature: the Travellers. People who reject the idea of being tied to a caste and a certain job and a certain place. The most extreme Travellers (the Orthodox) take a spiritual view of their place in society, while Reformed Travellers are in it for the movement and lack of stricture. I could definitely read more stories set in this world, exploring how the different groups interact.

In the end I certainly don’t regret reading the book. I am glad that it wasn’t the first of Scott’s books I read, because I probably wouldn’t have gone on to read others – and then I would have missed out on Trouble and Her Friends which is definitely one of my very favourite cyberpunk stories.

Of Sorrow and Such

I received this as an ARC from the publisher.


Secondly, Margo Lanagan is right, as usual. This is a riveting read.

Mistress Gideon, the narrator, is not a nice person. She’s not a good person, either; she works for and wants the best for those she loves, and for that reason is a fierce and loyal friend… but she’s not nice. And she’s not good. She is terrible to her enemies.

Mistress Gideon has enemies because she is a witch. Those of her neighbours in Edda’s Meadow who know she is a witch don’t say anything, because it’s useful having a witch nearby. But when visitors come through with a bit too much curiosity… well. Curiosity can be unhealthy.

Slatter has written a – well, not a lovely story. There’s a bit too much ruthlessness and hands cut off for ‘lovely.’ But it is a fierce story and one that demands to be finished; it’s complex and surprising. Don’t expect an entirely happy ending. It takes the old story of witches being found out and burnt at the stake and makes it a far more dynamic tale, exploring motivations and cause and consequence and collateral damage.

What I liked most, in the end, is that this is a story focussed on women. Women who love and who hate and who survive and who hang on through sheer bloody-mindedness. There are brutal witches and resentful teenagers and flighty wives and despairing lovers and bitter sisters and the guilty, the grim and the determined. Some of the women are a number of those things at the same time. These women are complex and challenging and very very real.

Of Sorrow and Such will be out in October. You know you want to read it.

Stranger in a Strange Land

imagesI don’t really remember when I started this. It might have been 2012, or 2013. You see, I’ve been reading it for about half an hour every fortnight of school time… and not quite every fortnight even then. So it’s taken me a while. And I feel somewhat bereft now that it’s finished. It was such a hefty, cosy friend every time I went into the library to set a good example by reading.

Yes, this was my first Heinlein. Yes it was deliberate; I’d heard it was his “liberal” book, and the concept intrigued me. Yes, I know there are people who are appalled by this. I did read the whole thing though, so it wasn’t that bad (… over a few years…).

Not having read other Heinlein I don’t really know how else he presents his politics. I’ve seen the move of Starship Troopers, but I think there’s some squabbling about whether he meant the novel to be quite as satirical as the movie ended up being? Anyway, from the perspective of a leftie in the 21st century, this doesn’t seem all that liberal in its politics. I mean, I guess it seems to be advocating a form of socialism, but I’m not sure how seriously anybody was meant to take that (although given how prevalent ‘grok’ is in certain circles… hmm). Of course if you take ‘liberal’ to mean ‘happy to talk about sex and have sex and I don’t believe in marriage to have sex’ then yes, it is liberal. Of course compared to modern books the sex scenes are positively chaste and I had to re-read some sections to understand what the fuss was about (ohhh he talked about them kissing but he meant they weren’t ONLY kissing…).

It’s a very long book to talk about the return of a human child to Earth, now a man, who has been raised by the inhabitants of Mars and has therefore quite a different way of understanding the world. He has no clue about human interactions and the ability to perform various mind-tricks like telekinesis and so on. There’s also a financial aspect since the way the law works he appears to be the owner of or ambassador from Mars, plus other technological side-benefits, which means that he is a multi-millionaire… all of these things naturally mean he has more enemies and would-be friends than he can deal with.

Interestingly the focus, I think, is not really on Mike, the Man from Mars. Nor is it on Jill, his nurse, at least not after the first bit. Instead the character who has really stuck with me is Jubal. Jubal almost seems to me how I imagine Heinlein to have been (and this is completely unfair since no one is born old): old, cranky, seen it all, cynical, bored by the world but still in love with it, impatient, garrulous, and desperate to do right by all those around him. Also the most amazing sense of entitlement. Jubal appears to have tried everything worthwhile and he runs a house that is at once a commune, a resort, and a demanding place of work. His obstinance and his love of his adoptive grandchildren, his bullying and arrogance matched with the fact that he uses his enormous brain for the good of those he loves – this, rather than Mike, seems to me to be the epitome of humanity.

Because in many ways I think Mike is meant to represent the best of humanity. But he’s a distant figure, for all he sleeps with every woman he gets close to as far as I can tell. He is unknowable. Interestingly he’s an inversion of the Great White Saviour trope, I think, because he’s doing humanity better than humanity but he IS human, just raised by a distant and unknowable people. I’m not sure that he’s being a better Martian than the Martians; we’re not given that info.

There are some appalling moments, especially about the women; this is not unexpected. The stuff about Fosterites was weird and a bit uncomfortable (but not nearly as weird as the bits about Foster himself!). The inclusion of a Muslim character surprised me, given the publication date… and the way he’s treated by those around him is simultaneously welcoming and also appalling.

I am glad I’ve read it. I’m not sure I would recommend it to anyone. Perhaps someone like me who is old enough to be cynical and hasn’t read any Heinlein before… as long as they’ve read enough other SF to know that it’s not all like this. Will I read any more Heinlein? I’m honestly not sure. There are so very many other books to read.


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