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 James Bond is back to fighting SPECTRE, often underwater. We’re back to being worried about atomic weapons, and the problematic nature of plastic surgery. Also, Nassau means bikinis, baby. Yeh.
Alex: This Bond moves firmly back into the SF zone with James Bond escaping from some villains at the start of the movie with the help of a jetpack. Seriously, the thing is straight out of the Jetsons. But because he is with A Girl, the jetpack is only useful to get him over a wall to the waiting car; then it’s into the DB5 and up with the bullet-proof screen. The prologue is a classic whack-a-villain sequence; in this instance the only immediate indication we have that the villain is such is that he is cross-dressing in an awesome blonde wig.
I love Tom Jones. This theme song is up there with my very favourites.
This movie sees Bond back to battling SPECTRE – and just like before, if you missed the one and only explanation for what SPECTRE stood for, tough cookies. Once again, Number 1 has no face, but he does have a ruthless streak as wide as the electric chair he utilises on someone who appears to be skimming proceeds. We’ve got a new Number 2: Largo, who proves to be a key player in this film. He has an eye patch. He is therefore, by default, evil.
Most of this film is again set in foreign locations – it opens in France and moves to Nassau – but there is a fairly long stretch in a sanitarium, where Bond is recovering from his last adventure. This involves canoodling his physical therapist. At least, he wants it to; she protests in rather strong terms, which nearly made me cheer. Then he is nearly killed while on a torture-rack-cum-massage-contraption, and in return for him not reporting her… well. Pretty sure that qualifies as blackmail, sir. You are a cad. The sanitarium also sees Bond just happen to come across a man who has been killed, who turns out to be someone else’s doppelgänger… which ends up being the key to the entire mystery. But I get ahead of myself.
While Bond is having massages, a NATO team is out flying a training sortie that involves two real live atomic bombs. Our doppelgänger has killed the real pilot and taken his place, then gasses the rest of the crew while they’re flying around. So he helps SPECTRE steal the bombs. But SPECTRE don’t really want the bombs for themselves – although they’ll probably detonate them anyway; it’s all about blackmailing the British government. For ONE HUNDRED MILLION pounds. (I can’t help but be reminded of Austen Powers.) And the way the government will signal that they agree to the plan? By making Big Ben strike 7 times, at 6pm.
I love the British.
Anyway, off to Nassau; Bond meets the dead pilot’s sister, who is Largo’s mistress and called Domino because she’s always in black and white; he eventually solves it all and they all live happily ever after. But there are some interesting things to comment on along the way… like the fact that Largo keeps sharks, which means I get to reference another XKCD comic! Also that he does not utilise the sharks that well, because Largo falls into that classic Bond pattern of the Gentlemanly Villain. There were so many opportunities for Largo to kill Bond, but when he’s come for lunch it would be soooo rude to push him into the shark pool, don’t you know.
Also in the Bond pattern: a new Felix Leiter! This time a fella who looks like the poor man’s Clint Eastwood, in sunglasses. Q turns up, in a Hawaiian shirt that hurts my eyeballs, and he and Bond go way beyond sparring into evincing quite withering dislike of each other. This hurt my heart a little. Bond’s main assistant in Nassau in female, and black. Naturally, she dies.
Bond gets around quite a few laydees in this film. One of them is with SPECTRE – Fiona – and I quite liked her. I particularly liked her when, after having sex with Bond and then the goons turn up to capture him, she totally calls Bond on that trope that I’m not allowed to name. Bond is snide and says he did it for King and Country, and she is contemptuous of the idea that sleeping with him would make her switch allegiance. Of all the unexpected things, Bond got meta on itself! I nearly cracked up when that happened! And then she died. Because Bond moved her into a bullet (again. This is a habit).
The one thing that really spoiled this film for me was the underwater fight scene at the end just going on toooo long. I’m guessing it was all new and exciting technology, but… it got a bit wearing. I was hoping for some fun when the sharks turned up, but even they were a bit boring.
Hey James, that underwater grenade scene. Would that actually have been as bad as Bond makes out?
James: Yes, water is incompressible so explosive underwater = very unpleasant and direct impact. Also … The nuclear bomb labelled “Handle like Eggs”? love it. I have to say, as a young man I enjoyed the underwater fight very much (which I have seen very many times), but on the re-watch it did rather drag on – 2.5 Martinis.
This book. Oh, this book.
It took me a few months to read this collection, this mosaic novel. This is no reflection on the quality of the book. Well, actually it is, but not the way you might think. See, I’d read a story, and then I’d be forced to close the book, sigh, and stare into space in order to wallow in the beauty of the prose. And then I’d have to go read something else, because (like with me and Gwyneth Jones’ Bold as Love series) sometimes too much beauty is painful and you need a break.
First off, look at that cover. Is she not glorious? are the colours not soothing and enticing? Created by the awesome Kathleen Jennings (who chronicles the saga of its production on her blog), I would absolutely have this on my wall. LOVE.
Angela Slatter and Lisa L Hannett created the contents. Writers who collaborate are even more of a mystery to me than authors who work alone, and to produce this sort of magic has to be just that – occult somehow. And they haven’t been content to just a straightforward story. Instead, as suggested above, this could be seen as a collection or a mosaic novel. A collection because it is made up of short stories that can basically stand by themselves. You could take one and put it in an anthology and it would still work ok. However – and here’s a metaphor I’m very pleased with – that’s like taking a candle out of a chandelier. Yes, it still sheds light. But when you put it with its fellow candles and they’re ringed with crystal, the whole effect is so much more just a few candles in one place. These thirteen stories, read together and in sequence (and wrapped in that art), are far more than the sum of their parts. Together, they create a history of an entire people: their origins, their interactions with humanity, their crises and triumphs, and the ongoing impact of a few families and their heirlooms. Thus, a mosaic novel – there is continuity, but it’s thematic and genetic; there’s only one character appears in or influences lots of the stories. I couldn’t help but be reminded of Edward Rutherford (London, Sarum) and James A Michener (The Source) following multiple generations in one place in order to fictively illustrate local history. Slatter and Hannett do just that… with magic. And Norse gods. Same amount of revenge though.
The premise, as set out in “Seeds,” is of Odin’s raven Munin (memory, here called Mymnir) surviving Ragnarok and setting out for Vinland (thought to be somewhere on the north-eastern corner of North America) with a few followers. Once she gets there, she creates an enclave and peoples it with servants, and sets out to rule it I guess like she learned from the Aesir she’s observed for however many centuries. Of course this does not go entirely well either for her or for her people. There’s love and betrayal, selflessness and vindictiveness; people get beaten up, rescued, married off, wooed… and some people even manage to make their own destinies. My estimate is that the stories take place over roughly a millennium, but that’s based entirely on the fact that that’s about how long ago it’s posited that Vikings did historically head off for Vinland and settle for a short span. The early stories take place in a sort of timeless, medieval-ish zone; from memory there are no dates in the first seven stories, and it feels like that sort of myth/fantasy where time itself is important but recording it is less so. Then, with “Midnight,” suddenly the external world exists and thrusts itself onto this dreamy place. From then on, time is relentless, and within 5 or 6 stories it’s the modern world. This development works mostly because although the stories do stand alone, there is continuity within families. Sometimes the names give them away, sometimes it’s an heirloom appearing, occasionally a reference to a past event. This often means that rather than having to struggle for a new emotional connection every time, the reader can build on the investment already made in the character’s family, from an earlier story. It’s the same reason Rutherford and Michener’s works can be successful.
And on top of all of this, the sheer beauty of the prose. I do not have the words to explain how delightful the words in this book are. It just all works.
Did I mention it’s an Australian production? Produced by Ticonderoga, in Perth.
You can get Midnight and Moonshine over at Fishpond. (Although it does ship from a US supplier.)
In which 2014 is officially a thing. Who saw that coming?
We’re back! How did you spend your summer? (yes, we know some of you spent it having winter, but honestly, is that our fault?)
Galactic Suburbia returns for a fresh new year of culture consumed, awards commentary, feminist snark and adorable baby gurgles.
Alex: On the Steel Breeze, Alastair Reynolds; Riddick; The Deep: Here be Dragons; Once Upon a Time: New Fairy Tales (ed Paula Guran)
Alisa: Haven S1 and S2; Star Trek; Kaleidoscope submissions (PhD)
Tansy: Terry Pratchett: The Witches (board game), The Hour Season 1, A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan; When we Wake; Courtney Milan romance novels.
Pet subject: Gearing Up for Hugo Nominations – what we’ve read, what we recommend, and what we still plan to get to before the deadline.
Alisa: Reading – Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie, Stranger in Olondria by Sofia Samatar, Coldest Girl in Cold Town by Holly Black
Alex: Saga; Ancillary Justice; Iron Man 3; still to watch Game of Thrones s3
Tansy: Still to read: Hild by Nicola Griffith, The Red by Linda Nagata, some novellas. Liz Bourke’s Sleeping with Monsters (Best Related Work or fan writer? Why doesn’t the Hugo have an Atheling?) Kirstyn McDermott’s Caution: Contains Small Parts. Supurbia (Graphic Story); The World’s End.
Galactic Suburbia Award!!
for activism and/or communication that advances the feminist conversation in the field of speculative fiction
Send us your suggestions and thoughts on who we should be looking at for the year that was 2013: blog posts, podcasts, GOH speeches and other awesome people talking about feminist stuff in interesting ways.
Please send feedback to us at firstname.lastname@example.org, 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!
These ones are for me, me I tell you! One of the first times I’ve altered a pattern; the original just had a single cable line down the middle, but after I’d done most of it I decided that was a bit boring, and not worth the glory that is this delightful yarn: 50% silk! I’m really looking forward to wearing these.
These are for a friend. She has much smaller hands than me, which is good because these are quite the squeeze on my hands. I wouldn’t have even tried to put them on except that I needed to check the length of the thumb…
Recently I’ve been really getting into the history of the women’s suffrage movement in Britain. There are professional reasons for this, but the reality is it’s been a simmering interest for a very long time. I don’t remember what grade it was, but I know I did a research essay on Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst at school – to my teacher’s complete not-surprise – and was quite inspired. It was probably the first time I had felt that voting was actually something I ought to be interested in. And every now and then when I get discouraged by Australian politics and wonder whether it’s worth voting… well, I remember that although it was easier in Australia, women all over the world fought incredibly hard to get someone like me the opportunity to cast a ballot. Who the heck am I to throw that back in their historical faces?
One of the books I got in a rash of purchasing last year was Sylvia Pankhurst: A Life in Radical Politics. I knew Sylvia had fallen out with her mother and sister, and she went on to form her own (somewhat amusingly named) suffrage organisation, ELFS (East London Federation of Suffragettes). Thanks to a biography of Emmeline Pankhurst I knew a bit more about her politics, and her daring/disgraceful child out of wedlock. I also knew, although I don’t remember why, that she was incredibly important to mid-century Ethiopia, of all (seemingly surprising) places. There is, though, a whole lot more to her than these nuggets.
Mary Davis states right out that her intention is not to write a standard biography. Instead, she is aiming to look particularly at feminism and socialism in Britain in the first half of the 20th century via Sylvia. (She calls her Sylvia throughout, and justifies this with pointing that there were four Pankhursts active at the same time as suffragettes, and Sylvia was not the most famous. She also acknowledges that this is a problematic choice, which delighted me for its frankness.) What this book does then is look first at the development of the WSPU (created by Emmeline and Christable Pankhurst, Sylvia also involved); and then how/why Sylvia broke away as her socialist views conflicted with her increasingly right-wing mother and sister. Sylvia worked to meld her feminism and socialism, although this was incredibly difficult – a whole bunch of trade unions wanted nothing to do with feminism or helping oppressed women. As in so many cases, some of the oppressed don’t want to change the system; they want to get to the top of it and take advantage of it. When women eventually got the right to vote (some in 1917, all in 1928) Sylvia was changing her focus to the proletariat – she was a firm supporter, early on, of the Russian Revolution, and was involved in the Communist Party (well, one of).
Socialism and feminism were, if not acceptable causes, at least ones that other people clearly identified with. But Sylvia was also committed to more intriguing causes, which had fewer proponents in Britain at least: like anti-racism, anti-imperialism and anti-facism. Her newspaper was apparently the first in Britain to have a black journalist write for it. She spoke out on Ethiopia’s behalf when Italy invaded. These things got her some flak, as can be imagined, in Britain. But Ethiopia invited her to live there in the 1950s, and Addis Ababa has a street named after her, and her son still lives there (or did in 1999 when the book was published).
I love a good bio. Sometimes they can wander aimlessly, and sometimes they can focus too much on one aspect of a life. Davis’ approach seems, to me, to be the best of both worlds. It doesn’t pretend to be exhaustive; it does focus on one aspect, but that’s the whole point. And I really liked that it pointed out some aspects of British history, too, like bits of labour history that don’t often make it into mainstream historical narratives. In fact this is pretty much a checklist for the history of oppression: workers and women and black people are all covered, and all shown to have vital and real histories. Who knew? This book is a really great way into these areas of history, especially the suffrage/socialism aspect (and it’s only 120 pages long!).
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: the greatest threat to the world is a gold-dealer who wants to irradiate the US’s stockpile of gold. Also, Pussy Galore has a Flying Circus. And Shirley Bassey manages to rhyme Midas with spider.
Alex: after two Cold War movies, we get one that’s entirely focussed on stopping a British citizen with a weird accent from destroying Britain and America’s ability to shore up the pound and dollar with their gold reserves. That’s an exceptionally weird premise for a movie made in 1964, and does not seem like the sort of thing that should lead to an exciting spy film of the sort surely already expected from the franchise.
Speaking of the franchise, this movie contains some of the most icon parts of the Bond oeuvre. It is in this film – in the opening sequence – that Bond zips out of a wetsuit to reveal a white tuxedo (after previously taking a fake duck off his head; it was his disguise). Felix Leiter is played by a different actor from the one that appeared in Dr No, hinting at the possibility that James Bond and his cohorts are not necessarily stable characters (… or that they’re Time Lords). Bond visits Q in his lair, and we get some snark and the admonition that the gear be returned in working order please, Bond. And Goldfinger and Bond share that immortal conversation:
Bond: Do you expect me to talk?
Goldfinger: No, Mr Bond, I expect you to die.
(Thank you, Randall, for this marvellous geeky take on the line). Bond also utters the phrase “heroin-flavoured bananas,” which for some reason hasn’t been as memorable.
There are several ladies featured in this film – more than in the previous two films together. Incidentally, Bond is making out with a nameless woman in the prologue when there’s an attempt at assassination (he sees the assailant reflected in her eyes, promptly turning her to take the
brunt of the blow); he’s being massaged by “Dink” when he encounters Leiter for the first time (he dismisses her with a smack on the butt because they’re dealing with “men’s business). More seriously, Bond seduces Jill Masterson when spying on Goldfinger (for whom she works) - she’s the one that ends up dead from being painted all in gold. He encounters her sister Tilly; they don’t have time to get it on before she’s dead, trying to kill Goldfinger in revenge. And then there’s… ahem… Pussy Galore. Played by
Honor Blackman, who by my reckoning might be the first appearance of someone who’s done the James Bond/Doctor Who double. Galore is a pilot, working for Goldfinger, and perfectly comfortable with his ostensible plan of making a very large amount of money by stealing it. Until she is wooed by Bond, that is, and SOMETHING MAGIC HAPPENS when they have sex but I’m not allowed to mention the trope that this is part of (even though James himself pointed it out during our viewing). What’s really awesome about Galore, though, is that she is entirely competent and self-assured (except when Bond is tripping her over and forcing himself onto her… which was way too close to that “she said no but she didn’t really mean it” thing… actually, it’s not CLOSE to it, it IS it.) And she runs a Flying Circus made up entirely of lady pilots, who are all also perfectly competent pilots, even in spite of having to wear black jumpsuits with serious Madonna cone bras underneath.
Yet again, this is not an entirely white film, which I still find intriguing. Of course, the roles for non-whites aren’t awesome… The best of them is Oddjob, Goldfinger’s manservant. Oddjob never really speaks; he grins a lot, and occasionally gestures while saying “Ah” – I’m not sure whether we’re meant to think this is Korean or what. Anyway, he has the coolest hat in the world, with a steel brim: he decapitates a statue with it, and knocks out Tilly Masterson (or possibly kills her. It’s not clear). There are also a lot of apparently-Korean servants running around to do Goldfinger’s bidding, none of whom speak, and a “Red Chinese” agent who has provided the dirty atomic bomb with which Goldfinger plans to irradiate Fort Knox.
Finally, in case we didn’t already know it, Bond is a snob. While having dinner with M and the head of the Bank of England, the latter deplores the brandy while the former doesn’t understand. Bond articulates its inferiority like he’s reading from a wine directory. But he’s also not above cheating, “playing games” with Goldfinger by switching his golf ball during their game of golf. Interestingly, he’s also shown as indecisive when faced with a ticking bomb. Obviously this was done to raise the tension – omg will Bond survive?!?!? – but the result is to make him dither over which wire to pull. And in the end, he’s not the one that disarms it. So he’s not all-knowing after all.
As a young fella growing up watching James Bond I have to confess to being much more interested in the Bond Gadgets than the Bond Girls so I enjoyed seeing the genesis of Q Branch and the start of a long interplay between Bond and Q himself. Also, hello DB5 … perhaps my favourite of all the bond cars – the very car used in the movie was sold recently. Goldfinger introduces another recurring Bond theme, the apparently accidental ‘car race’ vs a girl down a mountain road; another childhood favourite. 2.5 Martinis.
Some people will probably find this unbelievable, but I was disappointed by Riddick, the third in the Richard B. Riddick series.
Did Diesel and Twohy realise that Riddick was going to be such a badass when they named him Richard B. Riddick? It makes him sound like a cartoon character.
There are spoilers below, if you care.
I was disappointed to be disappointed, because I really like the first two films. I am so not the target audience of Pitch Black; I do not like horror, I do not tend to like creature features, I do not enjoy being scared. But Pitch Black… well, it has Claudia Black and Radha Mitchell, which helps. The planet and its creepy inhabitants are just so crazy that I liked them, and I found the interaction between the different sorts of characters – the scared, competent pilot; the wine snob; the drug-addicted cop; the imam; and the Riddick – quite enthralling. As for Chronicles of Riddick, I’m only a little embarrassed to say that I love this insane b-grade dystopic over-the-top sf action film. Hell, it has Karl Urban in awesome makeup, and it has mad sets, and Crematoria is spectacularly nuts as a planet. So going into Riddick, I thought – well, how bad can it be? From the ads it was clear they were taking the franchise back to the Pitch Black model, which is fine; I was expecting some equivalent fight scenes against humans and weird aliens, some snappy dialogue, maybe a plot. Also Katee Sackhoff!!
There were some entertaining bits, I’ll admit. That Riddick is now so notorious that mercenaries know his name, and the smart ones know to be terrified, allowed for some pretty amusing scenes. The aliens were indeed as weird and unlikely as I expected. There was a brief shot of Karl Urban in his eyeliner. Sackhoff (whose character is Dahl, which is a very unfortunate name) is kickass with a sniper’s rifle. That one of the mercenaries was actually there in order to get information about the drugged-up Johns from Pitch Black gave it something of a Die Hard 3 feel, which I really liked, and meant that it did actually tie into both parts of Riddick’s past. I was intrigued by the back-to-basics appearance of the film, back to the first appearance of Riddick; it seems to suggest that Riddick makes more sense in a mostly-fighting-animals world, rather than even pretending to fit in, or interact, with humanity like in the second. And that’s an idea worth exploring.
Oh, but. The first third or so of the film is basically Riddick-as-Robinson Crusoe, which was weird. Especially the bit where he domesticates a canine because… does that kind of make the dog a replacement for Jack/Kyra? Also, Riddick with a dog? That he feeds and cares for? ?!?!? That was all a bit odd. And then the movie proceeds to the fighting-the-mercenaries bit, which is where the vague plot actually starts. And Dahl arrives. In a very tight outfit, with belts and straps that emphasise her bust even more. And half the time when the dialogue involved her, it was someone being sleazy. Even Riddick himself gets in on it, which shocked me enormously. The merc on the other team – fine, I understand, he’s a douche; that’s been established already, he doesn’t like a woman being in authority over him, and she can deal with him. It’s not nice, but the writers seem to think that that helps to establish him as being Super Bad. However, I honestly don’t remember Riddick being sleazy or misogynist in the other films. Did I miss something? He’s totally big-brother to Jack/Kyra – actually, not even that to Jack, he’s completely dispassionate. Maybe there’s a moment of maybe-electricity with the pilot, Fry, but no suggestion that they make out, as far as I recall. The comment that Riddick makes towards Dahl is just so crude that I was disgusted. Over at The Mary Sue, the argument is that Dahl – established as lesbian early on, in a moment that impressed me – uses her last line as a come-on to Riddick. I actually didn’t read it this way; for me, it seemed to reflect the situation they were in (a very intimate embrace on a rope hanging from a plane). Maybe I’m just in denial.
I am glad I did not pay to see this, but got to see it at a friend’s house. That said, Diesel has just announced the fourth movie… which makes my prediction of Riddick: the Search for Furya (based on the final 60 secs of this film) all the more likely. If they can get Karl Urban back into his eyeliner, I probably will go and see it. Because I am weak like that.
This collection of stories is characterised by non-completion. By ellipses, gaps, loss of memory, tantalising hints of more, general incompleteness. In the stories themselves, in the people, in the world.
This turned out not to be the book I thought I was reading. Having adored The Islanders, I thought I was getting an earlier novel set in the same place. Uh, no. This is a set of short stories (including a couple of novellas): some set in the Dream Archipelago, some just referencing it. So I was quite discontent when I read the first ‘chapter’ – The Equatorial Moment – and accepted it as setting the premise for the book… and then realised that The Negation was quite separate, although with strong links. Don’t worry; I got over my disappointment.
“The Equatorial Moment” is not a story. It’s a vignette, explaining the very odd thing about this world: that there is a time vortex, which means it’s the same time everywhere on the world at the same time. It also means that flying somewhere is a rather difficult business. It also sets up that this world is experiencing a war, which – far more than issues to do with time – informs the entirety of this collection. “The Trace of Him” is also a vignette, of a lover and a funeral, that doesn’t really seem to fit the rest of the collection. It’s set in the Dream Archipelago, but that’s all.
Some of these stories are directly about the war, and its impact on soldiers and civilians. “The Negation” is framed around a draftee and his experiences, but also around an author whose art might be subverted by the war. (Its connection to the Dream Archipelago is tenuous – the novel that the soldier loves is set there.) This story was the first taste of incompleteness that flavours the rest, as Priest suggests and hints but does not fulfil. It’s marvellous. “Whores,” too, examines soldiers and civilians, through a different lens. This time the soldier has been granted leave due to sickness which manifests as synaesthesia; the civilians are women who have become whores because of the exigencies of war. This aspect, that the women are not simply whores but that they became such for real, usually economic reasons, and that they might also have other concerns, was a delight. Too often whores (and slaves) just exist in the same way that horses or dogs do, with no reference to what came before. So that worked. And there’s a tantalising question over whether the soldier in these two stories is the same man or not. The last story in the collection, “The Discharge,” also brings together art and war and ellipses. It’s the fullest exploration of the war that’s been affecting this world for a ridiculous amount of time, and makes it clear that ridiculous is exactly what it is. But then the narrator ends up in the Dream Archipelago, and starts exploring art… a type of art that has a genuinely visceral impact on its viewer by messing with the hypothalamus. And the story takes on a whole other layer and attacks a whole other idea. It’s maddening and glorious and a bit creepy.
You know that thing where you’re reading along, and you’ve been assuming something about the race, gender, location or attitude of a character and then something happens and you have to go back and read everything again to see whether you were stupid and made a mistake, or whether the author has been deliberately messing with you? That was “The Miraculous Cairn” for me. And I’m pretty sure the answer is the latter. It’s set half on the mainland and half on an island; half in the present and half in the past; and it’s a horror story. One of those slow, creeping horror stories that might not be a horror story but probably is. Gave me the shivers, anyway, and is the exemplar of non-completion. It has nothing to do with the war. Neither does “The Cremation,” which is set more fully in the Archipelago and whose horror aspects stem directly from that fear of not knowing the local traditions and attitudes and behaviours. It works all too well. Also largely separate from the war is “The Watched,” whose horrific nature really only comes through in the last few pages. Before that, it definitely has its creepy elements but they’re not the focus (although on reflection perhaps that ought to have made it more creepy…). The tantalising gaps in this story are the sort of thing that in another author’s hands would just indicate a lack of imagination, or pages where they’ve simply deleted “MUST ADD MORE INFO HERE”. Instead, the reader is left just as much in the dark as Ordier about the society of the Qataari, his object of frustrated fascination. What makes the novella really work is that this fascination, while at the heart of the story, is not its sole preoccupation. Ordier – living in the Dream Archipelago but not a native, having left the mainland and his war-related work – lives a relatively ordinary life with a girlfriend whose job is demanding and disappointing, and we get many pages of relatively ordinary life along with Ordier’s growing obsession. This adds to the creepiness but it’s not just there as filler; actually I would have been happy reading about Ordier and Jenessa and their experiences, they’re so intriguing. Which is why it works as a novella.
Are they SF? Is this fantasy? No. The collection is set on a different world, yes; but there’s no exceptional technology – it would be easy to read much of it as set in a generic olde worlde rural setting until you get references to planes, grenade launchers and microwaves. There’s also no magic; the time vortex just exists, and except for stuffing around with air travel doesn’t actually impact on life. The people are human, with nothing special about them. This is just… a world. But I would still argue that it counts as speculative fiction, because I am contrary like that.
This is not the sort of collection I can imagine reading again. The stories are demanding, they’re frustrating, and I think they may only work once. But that once was pretty glorious.
I have been a fan of Robert Holdstock for a while, both for the Mythago Wood series and his Merlin/Jason and the Argonauts books, which I still haven’t finished… oops… I’ve had this book on my shelf for a very long time, and as part of my effort to deplete the TBR pile I’ve finally got around to it.
Interestingly, this reminded me of two books. Firstly, the idea of a planet with weird time distortions of course calls to mind Dan Simmons’ Hyperion Cantos; this came first, and I can’t help wondering about influence. Secondly, there’s also a similarity to Kress’ Steal Across the Sky, this time in its attitude toward the alien. Aliens were a means to an end for Kress, allowing her to explore different aspects of humanity or society; VanderZande’s World allows Holdstock to do the same. The people are there because of the time winds that rips ng things from the past and the future and deposits them in the present (and presumably other times as well, but let’s not think too hard about that)… but this oddity is mostly just a vehicle for Holdstock to explore humanity.
Humanity have settled on this world partly to explore, and learn to understand the time winds, and partly to colonise. The first is the focus of the story, although the second is touched on and is one of the most interesting issues. The main narrative focuses on a rifter – a man whose purpose is to investigate the stuff appearing after the time wind has blown through. His world starts to go a bit pear-shaped when a new recruit joins his team. Holdstock is interested in how people deal with stress, and how this impacts on relationships, and gradually reveals more of Leo’s life and issues. Of course, things aren’t even as normal-life complex as they initially appear, and Holdstock makes the issues of the past come through in such a way that makes complete sense with what has already been revealed.
Alongside this narrative, Holdstock gives tantalising hints at the world he imagines. It would be human-compatible, but its organic life creates pollens that are toxic. There are two responses to this issue (well, three, because there are also the people who don’t bother to try and settle there): the colonists who are hoping to eventually evolve to the point of unassisted survival; and the manchanged, colonists who have artificially intervened into themselves in order to live without assistance now. The hostility between them is barely examined, but adds depth to the overall narrative as well as depressing believability.
The one problem I had with this book was about the last 20 pages. They felt rushed and forced, and wrapped up an issue in a way that neither felt integral nor necessary. So that left a slightly sour taste in my mouth, which is unfortunate given I enjoyed the rest of it.