Author Archive: Alex

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

 

Galactic Suburbia 103

In which we talk harassment policies, upcoming publishing projects, Hugo reading and more! You can get us at iTunes or over at Galactic Suburbia.

News

Update on the Elise Matthesen harassment case from Wiscon 2013.

Anna Tambour collection – The Finest Ass in the Universe to be published by Twelfth Planet Press in July 2015

Kaleidoscope Table of Contents including Tansy’s story Cookie Cutter Superhero

What Culture Have we Consumed?

Alex: finished Fringe; Orphan Black season 2; Europa Report; Hugo reading: finished the novelettes, most of the novellas and shorts. Bikes in Space vol 2

Tansy: The Two-Hearted Numbat, Ambelin & Ezekiel Kwaymullina; Romanitas by Sophia McDougall, The Machine; The Musketeers;

Alisa: ON HOLIDAYS AND ONLY KNIT And Orphan Black, random PhD update of sorts

Thanks to Patreon supporters so far – we’ve hit our first milestone! To keep us Going!!! Our next milestone: quarterly spoilerific book/media club episodes become a regular feature.

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!

Bikes. In. Spaaaaace

This should be being talked about more.

bikesinspace2_web-295x440I came across Elly Blue courtesy of the Kickstarter folks featuring her in their weekly newsletter – as a result of which I now always take the time to at least skim that email, just in case there are other little nuggets of pure gold. Blue publishes a quarterly zine that focusses on “the feminist bicycle revolution,” and if that doesn’t sound awesome then I… have no other words. Taking the Lane looks at different aspects of cycling culture, and the original Bikes in Space was meant to be just a fiction edition of the zine. And then, from what I can tell from her website, it kinda grew. Such that this issue was published outside of the quarterly schedule (I believe), and as a book rather than as a zine. And there’s a third volume in the works.

It’s a cute little product – goes well with the Twelve Planets books; I don’t know who did the physical publishing but it feels nice and well-made. I love the cover! And the stories… well.

“Racing the Drones” is a nod to bike couriers everywhere, and the advantages they have over other forms of delivery. “The Sassy Chassis Lassies and the Devolution Revolution” makes comment on road etiquette – and the frequent lack of it from cars – as well as the freedom offered by bikes. “Winning is Everything” looks at a woman defying a male status quo, while “Grandma Takes Off” features a very awesome older lady. I have named my bicycle, so “Tabula Rasa” – about forming an emotional connection to your ride – worked for me; “Bikes to New Sarjun” is incomplete but takes up the idea of bicycles and charity and government intransigence. And Elly Blue herself addresses that bane of the cyclist’s life, butt-dialling.

“From an Interview with the Famed Roller Sara Zephyr Cain” is one of my absolute favourite stories. There is so much going on here, like hints at some sort of post-apocalyptic world, and tantalising ideas of genetic modification. But more profoundly, it’s a discussion about gender – choosing it, and dealing with people’s reactions to that. I’d love to hear what transwomen think of the story. Another of my favourites was “Midnight Ride,” which takes as its theme the freedom offered by cycling – and whether that can be inclusive (it is a little sentimental but/and I think it’s done nicely). And then there’s “The Bicycle Maker,” a lovely little story set well into the future, where humanity – at some point before they disappeared – delegated bicycle-making to a machine of some sort. And what’s that machine to do when there are no humans to ride its bikes?

But I don’t like bikes!

Tch. Come on. The bikes are always present, but they don’t necessarily play a huge role in the plot; sometimes they are simply there as transportation – although, of course, the use of bikes is often in itself a political statement. Which is part of the point of this anthology. Trust me, this is not a legit excuse.

You can buy this (and its predecessor, which I got as part of the Kickstarter and haven’t read yet) over here. 

For Your Eyes Only

 

MV5BOTEwNzY5OTgyNl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMDAxNzczNA@@._V1_SY1023_CR26,0,630,1023_AL_This review is part of Project Bond, wherein over the course of 2014 we watch all of the James Bond movies in production order.

Summary: in which Tywin Lannister Charles Dance has a non-speaking role as a thug, Walter Donovan Grand Master Pycelle Julian Glover is a double-dealing villain, and James Bond refuses to have sex with a young woman. There’s a plot in there somewhere, too.

Alex: First of all: WHAT THE HELL is with that promo poster?? There is… I can’t… there are no words.

james-bond-for-your-eyes-only-1981-title-stillSecond of all: I’m really sorry, Moonraker. It turns out I maligned you, because there is a worse theme song than yours, and it’s this one. I don’t remember 1981 except that I got a brother, so I don’t know whether Sheena Easton was just All That, but this is the first (…and only?) Bond in which the singer actually makes an appearance in the credits sequence (I was going to say that she’s lucky to be wearing clothes, because none of the rest of the women are, but actually I’m not sure I can say, definitively, that she is). And it’s just… forgettable.

This movie has perhaps the oddest, and weakest, opening of any Bond. Bond goes to put roses on Theresa Bond’s grave, and then his helicopter is hijacked by a bald man whose face we never, in a wheelchair. This is clearly meant to be Telly Savalas’ Blofeld, and I guess that means Bond throwing him (wheelchair and all) down an industrial chimney is meant to be just retribution or something? It’s weird, and without context quite uncomfortable. The helicopter aerobatics, and the cinematography of that section, is indeed spectacular.

Anyway, the film itself is about attempts to recover an ATAC – device that orders submarines to launch ballistic missiles – from the ocean floor off Albania. Of course the Russians want it as much as the Brits want it. This leads to the Havelocks – underwater archaeologists – being killed, in front of their daughter Melina’s eyes, which in turn leads to this masterclass in acting (you have to imagine the camera steadily getting closer in):

ForYourEyesOnly_2… and also leads Melina to declare that Greek women, “like Elektra,” always want revenge. Because that worked out so well for Elektra.

1857-3Bond ends up working with a Greek businessman, Kristatos (Julia Glover), who tells him that his former comrade in arms (Columba, played by Topol) is responsible. But surprise! It turns out to have been Kristatos all along! Columba is just an honest smuggler – he would never deal in heroin, or deal with those Ruskies. While we’re here: Columba is totally adorable. Always with the munching on pistachios!

I’m a bit worried that I am acquiring an immunity to Roger Moore, because I actually rather liked this film. This feels like a problem. There were still lots of issues – I’m getting there! – but the plot itself mostly worked (except for Melina leaving an oxygen tank on the ocean floor for no reason at the start of the film, and then OH LOOK it’s there when they need it at the end… oh right, and that bit where the parrot disclosed where the villains were heading). The pacing was pretty good, and – oh heck – even Moore was ok. In the accompanying features, Michael Wilson makes the point that they felt like Bond needed to literally and figuratively “come back to Earth” after Moonraker, and so they made this… dare I say it… grittier. So perhaps this is approaching the feel of my first Bond, Brosnan? Or yeh, maybe I’m infected with something.

1981-bibi-lynn-holly-johnson-for-your-eyesBut it’s not all sunshine and skittles! Of course I got cranky! Where to start… hmm… how about Moneypenny? Sprung putting on some lippy at the time she’s expecting Bond. Now I love Lois Maxwell a lot, but she has aged a lot since she started as Moneypenny, and while I have no problem with older ladies flirting with anyone they like (in a responsible, consensual manner), I do have a problem with the writers making her look pathetic at lusting after a man for nigh on 20 years, like this. She’s better handing out the snark and being arch. Then there’s Bibi – oh Bibi. A young, bubbly, blonde, ice skater – Kristatos’ ‘protege’ (aaaand all the eyebrows shoot up). Lynn-Holly Johnson is a fine enough actress given the circumstances, but Bibi actually has no role in this film. Actually no role. She serves no plot purpose. She does two things for characters: first, she makes Bond look marginally less like a womaniser because he refuses to sleep with her (oh so magnanimous), and then – when we already know Kristatos is the villain – she has the throw-away line “I know what you want. You’re too old for me.” So she makes one man look good, and one look bad. But those things are already established by other aspects of the film, so she’s irrelevant. Except, as James points out, as eye-candy…. There’s a “countess,” Lisl, whose role consists of sex for Bond and a bit of information on the side, and then she’s killed. The main woman, though, is Melina. She gets involved because she wants revenge (see above); she helps Bond out of difficult situations a few times, and he rewards her by bullying her out of her plans. I would have no problem with Bond saying “look lady, I’m trained for this, plus I have no compunction about killing, so maybe I could help you not die in getting revenge?” But Bond ordering her to leave, without explaining who he actually is – yeh, that’s just rude and high-handed. I was also cranky at the scene in the sleigh where they’re giving conflicting orders to the driver and the driver listens to Bond. And when they stop arguing, he looks over his shoulder and sighs “Amore!” um NO. Really NO. Anyway, she gets to be competent – she’s a skilled scuba diver, she knows her father’s codes, she navigates the 2-man sub, and she’s a dab hand with a cross bow. So that’s something.

Worth noting: M is “on holidays” while these events take place, so Bond has to deal with the Minister and some random flunky. And this is because Bernard Lee died at the start of 1981, so presumably he was already sick and/or too old while filming was going on. Very sad, and I’m therefore on fire to see whether/how they replace M for the next four movies, given the glory that is Dame Judi Dench with Brosnan.

James: Is this the part where I write about all the awesome stereotypically boy parts of the film which Alex has neglected ? Why yes it is.  Basically this is everything that happened in the film anyway. First the car … a For_Your_Eyes_Only_-_The_Lotus_explodesLotus Esprit Turbo which meets a quick end in the film when one of the thugs trips the ‘car alarm’ and self-destructs the car – angular, 80s and cool.

Next we have a winter sports montage chase scene where Bond and his pursuers take part in four or five winter olympic events on a mix of skis, motorbikes and feet; the ski jump and the luge are the highlights.  Out of the snow and into the water via the for-your-eyes-only-neptune-submarineNeptune mini sub searching for the secret (but tracked by the Russians and quite obviously not secret) British ship with the ATAC – this section of the film culminates in a hilarious fight against an enemy with a comically HUGE diving suit getting his head literally blown off by a limpet mine Bond just happens to have from the ATAC unit.SUPERSUIT  Finally we get some modern technology too in the form of Q’s new identigraph-blog-hostalia-hostingidentigraph system which takes a series of very Tron (or is it logo writer) graphics and suddenly punches out a face on a 9pin dot-matrix impact printer using nothing but ASCII characters (with the identity and dossier also of course).  The movie finished up with a suspense filled infiltration of a cliff top monastery, culminating with a dying 500px-For_Your_Eyes_Only_-_Kristatos_gets_knifed_by_Columbo.Columbo saving Bond and Melina from Kristatos, saving her from the previously mentioned revenge task of digging two graves.  Oh, wait…  vlcsnap-2012-10-20-16h50m05s64Bond and Melina kiss at the end; come on it’s James Bond people.

2.5 Martinis

Valour and Vanity

I continue to adore these books. That’s all you really need to know, right?

Valour-and-VanityThis is the fourth book in the Glamourist Histories, in which Mary Robinette Kowal creates an alt version of the English Regency period and gives it ‘glamour’, a form of magic that is generally used to decorate the sitting rooms of the gentry but which can also (we discovered in the last book) be used to create cold, and which maybe just might have military uses as well. I think this book could stand by itself – glamour isn’t that hard to comprehend and the relationships between the two main characters, Jane and Vincent, and their respective families are both spelled out and not vitally important to the plot. But of course, WHY would you want this book to stand by itself? Just read all of them!

If you haven’t yet read the series, there was a spoiler in the first paragraph – sorry – Jane and Vincent end up married. But come on, this is an historical romance with magic; yes I’m sure ‘grimdark’ has made its mark on that genre somewhere, but it’s not here and that’s quite nice, thankyouverymuch. So things generally end up nice at the end… but if you’ve never read this genre and you assume this means everything is always roses, HECK NO. Kowal is quite happy to put her characters through very nasty events. Here, Jane and Vincent are off to visit Murano (near Venice) to visit the glassblowers, but their ship is hijacked and they end up penniless in Murano. In a world without fast communication or access to emergency funds, in a country where they know no one. They’ve never been filthy rich, but neither of them have ever struggled like this before.

There are many things I loved about this novel.

1. Jane and Vincent’s relationship. How often do we get beautiful, complicated married relationships at the core of a story? Where although they’re hitched, there’s still romance… and where complications are real and frightening but working them out is a real and worthwhile goal. I just love this portrayal of love in marriage, not least because it’s not perfect. Both of them do detrimental things, but it’s not the end of the world – and it’s not simply ignored, either, but worked out and worked through.

2. Jane. Jane Jane Jane. Determined, fragile, strong, plucky, innocent, smart. And with marvellous flashes of feminism – she knows Mary Wollstonecraft, hurrah.

3. “The magical adventure that might result if Jane Austen wrote Ocean’s Eleven.” That’s from the blurb, and forgets that Austen didn’t write magic, but anyway whatever. Yes, the plot. Oh my goodness. A heist! Double dealing, shenanigans, gondolas and magic and puppeteers (heh – Kowal is one herself) and nuns. Also international conspiracies and disguises and Byron.*

4. The prose. It’s delightful and ever so readable and captures the places and people beautifully. I don’t love fashion – I’m closer to Vincent than to Jane in my reaction to the necessity to purchase clothes – but Kowal’s attention to detail and simplicity of description amuse even me.

5. It’s not the same as the others. I’d probably still read it, even if it was the same sort of adventures over and over again, but it’s not. Well, there are similarities – difficulties to be overcome, new people to meet and either befriend or contend with – but Jane and Vincent do actually grow and develop over time, and the sorts of problems they face are also different.

6. Issues. This series makes no claims to tackling major issues, but they certainly do not ignore them. The class issues have been present, sometimes as undercurrent and sometimes overtly, from the start – never solved, but certainly problematised. Race appeared as a serious issue in the last book and is acknowledged here as well. Gender is always an issue; that Jane is competent and works as a glamourist, that Vincent is excelling in a traditionally feminine sphere – both of these continue to be part of the complex society presented, along with other problematic aspects of gender relations in the period.

You can get Valour and Vanity over at Fishpond. And you want to. Seriously.

*Don’t worry, not a lot of Byron. Just enough to be amusing but not enough (in my opinion) to get eye-rolly.

Secret Lives

L. Timmel Duchamp says that Love’s stories consist of “fairly plain words (and never very many of them),” in her introduction to this collection. That might sound like faint praise indeed, except that the rest of the introduction praises those same words’ “amazing, amusing magic” – and she’s right. It’s also why, when Alisa Krasnostein (of Twelfth Planet Press, who put this collection out – yes, fair dealing, she’s a friend) asked what I thought of it I had to pause, and think through my response. Which initially concerned her, I think, but my hesitation wasn’t about “how do I tell my friend I didn’t like the book?” but “how do I my feelings into words?” It was compounded by the fact that I read the collection in very fast time (two and a bit tram rides, to be exact) – it is only 80 pages long, in the cute little format that all of the Twelve Planets have come in.

SecretLives-cover-01-115x188So what did I think? Well, most of the stories feel pretty easy to read, thanks to that simplicity of prose Duchamp identifies and the fact that there’s no padding in any of them. Most of them, though, are likely to sneak around to the back of your head and whack you one to make you realise that simplicity of prose is by no means the same as simplicity of purpose, or theme, or consequence.

“Secret Lives of Books” has the most straightforward narrative structure of the stories here. Ritchie is dying, and his books have always been of far more importance to him than human relationships. So, simple: after death, go live with the books. In the books. But as he whispers to his ex-wife Luisa: Books suck your blood. How will they respond to this invasion, and how will they react when their existence might be threatened? And when they find out about the internet? … A simple narrative, yes, but a provocative probing into our relationship with books and with other people, and with the concept of knowledge. I read once a (mostly tongue-in-cheek) suggestion that humanity was the weapon grasses like wheat utilised in order to fight the trees. I was reminded of that, here.

True fact: I have never heard of Kiddofspeed. Turns out this is a real thing, a website where Elena Filatova discussed riding a motorbike through the area around Chernobyl, post-disaster. In “Kiddofspeed” Love does a glorious job of interrogating the question of fact v fiction, and especially the question/issue of how the internet makes the casual reader’s understanding of the line between these two things so much harder. If it’s on the internet it’s true, right? If I say it is? (I’m put in mind of this article suggesting/explaining that Tom Cruise did not, actually, jump like a mad thing on Oprah’s couch – well, not how most of us “remember” him doing so, anyway.) Love also has a dig at some of the wilder “theories” about Chernobyl, and shoots them down in very few, scathing, words.

A qasida is “a form of lyric poetry from Arabia about the pain of lost love” – at least so says the prologue to the story of the same story, and coming straight after “Kiddofspeed” there is part of me that pauses and wonders whether the entire collection might be playing some sort of grand didactic prank… but surely not. (Right?) This story flicks between Bronnie, living now and with the knowledge that Mars-obsessed Del is lost, and Livia Wynne – general fixer for the British Empire in its last gasp, after the First World War. I could completely spoil the narrative (Del is on Mars) and not spoil the story. I haven’t, promise. (And because it’s on the internet….) Relationships, the quest for knowledge, the (im)possibility of cross-cultural understanding, the drive to go, the complexity of language: all of these are touched on, lightly but generally profoundly.

“The Kairos Moment” is probably my least favourite story. I don’t dislike it, it just doesn’t work for me like the others. ‘Kairos’ is the Greek term (apparently… who me, paranoid?) for a moment of something wonderful happening. The narrator theorises that music is one method by which to achieve a kairos moment, and proceeds – as part of her research (I just realised I’m assuming it’s a her – I don’t think it’s revealed) – to try and create one. It’s not entirely straightforward, nor entirely a healthy experience for some.

The final story is

The slut and the universe

or

The relations between feminism, global warming, global financial meltdown,

asteroid impact, the nuclear arms race and the mass extinction of species.

or

How feminism got to be both the root of all evils and the means of salvation from them.

It opens with “One upon a time, there will be a young girl who live with her family in the middle of the woods.” Can you tell this is my favourite story? Marysa lives with her mother and her grandmother. They argue about the clothes she wears, with the word ‘slut’ bandied around – “Not that they mean Marysa is a slut… [but that she] has chosen to dress like a slut, and therefore… people she meets… will treat her like a slut and TAKE ADVANTAGE” (68). A condemnation of slut-shaming in a page of prose, hell yes. And then they get on to the patriarchy and all of the things suggested in the multiple titles. With Gaia along to stir up the conversation a bit. The narrative is tenuous, true; there are hints of a world that has gone bad (worse than ours at the moment anyway), and the relationships between the three generations. The focus is absolutely on conversation and argument between the four. It’s a place for Love to set up ideas and be provocative and maybe even extreme, and I loved it.

This collection is awesome. You should buy it. 

Galactic Suburbia 102

terri-icon-cropIn which Alex and Tansy debrief Alisa on their ContinuumX hijinks, and a crowdfunding scheme unfolds… please admire our lovely new logo thanks to longtime listener Terri and her ninja cupcake skills! You can get us at iTunes or Galactic Suburbia.

News

Ditmars, Norma, etc etc. Con report! Book launches, panels…
Literary Guests of Honour: Ambelin Kwaymullina & Jim C Hines (speeches not available online yet, will link when we can)
Check out also the great Continuum X Twitter Storify
As mentioned by Ambelin in her GOH speech, the Australia Council guidelines on writing about Indigenous culture and people, which were formulated by Indigenous people.

What Culture Have we Consumed?
Alisa: The Gods of Wheat Street; Vaginal Fantasy (The Lions of Al-Rassan, Guy Gavriel Kay);
Alex: Kitty and Cadaver, Narrelle M Harris; Vanity and Valour, Mary Robinette Kowal; Vox Day and Ted Chiang; Edge of Tomorrow (and X Men: Days of Future Past)
Tansy: Lightspeed Magazine Women Destroy Science Fiction, Seanan Maguire “Each to Each.”

And our cake logo winners! It’s Terri! Because we never knew how much we needed to be a cupcake until we became one. We hope we were delicious.

New way to support Galactic Suburbia via our Patreon page – help us cover our running costs, & if we hit $50 per podcast we will commit to regular Spoilerific Club podcasts! plus other incentives, for you and for us.

You may also be interested in these other Patreon campaigns:
Tansy’s Musketeer Space project.
Terry Frost’s Paleo-Cinema Podcast page, also inspired by the crowdfunding panel at ContinuumX!

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

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