Galactic Suburbia does Orphan Black AGAIN!

Yes, Alisa and I got together after watching the second season of Orphan Black to debrief about all things clone. You can hear us on iTunes or over at Galactic Suburbia – we are very, VERY spoilery!

And just to get you in the mood, this is one of my favourite scenes of television in ages:

A View to a Kill

MV5BMTMwMTYzOTIwM15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwODY5MDg0NA@@._V1_SX640_SY720_This review is part of Project Bond, wherein over the course of 2014 we watch all of the James Bond movies in production order.Unknown

Summary: in which microchips are a thing, and so are horse-breeding and earthquakes; Christopher Walken and Grace Jones are A Thing; and Roger Moore is really quite old. But that’s ok, because this is his last Bond!!

Alex:  last Moore last Moore last Moore…

This is the first (only?) Bond to start with a legal disclaimer. Weird! But it turns out that when they named the villain’s company Zorin – which, among other things, makes microchips – they creators didn’t realise that there was already a company in existence called Zoran which, among other things, makes microchips. How on EARTH does something like that get past the people in charge? Or the researchers?

Anyway, the microchip appears set to be at the heart of the story when that’s what Bond retrieves in the Siberian snow in the prologue (which is a relatively good chase scene, until it turns out that his iceberg hidey-hole is actually a submarine complete with blonde and cocktails). This particular chip has somehow been manufactured to be resistant to the EMP of a nuclear bomb – clearly a useful advantage if you’re worried about nasty commie retaliatory or preemptive strikes. But then it’s discovered that the commies have this tech too! So we need to go investigate the producer of the chips.

Which leads to the racetrack, and Moneypenny wearing an appalling dress. Zorin’s horse comes first out of nowhere, which leads to Bond visiting the stud farm (oh gahd the possible jokes, most of which are avoided). It turns out the horse what won had a microchip in its leg which released a hormone when activated.

… all of this stuff about the usefulness of microchips is actually build-up for the fact that Zorin is put out about Silicon Valley producing way more than he does, so he’s got a Cunning Plan: destroy Silicon Valley. Buy the factories out? Use poisonous gas? Direct a space-controlled laser on to them? Goodness no! He’s going to instigate an earthquake in both faults that run alongside the Valley, which will destroy it and leave it flooded. Of course! And then the rest of the film is about how Bond finds that out and how he Foils the Dastardly Plan.

Is it obvious that I am so over Moore?

Moore: is old. Seriously. Um, what else… the scene where he drives a Citroen taxi, badly, through Paris is about the most forgettable Bond chase sequence ever, even though he’s chasing Grace Jones with a parachute. And he’s shown, yet again, to be unbearably Good At Everything when he’s able to ride the unrideable horse, over the unrideable steeplechase course. He has a moment of not sleeping with the cute young blonde woman – which was refreshing – but it doesn’t last. images

The villain: Christopher Walken chews scenery. Once again we have an ‘abnormal’ villain: this time it’s revealed that he is (almost certainly) the product of a Nazi experiment, where pregnant women were injected with steroids. images-1And the doctor in charge is the same doctor responsible for dosing his horses, which just… ew. Weird. Zorin is also a KGB agent, at least in theory – he has a chat with General Gogol, played by the same actor as always, about having decided to ditch them and go his own way now, thanks. In case we were in any doubt about his villainy, Zorin’s headquarters a lot of the time are on an airship. Most intriguingly about Walken’s character is his relationship with Grace Jones: Mayday.

Mayday: It’s unclear early on whether they’re an item or she is just his bodyguard; they kiss after sparring, but then he allows he to go sleep with Bond (when he’s put himself in her bed, to avoid being found out as wandering the chateau). At the end, though, Mayday helps Bond because Zorin has left her for dead in a flooded mine – she shrieks: “I thought that creep loved me!” and then she sacrifices herself for Bond, after making him promise to “get Zorin for me.” Grace Jones is the best bit about this film. She is tough and competent, she has outrageous costumes (including that most 80s of outfits, a g-string leotard – and a look on her face that says “go on, I dare you, make a comment about my black butt”).

Women: well, there’s Mayday. … And a random Soviet agent, working for Gogol, with whom Bond has already had a relationship and with whom he ends up in a hot tub…  and there’s Stacey, the geologist (who seems to be a precursor for Denise Richards as nuclear physicist, but maybe I’m just scarred by that. Stacey is not nearly as bad as Christmas). Bond first tries to chat her up at Zorin’s stud but it doesn’t work (again with the possible innuendo that doesn’t get exploited! It seems like the writers were actually calming the heck down!). He meets here again in America, where it turns out she hates Zorin because he took over her oil company (inherited from her father, but totally still her thing) in a highly dubious manner. He rescues her, and ends up sleeping in a chair – thank goodness. Then there’s discussion of geology and nearly getting burned alive, a truly appalling chase scene with Bond then Stacey driving a firetruck, and the Golden Gate Bridge scene where she’s hanging from a girder and he’s fighting Zorin, after she got kidnapped on an airship. Only THEN do they get it on.

Race: the American CIA agent who connects with Bond is Chinese-American. Sadly, we’re back to PoC-sidekick-dying territory. And while I quite liked him, I was sad it wasn’t Felix Leiter. Plus of course the Walken/Jones couple – there’s no mention of race in any discussion of Mayday, as far as I noticed. Bond films never seem to have a problem with mixed race couples, which is admirable.

Finally, I have to share this photo:

dolph2That, my friends, is Dolph Lundgren, on the set of his first movie: A View to a Kill.

James: Jumping off the Eiffel Tower. Saggy old Bond.  I struggled to get excited about the last of the awful Moore Bonds… bring on the new era.  1 Martini.

The Ruby Knight

UnknownEDDINGS RE-READ: The Ruby Knight, BOOK TWO OF THE ELENIUM

Because we just don’t have enough to do, Tehani, 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:

Sparhawk starts this book a) immediately after the end of the first one, and b) wanting someone to jump him, so that he can get all violent on some unsuspecting footpad. I don’t think I was really paying attention to that sort of thing when I was a teen. He’s actually not a very nice man a lot of the time, and that makes me sad.

JO:

It is a bit sad isn’t it :( Sparhawk’s most common reaction seems to be violence, and the narrative and tone celebrates that part of him.

TEHANI:

Alex, you say “not a very nice man” but I never read it that way (and still don’t, I guess!) – he’s a product of his culture and his time. They seem to quite happily wreak havoc on people at the drop of a hat, and he IS a knight, trained to battle!

ALEX:

OK, maybe I don’t have to be quite so sad about him – that he’s a product of his time – but still his active desire for violence does act, for me now, against my lionising of him as a teenager. He is flawed, and I’m troubled because Jo is exactly right – the narrative celebrates him and his anger/violent tendencies.

TEHANI:

You’re both completely right. I still choose to read it in the context of the book, AND STICK MY HEAD IN THE SAND. Damn. That’s the problem with rereading with a few more brains behind us, isn’t it?!

ALEX:

Something we didn’t note in our review of The Diamond Throne is that the book is prefaced by a short excerpt from a ‘history’. This is a really neat way of building up back story and developing the world without having to info-dump – although of course the Eddings pair don’t really have an issue with info-dumps; after all, why else assign a novice knight to teach a young thief history? Anyway, I still like it, and it does show that there has been a fair bit of thought put into the world, even if much of it simplistic.

JO:

Yeah I enjoy these histories too. Good way to set the scene, highlight anything that’s going to be important for the book (like Lake Randera) and do a quick recap. They definitely like an info-dump, but at least the Eddings do it with style and humour!

TEHANI:

I reckon there’s reams of world-building behind these books, especially if the work that we see in The Rivan Codex (for the Belgariad/Mallorean world) is any context!

JO:

I enjoyed this book a lot more than I expected. I remembered The Ruby Knight as a very ‘middle book’, just basically a long build up to finding Bhelliom and saving Ehlana. But on the reread it was a lot more engaging than that. Maybe it’s because Eddings has the space here to really get into the characters, and I love these characters so much that I enjoyed that to no end.

TEHANI:

It really does boggle me that even though I’ve read this several times, I still don’t get bored of this long questy-ride-alonging. It really IS a middle book, and nothing terribly much happens, but it’s still a really enjoyable read! Bizarre. Is it nostalgia that makes it so, or some quality about the book that means I don’t chuck it across the room like I would most other “middle books” that really just march in place?

ALEX:

I found this one a bit more boring than I remembered – it really is just them wandering around. I totally still enjoyed the character development, and it is banter-ific, but on this re-read I got a bit impatient with the lack of actual plot movement.

JO:

They’re also very good at throwing everything in Sparhawk’s way. I mean, this is basically a quest book. We even have a ‘fellowship’ don’t we – Sephrenia mentions how important it is to have a certain number of people on the quest, it’s all about symmetry. But from the outset, everything that can go wrong does, and all of this does a great job of increasing the tension. Not only that, but characters we meet in the beginning and/or middle come back towards the end, which makes these side-quests feel a little less side-questy. By the time Sparhawk and Co. get roped into Wargun’s army I just wanted to scream because they were so close and it is so not fair! But I do love it when characters get put through the wringer like that. Nothing’s easy.

TEHANI:

Masochist! But I’m right there with you – wouldn’t be any fun if things just went to plan, right?

ALEX:

omg when I got to that and remembered that they were being co-opted I think I might actually have groaned out loud. GET ON WITH IT.

TEHANI:

I like that there’s a few points in this book that smack back at the classism – Wat and his fellows teach Sparhawk a thing or two: “Not meanin’ no offence, yer worship, but you gentle-folk think that us commoners don’ know nothin’, but when y’ stack us all together, there’s not very much in this world we don’t know.”

Ulath backs this up some chapters later: “Sometimes I think this whole nobility business is a farce anyway. Men are men – titled or not. I don’t think God cares, so why should we?”

“You’re going to stir up a revolution talking like that, Ulath.”

“Maybe it’s time for one.”

ALEX:

Tehani, you beat me to it – I LOVE that bit; I metaphorically punched the air.

JO:

Go Ulath! :)

TEHANI:

Unfortunately, there is also some nasty gender stuff – it doesn’t stem from our heroes, but isn’t challenged by them, and is somewhat supported by them to an extent (Kurik emphasises the nasty noble’s words by drawing his sword in this exchange):

“Mother will punish you.”

The noble’s laugh was chilling. “Your mother has begun to tire me, Jaken,” he said. “She’s self-indulgent, shrewish and more than a little stupid. She’s turned you into something I’d rather not look at. Besides, she’s not very attractive any more. I think I’ll send her to a nunnery for the rest of her life. The prayer and fasting may bring her closer to heaven, and the amendment of her spirit is my duty as a loving husband, wouldn’t you say?”

(more follows on p. 217 – of my copy…)

ALEX:

urgh. Hate that.

JO:

And it’s ok that he feels this way because it was an ‘arranged marriage’. Poor bloke, getting stuck in an arranged marriage like that. *flat stare* There are a lot of comments in these books about women being obsessed with marriage and men ‘escaping’.

ALEX:

And there’s other uncomfortable gender moments, too, like the serving girls in the tavern often being blonde, busty, and none too bright… *sigh* And then there’s Kring, who asks whether it’s ok to loot, commit arson, and/or rape when they partake in war with the Church Knights.

TEHANI:

Oh, so many uncomfortable moments…

JO:

Yeah I’d totally forgotten that about Kring. I was so excited to see him, because I always liked him, but that took the wind out of my sails a bit.

TEHANI:

But Kring kind of changes, I think (though later on) and that element is quite lost later. However, it does NOT do well to realise which culture the Peloi are intended to represent. Oh, the casual racism…

ALEX:

On the topic of racism – every time Sephrenia rolls her eyes and says “Elenes,” I can’t help but think of the bit in The Mummy where Jonathan says “Americans” in that insulting tone of voice (which I can’t find on YouTube, darn it).

TEHANI:

I think Sephrenia is quite within her rights saying it in that EXACT tone of voice!

ALEX:

Also, Ghwerig being ‘misshapen’ isn’t quite suggested as the reason for his being evil, but it’s pretty close – and keeps cropping up throughout the series. I can’t imagine how that makes a non-able-bodied reader feel, given it makes even me gnash my teeth.

TEHANI:

You know, I never actually read it that way – it mustn’t be quite as overt as some of the other uncomfortable things. But of course, now you’ve pointed it out, yes, I completely see it.

JO:

Oh hey I never really noticed that either! But now that you mention it, I can’t unsee it. Which says a lot. Why do I see all the gender stuff immediately, but this passed me by? Of course there’s a long literary tradition of physical deformities = spiritual ones. That’s no excuse. I must be more aware in my reading.

TEHANI:

Kurik’s acknowledgment of Talen (p. 392) made me cry as much as it did Talen!

ALEX:

You softy. I didn’t cry in THAT bit…

JO:

Oh no, the bit that always made me cry is still to come…

ALEX:

Mine too.

Apropos of nothing, did either of you find it a bit odd that Kurik checks on Sparhawk in the middle of the night?? I bet there’s fanfic out there…

TEHANI:

There’s fanfic out there for EVERYTHING! I didn’t think it odd, though I did love the naked man-hug in the early pages of the first book! (go on, go check, I’ll wait…) :)

JO:

I am NOT going to go looking for fan fic. I am NOT…

ALEX:

Oh, I don’t need to check, Tehani, I remember  :D

Also, do you remember whether you suspected Flute of being actually divine before the great revelation at the end of this story? I’m not sure! I hope I did…

TEHANI:

Well, I read these completely backwards (Tamuli before Elenium), so I was spoiled for that already I’m afraid!

JO:

Tehani that breaks my brain.

I had suspicions about Flute from very early on. I remember being very impressed with myself at the time. I reread it now and think how could you not? They do kinda hit you over the head with it :p

TEHANI:

I think by now we’ve read WAY too much in the field to be surprised by something like that – but a newish reader to the genre? Maybe they wouldn’t pick it!

Well, being the middle book of the trilogy, there isn’t really much by way of plot to chat about, I guess, so shall we move along? Perhaps faster than the plot of the book itself… :)

JO:

We should talk about plot shouldn’t we :)

Sooo… As usual the book opens up with Sparhawk travelling through Cimmura at night in the fog. Notice how often that happens in these books?

TEHANI:

Yes, you’re right! It’s a trend in the books, for sure.

JO:

I quite like the repetition. He’s got both rings, and now he knows he needs Bhelliom to cure Ehlana and it’s time for the sapphire rose to be found again anyway. The fellowship head off on their quest for the magic jewel and have adventures along the way, including being stuck in the middle of a siege, dealing with Count Ghasek’s possessed sister, raising the dead and finally fighting the Seeker who has been chasing them all this time.

Eventually they make it to Ghwerig’s cave – after the introduction of Milord Stragen, another favourite character – fight and defeat the troll. Flute is revealed as the child-Goddess Aphrael, and gives Bhelliom over to Sparhawk.

Was that the kind of thing you had in mind? ;)

TEHANI:

This is why YOU’RE the writer…! Nicely summed up indeed. The Count Ghasek storyline was a bit of a tough one. On one hand, Ghasek seemed like a nice enough chap. On the other, the motives behind his sister’s madness, well, not great to examine that too closely, I think.

JO:

Although I did appreciate the throwback to book one – Eddings could have introduced any old character here, but Bellina is the woman Sparhawk and Sephrenia witnessed going into that evil Zemoch house.

TEHANI:

Well seeded indeed…

ALEX:

GET ON WITH THE STORY, EDDINGS PEOPLE!

 

Galactic Suburbia 104

In which we gaze into the World of the Future with a double dose of Culture Consumed and Culture Yet To Consume. Get us at iTunes or Galactic Suburbia.

Culture We Are Looking Forward To

Alex: new James SA Corey; Isobelle Carmody’s last Obernewtyn novel; every TPP; Guardians of the Galaxy; Snowpiercer; Saga.

Tansy: The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison; Kameron Hurley, The Mirror Empire; Ben Peek, The Godless; Sailor Moon

Alisa: Extant

Culture We Have Consumed

Alisa: Twinmaker, Sean Williams

Alex: holidays!! Diaspora, Greg Egan; The Reluctant Swordsman, Dave Duncan; James Tiptree Award Anthology 3

Tansy: The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet.

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

The Diamond Throne

Diamond_ThroneEDDINGS RE-READ: The Diamond Throne, BOOK ONE OF THE ELENIUM

Because we just don’t have enough to do, Tehani, 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!

TEHANI:

I was feeling a little book-weary yesterday so thought I might as well start my reading for this conversational review series, given it’s usually a soothing experience. Within a single PAGE, I was reaching for Twitter, because SO MUCH of the book cried out to be tweeted! Great one-liners, the introduction of favourite characters, and, sadly, some of the not so awesome bits as well. I was having a grand time pulling out 140 character lines (#EddingsReread if you’re interested), but the response from the ether was amazing! So many people hold these books firmly in their reading history, and it was just lovely to hear their instant nostalgia.

ALEX:

And I read those tweets and everything was SO FAMILIAR that I immediately started reading as well. And finished a day later.

JO:

Ok. A) You people read too quickly! B) Tehani those tweets were enough to start me feeling all nostalgic. I was in the middle of cooking dinner and had to put everything down, run upstairs and dig the books out of their box hidden in the back of the wardrobe.

TEHANI:

I am not at all repentant! :) Also, did you both find this a super easy read? Is it the style, or just that I’ve read it several times before? It really was like sinking into a warm fluffy hug, hitting the pages of this book again. I actually can’t remember the last time I read it, but it’s got to be over a decade, yet I felt instantly at home again. Eddings was one of the authors who caused my addiction to the genre, and even in the very first chapters, it’s easy to see why. The light and breezy writing style is instantly accessible, and the way we’re thrown straight into the action, with our hero Sparhawk leading us through, makes the book start with a bang.

ALEX:

Reading that first page was a little bit like going back to my high school, many years after graduating. It just felt so familiar, and comfortable. And like high school, I know it’s not without problems – but it’s still somewhere that has a lot of ME wrapped up in it. I also don’t remember when I last read these, but it’s not for aaaaages… And yes, super easy to read. TOO easy!  ;D

JO:

Oh yes, absolutely. As soon as I started reading it all came back to me. I remembered the moment I found The Diamond Throne in the library, and the first chapter and intro of Sparhawk hooked me instantly. While I think as a teenager I identified the most with Polgara from the Belgariad (I wanted to BE her) I have always loved Sparhawk.

ALEX:

Polgara is still one of my absolute favourite characters! Sparhawk is too, though – one of the great characters for me in my early teen years. I adored that he was older, and cynical, and world-weary. When I was 14 I thought I was all of those things…now that I am 34 I still absolutely empathise! This story also shows that his cynicism is cut with a very large streak of sappiness, which I think serves to make him just a bit more relatable. His love for Sephrenia, his respect for Vanion and Dolmant and Kurik – he’s actually a fairly well-rounded character, as these things go. His habit of calling people ‘friend’ and ‘neighbour’ is why I call everyone ‘mate’ to this day. True story. I also adore the relationship he has with Faran, that ugly roan brute; I love Faran unconditionally.

TEHANI:

He is so pragmatic, completely prepared for violence at all times, and yet from the very early pages where he gives the street girl some coins and calls her “little sister”, we see he’s an absolute marshmallow inside. I’m with you Alex, I adore him.

JO:

I have an admission to make. I still love him, but Sparhawk’s making me a little uncomfortable in this reread. For all his neighbours and his giving money to the scrawny whore, I’m starting to feel like he’s a bit of a bully. He gets what he wants because he can and does threaten violence if he doesn’t get it…and it feels like Eddings thinks this is ok because he’s Sparhawk. He’s a Pandion (not only a Pandion but the best of them, as we are repeatedly reminded) and the people he threatens are ‘evil’ anyway so no harm done… I dunno, it’s just made me feel a bit squeamish this time round.

TEHANI:

That’s a really good point. I’ve had a similar discussion with my Doctor Who reviewing buddies Tansy and David about David Tennant’s Doctor – he does and says some pretty awful things, but we accept it generally without question a) because he’s the Doctor, but more importantly b) because David Tennant plays him so charismatically. Sparhawk has the same sort of issues – we know (or are given by the narrative to believe) that he’s on the side of right, and that he is the Champion, therefore we accept his behaviour because it’s presented as being for the right reasons.

ALEX:

*sigh* you are of course both correct – Sparhawk’s use of “might is right” is totally accepted by the novel because he is so awesome. And if that’s not an abuse of power, right there, then nothing is.

On a more positive note, I think I like all of the other characters, too. Sephrenia is delightful although definitely not rounded out enough here…and I do have a problem with her “we Styrics are so simple and you Elenes are so complex” thing. I want to believe that she’s just serving back to the Elenes what they believe about themselves, so that she can manipulate them, but I’m not sure if that’s knowledge of the rest of the series or wishful thinking (more on that below). Talen is already totally amusing and reminds me a lot of Silk, from the Belgariad, which is unsurprising. The Merry Men really are dreamy; Ulath and his blonde plaits will always be my favourite, because who doesn’t love the quiet cryptic type?

TEHANI:

And I adore Kalten, because he’s always needling Sparhawk yet they clearly love each other. Talen was a definite favourite from early on too, and Kurik is marvellous – a definite father figure, or maybe more an uncle…

ALEX:

The classism and the racism…ouch. The Rendors are meant to be Arab analogues, right? Because everyone knows that living in the heat makes your brain go soft. OUCH. Also, why have I always thought the Styrics were analogues for Jews? Is it just that the Elenes burning their villages is frighteningly similar to pogroms in Christian Europe in the Middle Ages? (But of course there’s no religious similarity at all, and the only ‘real’ similarity is the refusal of pork.)

JO: I always thought that about the Styrics too.

TEHANI:

Oh yes, that was the first thing I picked up on in terms of the negative stereotypes – completely over my head when I read these in my late teens, front and centre now. I actually wrote a uni paper on representations of reality in Eddings and Feist, but I’ve sure learned a lot since then! I could easily IDENTIFY the real world correlations, but did I notice the negative aspects of this? No I did NOT. *sigh* Bad past me, bad!

This time around, the classism was just as interesting too – I think I was so indoctrinated into the usual process of high fantasy in my 20s that this would never have even occurred to me to see. This time though, Sephrenia’s derision about the intelligence “common” Elenes and Styrics is, ugh, just awful. And when it’s other races as WELL as commoners, well, that’s terrible.

ALEX:

The class aspect is ugly as all get out. When they’re in the council chamber confronting Vanion, Dolmant – the lovely, gentle Dolmant – says why believe an untitled merchant (his words!) and a runaway serf over and above the honorable Preceptor (code: titled)? Now we know that those are both lying, but that’s beside the point. I dunno, Dolmant, maybe because truth and honesty aren’t actually the privileges of the wealthy and titled?

JO:

Oh goodness yes. I have to admit this is something that passed me by the first time I read these. Maybe because in the world Eddings writes it does feel so natural. Which is disturbing.

TEHANI:

It really is, isn’t it! And once you see, you can’t unsee…

ALEX:

This is one of the first real instances I remember of the Crystal Dragon Jesus trope – taking what can be broadly recognised as a version of the medieval Catholic Church and transporting it to a secondary fantasy world.

TEHANI:

I’ve not heard of the “Crystal Dragon Jesus trope” – please elaborate?

JO:

Neither have I!

ALEX:

Instead of creating your own religious system for your magical fantasy world, you take the broad brush strokes of (usually) the medieval Catholic Church – because hey, everyone knows that medieval stuff is bad, plus Catholics are easy to laugh at, right? It generally involves a monotheistic religion with a convoluted hierarchy, seemingly-pious churchmen (and only men) who are meant to be celibate but often aren’t, because that also makes them easier to turn into evil characters. The only thing that the Eddings missed is the saviour/messiah/ someone who sacrificed themselves bit, of the religion. It irks me because it is so lazy.

JO:

I did not know there was a term for that :)

ALEX:

Tehani, you said there was a Lord of the Rings reference early on – did you mean Ghwerig the Troll-Dwarf being like both Sauron and Gollum, with the whole rings thing? (Also, how did Ghwerig ‘casually’ smash a diamond?) There’s also a Hamlet reference, at the end, when Sparhawk comes across Annias praying in the chapel and chooses not to kill him.

TEHANI:

Yes, exactly! I missed the Hamlet reference, and I think there were a couple of others in there!

I could hand-wave the diamond smashing – I figured if he was working under the influence of the gods, he could pretty much do anything!

JO:

You know, there’s a lot of repetition in this book. It almost feels like any time anything happens, it has to be reported back to the group in the next scene, and discussed. Same goes for any time they meet a new character, we have a recap of events up until this point. All done with amusing dialogue, of course. But still!

TEHANI:

You’re right, but it’s so breezily written I hardly notice it! I do quite like the way travelling actually takes a significant amount of time, even when that slows down the action.

ALEX:

Thanks to your tweets, Tehani, I noticed every single time the word ‘peculiar’ was used.

JO:

By the end there I was getting a little sick of “I’m (terribly) disappointed in you, ___.” Or something similar. I noticed it a couple of times then couldn’t unsee it!

TEHANI:

Yes, Eddings has several “tics” of writing that once you notice them, you ALWAYS see them! “Flat stares” are my favourite :)

JO:

Particularly when they come from Faran. I love that horse and his flat stares.

TEHANI:

That horse is practically human.

ALEX:

That horse and his prancing make me happy.

JO:

I’m having a strange and conflicted reaction to the female characters in these books. On the one hand, they are such wonderful strong people. Sephrenia is powerful, but that’s almost not what makes her strong – rather her pacifism compared to the bloodthirsty knights around her, and her determination to do her duty to her goddess. And her relationship with Vanion. Ehlana’s still encased in diamond at this point, but the effect she had on Sparhawk pretty much says it all! Even Arissa has her own desires and knows her own mind. But…but… I dunno, something feels off to me. Maybe because there are few of them? Maybe Lillias’ rather large hissy fit soured it all for me. I just don’t know. Would love your reactions.

TEHANI:

I actually thought the Lillias thing was reasonably well handled – it was made pretty clear it was a cultural “norm” rather than her personal feelings, which made it okay for me, I guess. The female characters are interesting though; I wonder if it’s because they are constantly stamping their feet at the men and pretending to be less powerful than they are to get their own way that’s the problem? Possibly I’m getting ahead of myself though – this is only the first book!

ALEX:

I loved Lillias’ melodramatic turn – and that Sparhawk played to it for her sake. I am conflicted about Sephrenia: are the knights looking after her because they love her, or because they see her as weak? Or is that an “and” situation? I don’t like Arissa but I admire her strength. For me, I think it’s that this is such a boys world the women feel a bit out of place. The other female character of course is Flute, and she’s quite funny, but one thing I wanted to point out: she ‘somehow’ escapes the convent where they leave her, and meets the crew further on…and no one goes back to tell the convent she’s ok?! Seriously??

TEHANI:

Don’t look too hard Alex, there’s all SORTS of little nitpicks like that! I think we’re almost ready to move on to the next book. I don’t suppose it really matters that we’ve not talked about the plot, right? It’s your basic high fantasy quest, with lashings of barriers thrown into our hero’s journey, a cast of thousands (seriously, it gets quite large in the end…) and lots fun dialogue that means you completely don’t notice that sometimes nothing really happens for several pages *cough chapters cough*.

ALEX:

Things happen! Characters develop! Banter is committed!  :D

JO:

Yeah, what more could you possibly want? Lots of riding horses to get to places. Things go wrong for our heroes all the time. I do think Eddings is good at that in particular. Just when you think they might finally achieve something, *bam* something goes wrong. Usually involving Martel. And yes, lots of banter. Banter is awesome.

TEHANI:

Hey, have you two seen this? http://42geekstreet.com/fantasy-casting-agency-the-diamond-throne-the-elenium/

ALEX:

omg. How awesome. One big nitpick: they CANNOT make David Wenham Martel! Nononononono. No. Kalten maybe?

JO:

LOL ‘who could play Sparhawk in a movie’ is my husband’s favourite pastime. It drives me nuts.

Also, Gerard Butler? Gerard Butler? That’s it, I quit the internet. *walks away from the internet*

TEHANI:

What’s WRONG with Gerard Butler! *wanders off whistling* See you both back here for the next exciting instalment of our reread!

 

Pablo Neruda

I took this with me on a holiday by the beach in winter for two main reasons:
1. The friend who first introduced me to Neruda (with “Tonight I can write the saddest lines”) loves that particular town, and it seemed appropriate; and
2. The friend who loaned me the collection would surely find it hilarious to imagine me clutching the book to my bosom, staring tragically/romantically/poetically (they’re all synonyms right?) out to sea.
Actually, so would the first friend.

9780142437704_p0_v4_s260x420Anyway. I am not much of a reader of poetry. I love the sound of poetry and I appreciate the artistry of using words as Neruda does, but I am at heart an impatient reader. I love words and I like the idea of lingering over them, but… it never really happens. Plus, I am realising that I am more plot-driven than beauty-focussed, which means poetry isn’t really going to work for me.

ANYWAY 2. Neruda. He uses words in beautiful ways – well, I presume he does in the original Spanish, and this isn’t just WS Merwin’s attempt to get work out there under someone else’s name. (What would be the point of that anyway?) Friend 2 pointed out to me that Neruda objectifies his subject a lot, and that’s absolutely crucial to much of his poetry: you don’t get “Body of a woman, white hills, white thighs / you look like a world, lying in surrender” otherwise. But he does create some exquisite imagery.

Ah vastness of pines, murmur of waves breaking,
slow play of lights, solitary bell,
twilight falling in your eyes, toy doll,
earth-shell, in whom the earth sings!

I had at first expected “Tonight I can write” to be the “Song of Despair” mentioned in the title, but it’s not – it’s the twentieth love poem. Which made me realise, as I had been slowly realising over reading the collection, that to differentiate the love poems and the song of despair is to suggest something that is not there. In most of the love poems, despair is either present or looming on the margins. And the song of despair is of course only possible because of the love that is also present.

If you like poetry, this is highly recommended. If you want to try poetry, this is short and delightful and evocative. I’m glad I read it.

The Reluctant Swordsman

This is not the sort of book I would have picked up of my own accord. But a friend loaned me the entire series, and I felt obligated to give it a go, since we usually have similar tastes.

19259582This is a fairly standard portal fantasy. The main character is dying in our world and then wakes up in the body of a remarkable swordsman in another. Intriguingly, we get very little of Wallie’s life in the ‘real’ world. We know he’s an engineer, has no family, and… that’s about it. The focus is entirely on The World.

Of course, the swordsman/Wallie has a task to complete, and there are many and significant obstacles to that. This book is basically a getting-the-band-together story, as Wallie figures out what he has to do (which he doesn’t really know even by the end of the novel), and gets his people together – an appropriately motley group for an unlikely hero (well, an unlikely hero’s mind, anyway).

Wallie himself I am largely indifferent towards at this stage. He’s an excuse to explore different aspects of the world, and question some of its aspects (more on that later). He’s approachable enough, and hasn’t done anything quite as repellant as Thomas Covenant manages in his first fifteen minutes. Of the other characters, his sidekick has a phenomenal memory and developing sword skills; his slave girl will hopefully develop a personality; and the elderly priest is the one that I hold out most hope for, of being snarky and clever.

The novel suggests a world where gods exist and interact with people – sometimes – and although I guess a direct intervention from a god would have an impact, I found Wallie’s change from sceptic to fervent believer a bit fast. I am interested to see how this aspect develops. I’m also intrigued by the notion of unstable geography which strongly connects to the idea of the Goddess; I think this may be the most interesting facet of the world building so far. The rest of the world building… well. There’s slaves, and Wallie reacts strongly against this initially, but he does then go and buy one. Admittedly he does so for noble reasons, and he really likes her, honest!… still. That’s playing into the system, right? There could have been more conscience wrestling about that. And any moral objections raised are rather undercut by Duncan later in the novel when another character buys a slavewoman entirely based on her voluptuous appearance, and this is upheld as humorous in the first instance and then later as advantageous to the plot. This is a problem for me.

I may read the next one, just to see whether Duncan manages to do anything clever or original. I’m not really holding out much hope, to be honest. It would probably have been an enjoyable book when I was 15, but now I’m feeling a little bit too cynical and well-read.

Diaspora, Greg Egan

The same caveat applies to this book as to every other Egan novel. If you are neither inherently fascinated by mathematics and physics taken past the bleeding edge, nor willing to tolerate possibly pages of physics discussion that you don’t get, then don’t read this novel. It’s not the book, it’s you – and that’s ok, it’s just not worth your while getting frustrated.

That said, if you’re willing to dive in, I think this is another of Egan’s awesome novels. Spoilers coming.

Greg Egan_1998_DiasporaThe premise is that at the end of the 30th century, there are some humans we would see as ‘normal’ – called fleshers here; there are more ‘people’ who inhabit the polises, which are basically massive computers – so yes, they’re virtual, from our current perspective. And there are also gleisners, who inhabit robot bodies. The plot is driven by the perspective of a couple of polis citizens; indeed it begins with the creation of an ‘orphan’, a citizen in a polis created with no input from any parental guidelines but by the polis itself, basically to test new possibilities. This orphan, who becomes Yatima, is a primary protagonist.

Some reviewers over on goodreads have been frustrated by the lack of fiction, or plot, in this story, and I can see where they’re coming from. However, there is a plot, and even if sometimes it takes something of a backseat to the ideas – well, that’s kinda the deal with an Egan story. But it’s not superfluous in any way. So what is it? Well, a gleisner astronomical survey indicates that two neutron stars are about to collapse into each other, several million years earlier than they ought to. They’re frighteningly close to the earth, and it does indeed do very bad things to the planet when the gamma rays etc get here. From this, eventually, there is a diaspora as people (broadly understood) attempt to understand this event and how to survive future ones and also, just Going Out into the universe as humanity has always dreamed of doing. Interesting things are discovered, of course.

This brings me to a rant about the blurb. It suggests that Yatima is searching for a world where no “acts of God” will occur. Um, no. If anyone is searching for that it’s Orlando, a flesher who goes into a polis after the catastrophe. But even that does absolutely no justice to anyone’s motivation. So… all I can think is that the blurber had no idea what to say about the book, and was told to focus on the plot (which they didn’t understand) rather than the ideas. This is my contempt you’re feeling right now.

And then there are the big questions Egan plays with. Some of these are things he’s actively working through over the novel, while others are things he simply takes for granted. For me, as always, his approach to gender is the most striking on a plot level. Because it’s one of the issues he simply takes for granted. Humanity living in a software-created virtual world? Why on earth would they keep to rigid binary (yes I know, all the caveats about it not actually being binary) understandings of gender? So most of the polis citizens are referred to as “ve” – and things happen to “ver” while belongings are “vis”, which is very neat. There are some who are gendered; Orlando, perhaps understandably, can’t shed his original gendered self perception; there are some polis-born citizens who also insist on it, and they’re regarded as frankly a bit weird. I adore this aspect.

The virtual nature of much of the story could lead to a complete divorcing from the physical, which is an issue I’ve been thinking a lot about since reading Nike Sulway’s Tiptree speech: the issue of divorcing matter and mind. However, I think Egan does a good job here of not doing so – and indeed of interrogating the issue. The polis inhabitants do still interact with matter, and it is important to them; there are discussions about the importance, or not, of interacting with the real and whether postulating crazy things like more dimensions than we can see or interact with is just offensive. Most polis citizens respect the material world even if they experience it differently from fleshers. And the diaspora, even if it takes places as (basically) flying computers, also interacts with the real and physical in important, fundamental and profound ways. So, go you, Egan, for not just going the lazy cyberpunk route.

Did I mention that this book takes place quite seriously over about two millennia, and then speeds up at the end to encompass even more time? What a head spin.

Some of the physics stuff he discusses: astronomy – especially the neutron star bits; extrasolar planets; alien life, including evolution and non-carbon-based possibilities; wormholes; quarks, leptons, fermions etc; and the possibility of other universes and how they would interact, or not, with the one we inhabit.

On that note, I can’t help but feel that this must to some extent be Egan’s answer to, or take, on Flatland. Indeed he references the idea of “flatland” at one stage. Because some of the characters are forced to interact with beings existing in 5 dimensions, and how are you going to do that? So that’s a really nice aspect for those who have read that somewhat obscure adventure into dimensional maths.

Some of the other ideas that Egan confronts: human evolution, both ‘natural’ and deliberate, and what that will mean for the various branches communicating with each other; the place of art and of mathematics; cloning, and its possibilities; parenthood and the nature of being an orphan; individuality and community.

I told you this was a dense, complex, and – I mean it – ambitious work, right? You can get it from Fishpond. 

Glow

This book was provided to me by the publisher at no cost.

BVugiUECEAAO_Ky.jpg-large_1388947474_crop_300x460I am not the target audience of this novel. It revolves almost entirely around the drug-taking sub-culture in south London, and that’s definitely not my scene. Nor am I particularly enamored of the brisk yet also sometimes fastidiously detailed sex scenes, nor the veering between sparse details on one page and then extravagant description on another. I admit I skimmed portions of the novel.

The fact that I skimmed is actually a back handed compliment, because I did actually want to finish it. My description of it revolving around drugs is true, but a bit unfair, because the drugs are merely a gateway (if you will) into a story about modern colonialism: that is, how the corporations do it. It’s a thriller, so there’s chases and double crosses and sell-outs; shifty people and honest people and people who got caught in the cross fire. There’s also a pirate radio station, raves, and a dog. And the main character’s biology works on a 25-hour cycle; I still haven’t figured out whether I think this is entirely a gimmick, or if it’s a clever little bit of character development. I guess it could be both, but I am leaning towards ‘gimmick’ because except for making him want to sleep at odd hours (uh, like a lot of twenty-somethings) and function well in the middle of the night sometimes, it didn’t have that much impact.

If you are less squeamish (or prudish?) than me about drugs, and want a fairly fast paced thriller that includes corporate evilness, you could do worse than this. But calling Beauman one of the top new British novelists is, based on this example, a bit much.

Octopussy

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

Octopussy_-_UK_cinema_posterSummary: in which we get an Indian Cultural Showcase, a confusion of villains, and Q gets out into the field!

Alex: aaaaand we’re back to crappy Moore films. Once again a film takes us two sittings to get through. If we’d had popcorn I would have been throwing it at the screen.

See what they did with the film poster? I see what you did there!

The prologue starts in what I think is meant to be Cuba, at a horse race. There’s definitely a Castro analogue. Bond gets busted trying to blow something up, and captured; his lady accomplice distracts his guards by being very sexy. Bond gets rid of them by pulling their rip cords, because for some reason these soldiers in a jeep are wearing parachutes. Then he gets into a horse float… which turns out not to have a horse in it, but a folding plane.

This prologue was an omen of things to come. Bad things, confusing things, and eye-rolling things.

The plot of Octopussy is confusing because it’s unclear who the villain is. In For Your Eyes Only, there’s a twist to the villain, and that’s quite clever and neat. Here, there are several potential villains, all vying against each other, and the actual point of their villainy is sometimes confused. I have no problem with messy films that are trying for real-life verisimilitude. In a Bond film, however, it is out of place – and this is just messy, not clever-messy. Let me try to lay it out:

1. The Russians are fighting. General Gogol – head of the secret service? – is trying to convince the top brass that going along with NATO’s ideas of compromise is sensible. General Orlov, however, says nyet! (… sorry…) – because he’s a frothing-at-the-mouth expansionist. He may be my favourite character. Orlov has been selling Russian jewellery in the decadent West to fund his ventures, including – at the start of the film – a Faberge egg. He has a cunning plan to explode a small nuclear device on a US base in Germany, which will be confusing because there will be no trajectory! So NATO will be forced to completely disarm because they’re scaredy cats!! and Russia will take over the world!!! For this he needs…

30MaudAdams2. Octopussy. Leader of a smuggling ring that has branched out into, among other things, circuses (…?!?). Orlov will use Octo’s circus trains to get the bomb to the base. But Octo doesn’t know this; she thinks she’s just smuggling jewellery. Their connection was set up by…

octopussy_5-620x3. Kamal Khan. Suave, debonair, meant to be Indian but played by a French actor. (Sigh.) Kamal’s motives are… unclear. I think he’s ultimately just into money, because he’s never shown to be a true believer in the Soviet way or even especially interested in changing the world.

So at first Bond thinks he’s up against Kamal, because he’s chasing the origin of the Faberge egg that comes up at Sotheby’s (with a marvellous moment of egging the bidding on, giving his friend from the government a heart attack). Then it seems like Kamal is taking orders from a lady, with whom Bond ends up in bed. But then we see Khan reporting to a mysterious woman in a dressing gown with an octopus on the back – and we know she’s mysterious and powerful because we don’t see her face at this stage. We see Orlov and Khan chatting together so clearly they’re connected… then Bond goes to check out Octo’s island… and look. This is just confused, right? The villains are playing off against each other. Frankly I think this would be a better movie if it was entirely focussed on the villains and Bond just wasn’t in it. In fact, that would be an AWESOME movie.

Race: well, I was mighty sad Khan was played by a French dude. I really liked Louis Jourdain, don’t get me wrong – I think he’s delightful – but it’s not like there was a shortage of Indian actors (even Indian-American or Indian-British, I would have guessed) in 1983. It’s a throwback to Dr No.  Bond has an awesome Indian sidekick, Vijay, who gets some great lines and is delightfully engaging – and then he dies. Dead brown man alert! And then there’s that delightful line from Bond, when he’s spreading around some largesse: “This should keep you in curry for a few weeks.” Ho ho! The film does its cultural showcase thing with India as it has done with some of the other Exotic Locales the franchise has visited. When Bond arrives there’s a lingering shot of the Taj Mahal, which I’m going to guess is entirely incongruous from a geographical perspective. And then there’s the equivalent of the Winter Olympics scene from the last film: during a chase, we see a man lying on a bed of nails, sword swallowing, fire walking, fire twirling, and ‘gurus’. And then there’s hunting scene – hunting a tiger, on elephants, in the ‘burbs – where Bond swings on a vine and does the Tarzan yodel. I’m serious.

Gender: Octopussy only gets that name, and it’s a nickname from her father. The first main woman, Magda, is only named some minutes after Bond sleeps with her. Bond goes to visit Octo’s island after hearing that it’s women-only, to which Bond responds: “sexual discrimination! I’ll have to pay it a visit.” Way to go negating a real issue, film! Octo and Bond appear to be working on the same level for a while… until Octo says “we’re two of a kind” (hello theme song reference), and appears to be offering Bond a job. Bond gets snippy, Octo gets offended by his sanctimonious attitude and storms out – and Bond follows her and forces her to kiss him. She fights a bit and then gives in. Because it’s soooo sexy when a guy forces you to do something you don’t want! Also, we get a short scene with Moneypenny – and Moneypenny’s assistant, who is young an glamorous and whom Bond chats up and then realises it’s not Moneypenny. Oops. Moneypenny does a lovely line in snark, at last, and the assistant says somewhat drily that she’s been warned about him. Of course, when he leaves the room they both have a little sigh.

Also, there’s this:

octopussy-1352392876Oh Moore. The irony is probably lost on you.

James: You gentle reader might expect me to write things about a balloon with a Union Jack on it (and Q in it), or the TV watch which Bond uses to ogle a pretty young thing in Q’s lab, but the truth is … ZzZZZZZZZzzzzzzzzzzz…….. I fell asleep in this one… Slow, confused, no truly great gadgets or cars.  My favourite part ? This.

aligator

1 Martini

 

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