Author Archive: Alex

Dungarees

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Yes, I knitted some.

These were… epic. For me. One of the more involved projects I’ve undertaken, because the legs are all moss stitch. It wasn’t actually hard (although some of the instructions didn’t make that much sense), but – yeh. They took a while. Not sure I’ll make them again unless someone very, VERY dear to me has a toddler. And even then they better be pretty darn cute.

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The Three-Body Problem

What on earth can I say? If I said “Liu Cixin is like a Chinese Greg Egan” that gives some idea of the complexity of the science… and I cannot imagine what it must have been like for Ken Liu to translate those sections.

UnknownThe focus of the novel is split over a few characters and periods:
Some of it is set in the Cultural Revolution of the 60s, and explores some of the consequences of this for academics in particular, via one woman and her family. I have taught this era (only once, but that’s better than naught), so I have no idea what the average reader would bring to this – and especially not what an average American reader would think. Ken Liu has done a good job of providing some footnotes with explanations, without (I thought) interrupting the flow of the narrative too much. A young woman, Ye, whose family was targeted ends up working at a mysterious scientific/military outpost…

Some is set in a ‘present’ that I don’t remember being identified, but is not one of William Gibson’s ‘tomorrows’ – it felt perfectly normal. Here, a scientist starts encountering weird things and gets drawn into an investigation that turns out to be even weirder than expected, and involves the whole world (there are scenes involving the Chinese military brass and NATO officers which had me shaking my head at the possible ramifications).

Some it is set in-game: the scientist, Wang, starts playing a game called Three-Body Problem – which it took me ages to realise is the conundrum of how to figure out the physics of three bodies interacting with each other gravitationally (it’s been a while since I thought physics, ok?). The game is connected to the investigation and also allows Liu to write THE most hilarious description of people physically being a computer ever, and this from someone whose knowledge of computational logic is non-existant (NAND and NOR gates? I admit my eyes glazed over somewhat…).

Some of it is set… elsewhere… not telling where.

I liked Ye a lot; the complexities of being first condemned, and then being considered useful but still politically unreliable, then rehabilitated into society – it’s done very nicely. I didn’t like Wang as much, which I think was mostly to do with his attitude towards his wife and son: basically he ignored them, and I found this quite unpleasant. Da Shi, a policeman involved in the investigation, is magnificent and is the character I would most like to see in a mini-series version of the book.

I had heard that some people thought there was a lot of emphasis on the Cultural Revolution, so I was surprised to find that for me, at least, it’s not actually a very big part of the story – page-wise anyway. It’s certainly of fundamental importance in Ye’s development, don’t get me wrong, but there’s definitely far more time spent in the present (and probably more time spent in-game by one of the characters, although I haven’t checked the page numbers to confirm that).

I am beyond impressed that this made it on to the Hugo ballot (yes yes after one of the Rabid nominees pulled out). I’m really glad it did, since it made me read it sooner than I otherwise would have. I really enjoyed it. There are some parts where, as with a Greg Egan novel, I skimmed over some science because I just can’t come at the physics anymore. But that wasn’t a problem with understanding the plot or the characters, and actually – especially considering this is a translation – much of the science-speak was quite accessible. (Ken Liu has an interesting discussion of the issues of translation at the end of the version I read, which was in the Hugo packet; it’s a very thoughtful essay about staying true to the vibe of the thing as well as/instead of staying true to the actual words and phrases used.) I discovered only when I got to the end that this is the first in a trilogy… I believe I may well be reading the rest.

But who am I going to put first on my Hugo ballot?!?

Beauty, by Sheri Tepper

Sheri Tepper looked at a map showing the boundaries of different genres and, taking a fine black marker, drew her own shape instead.

1001098._UY200_Fantasy: there’s magic and faeries and they’re a real part of the world.
Science fiction: time travel and a dystopian future are integral to the plot.
Fairy tale retelling: the titular character is meant to be Sleeping Beauty (… and that phrase should be understood in a couple of different ways).
Horror: a couple of sections, for my tastes anyway.
Christian allegory: tied in with the Faery aspects, they work quite nicely.
Bildungsroman: the novel covers pretty much the entirety of Beauty’s life.
Environmental cry for help: the future is a horrible place unless we get on with changing things NOW.
Family drama: oh yes. Oh my yes.

I know there are other authors who do similar things, but it’s rare to find such a magnificent combination of elements that are traditionally ‘fantasy’ (faery, fairy tales, etc) with those that are science fiction (time travel in particular). I can absolutely see why Tepper is being honoured with the World Fantasy Lifetime Achievement Award, and this is the first of her books I’ve read (… I’m pretty sure…). There is just no question for her that of course a dystopia can coexist with the concept of magic, that fairy tales can be reworked together with time travel.

14th-century Beauty lives with maiden aunts and her father, when he’s not off crusading. Her mother died in childbirth, or so she’s been told, but when her father intends to marry again, she discovers that maybe things are weirder than expected. And then things get really weird when she encounters people from the future and she is whisked away with them, to a decidedly brutal and unpleasant future of billions of people, little room to move and less food. She doesn’t stay there, but ends up travelling… elsewhere…

Look, I can’t say too much else about this book because finding all the amazing twists and turns is an absolute joy. Tepper writes beautifully, at times grimly; she constructs a complex character in Beauty and surrounds her with genuinely varied friends and foes and family. SO MUCH happens in fewer than 500 pages. It’s magnificent.

Galactic Suburbia 122

You can get us from iTunes or at Galactic Suburbia.

Continuum 11 debrief: panels and programme stuff we loved.

Tansy’s Guest of Honour speech: Fantasy, Female Authors & the Politics of Influence.

FictionMachine announcement: Something New Can Come Into This World, a book of film essays by Grant Watson.

Discussion piece: “Stop Asking Is This Feminist” at the Mary Sue.

What Culture Have we Consumed?

Alisa: Prep for the Alice Sheldon’s 100th Birthday Spoilerific episode in August: James Tiptree Jr: The Double Life of Alice Sheldon, Julie Phillips; Tiptree’s short stories – read “Houston, Houston Do You Read?”, “Your Faces, O my Sisters, your Faces filled of Light!”; Call the Midwife S1 -3

Alex: All Men of Genius, Lev AC Rosen; Prudence, Gail Carriger; Aurora, Kim Stanley Robinson; Jurassic World

Tansy: Lois Lane: Fallout, by Gwenda Bond; Uprooted, by Naomi Novik, “Waters of Versailles” by Kelly Robson, illustrated by Kathleen Jennings; Once Upon A Time Seasons 1 & 2

Alex is reading fiction for Hugo voting next episode!

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 (http://www.patreon.com/galacticsuburbia) and don’t forget to leave a review on iTunes if you love us!

The Duke and I

Or, I read a (…nother…) Julia Quinn novel and quite liked it.

 I am not a connoisseur of Regency romance (having only read… one? maybe two?) before this, so I have no idea what conventions Quinn might be playing, breaking, or taking outrageous advantage of. So I can only comment on the book itself, not its place in the genre.

duke-uk_276Did I know basically what was going to happen within the first chapter?
Yup.

Did the book still serve up a few surprises?
Yes, a couple. They were quite fun, actually, since most of the plot was predictable.

Did I enjoy reading it?
I read it in a sitting. So, yes. The writing is light and witty, winsome and undemanding. I liked the alternating perspective between Our Romantic Heroes. I liked (sorry Gail Carriger) that there wasn’t a big emphasis on the clothes, nor the food. I like banter, and this has quite a lot.

What about the characters?
Daphne is a forthright, sensible woman who holds out little hope of romance but would at least like to like her husband. She comes from a big, loving family. I liked her, overall; I was a bit disappointed by her eagerness to marry and have children as the be-all, but: a) why not? She’s allowed to desire that; b) as we’re reminded early on, she’s not allowed to go to university if she wants to, and she can’t aim for an awesome career – partly because she’s female, and partly because she’s gentry and they just… don’t work.

Simon had a damaged childhood. Now he’s the duke. He’s been a rake, has no intention of marrying… etc. While I sympathised with his experiences, he was certainly less interesting to me than Daphne.

Are there problematic bits?
Sure. I am always uncomfortable with the Mrs Bennett-ing of all mothers. Quinn turns the tables somewhat with Violet, and gives a marvellous hint at her actually being a very smart woman, but it wasn’t quite enough to stop me from sighing a few times at the ‘must catch the daughter a husband’ thing. Maybe it’s historical verisimilitude, but that doesn’t make it pleasant to read about.

There’s also an instance of maybe-taking-advantage-of-someone that made me uncomfortable, which then did get explored for ‘who did what’ but it still made me sad.

Will I read more?
Daphne is one of eight children. I did wonder why Quinn was ravishing so much attention on the beauty and allure of Daphne’s brothers… and then I discovered that there are, of course, eight novels in this series. Marrying off each of the children, one by one. I must admit to being somewhat intrigued, not least because I really want to find out who the gossip columnist, Lady Whistledown, is. Two of my candidates got blown out of the water by the last page, but I still have one possibility in mind…. So, maybe.

Blankets

I made one. Here, it is being modelled by its possessive would-be owner. Yes, it is that big (the would-be owner is an adult).

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Aurora, by Kim Stanley Robinson

New science fiction from Kim Stanley Robinson! HOORAY.

(This book was provided to me by the publisher. You can get it from Fishpond.)

UnknownPRETTY excited to get this book. Enough that I actually started reading it the day it arrived – and would have finished it that day too had I not decided to Be An Adult and stop reading at a somewhat sensible hour in order to sleep. And overall I was very happy with it – some nice big ideas, characters fairly good, some action and good plot twists. My delight is not unalloyed, but the issues I had are not enough to stop me from being happy about Aurora‘s existence.

The non-spoilers should-you-read-it: did you like Robinson’s 2312? Do you like Alastair Reynolds books? Then probably yes: don’t read more here, just go get it.

Slightly more detail: the book opens with Freya and her family living what appears to be a normal life. Her mother, Devi, is kept very busy dealing with issues of algae and salt and oxygen, because they live on a generation ship that is heading to what they hope will be a habitable world. I love a good generation ship story: Elizabeth Bear’s Jacob’s Ladder series was awesome, I enjoyed much of Beth RevisAcross the Universe stories (although the relationships were wearing by the end), and Stephen Baxter’s had a go at it too (plot taking precedence over character, usually). So this is already a good premise for me.

We join the crew within years of arriving at Aurora – of course, because it’s hard to do a good story about the middle of the journey, unless something is going drastically wrong. Anyway, they do eventually get to Aurora, and Things Happen (it’s approaching 500 pages in trade paperback; you didn’t think it was going to be all sunshine and roses, did you?). The Things That Happen are logical and consistent with the characters as revealed; they also give insights into how Robinson views humanity which, while not earth-shattering revelations, are nonetheless poignant and worthy of consideration. How do humans cope with setbacks? How do humans cope with disagreement? What price progress?

For a ship of 2000-odd, the cast of central characters is relatively small. Freya is the central human character, so there’s an element of the coming-of-age story – she’s becoming an adult as the ship completes its quest, there’s dissension within the family, and so on. I wasn’t entirely happy with Robinson’s description of Freya at some points; he suggests things about her nature and then never builds on it or challenges it. Nonetheless I found her a useful focus for the narrative; being young she’s out and about learning and meeting people, rather than stuck in a job. And given that the novel covers a fair amount of time, Freya gets to age and I think that’s often a really great thing in a character.

Interestingly, the other point of view character is the ship’s AI, thus allowing Robinson to have intimate knowledge of humanity and show the broader sweep of actions, decisions, and ramifications. I liked, too, that the AI developed and changed. There’s a little section that tickled the Arts student in me pink: the computer learning about how to construct a narrative. So meta, very wonderful.

However… issues. I had a couple.

Firstly, it surprised me that a book set in the 26th century would talk about the Old and New Worlds. Really? Maybe this is an American thing because it’s not something we in Australia say – and surely in 500 years that will be even less relevant? If the builders of the ship (who lived around Saturn, making this demarcation even weirder) insisted on some Earth-analogue in splitting up the two Rings, why not make it Northern and Southern Hemisphere? It does at least have some basis in geography, rather than an old and surely irrelevant socio-political perspective.

Secondly, the ending. SPOILERS. (Other spoilers follow, too.)

 

WHY? I presume Robinson is trying to say something about physicality and Earth being the right place to be? I dunno. To me it came across as ‘if you don’t surf you don’t understand the world.’ It felt out of place in the story overall and disappointed me given how much I liked the rest of it. I would have liked a bit more from Freya’s arc.

Thirdly – and something that I’m not sure, overall, whether I’m entirely on board with – the decision to go back to Earth. It’s only feasible, in the end, because they get the hibernation thing worked out, although I guess when they leave Aurora the situation didn’t look so dire. But… it’s been seven generations. Most people haven’t been paying attention to any of the news feeds from Earth for years, if ever. Would they really feel such a deep call to go back, when Aurora is a failure? I guess most of them would just have been thinking they’d be staying on the ship (all they’d ever known), and their children’s children etc would be the ones to arrive in the home solar system… but still. I’m really not sure. It feels like Robinson is suggesting there’s a deep feeling of attachment to this ball of mud that doesn’t just rely on personal experience.

Prudence

Screen Shot 2014-03-02 at 11.10.30 AMI just love Carriger’s work. I love her attention to detail, I love her wild ideas, I love the banter.

An important thing to note: you could absolutely read this without reading the Alexia Tarabotti novels. While they are set in the same universe, this novel gives you enough background information about the older characters to be going on with. And although, as is only natural, Prudence does reflect on her mother, it’s not an overwhelming part of her character – and one of the most awesome things is that Prudence is NOT her mother. And isn’t even the antithesis of her. Instead, she is very definitely herself.

The plot, briefly: Prudence goes to India and gets into all sorts of shenanigans while preparing to go, while on the way, and while there. Said shenanigans involve numerous supernatural creatures, a couple of boys, her best friend Primrose, several hats, and a rather large dirigible named The Spotted Custard. There is copious amounts of tea, a great deal of banter and snark, a tinge of British imperialism critique, and a lot of dresses.

The set of characters Carriger has brought together bode well for future books in the series; they fall into tropes, but they also have their amusing quirks and individuality. The best friend, Primrose, is very concerned about niceties of language and dress and manners; she’s also intelligent, socially sensitive, and I’m fairly sure she’s quite ruthless. Her twin is Percy, absent-minded professor type with loony ideas; he’s probably the least developed in this novel, but I trust will come properly into his own in the future. The fourth in the quartet is Quesnal, whose family I won’t reveal because that would be a bit of a spoiler but made me happy. He’s the engineering one, more practically-minded than the others, but also French – which in a novel like this is taken by the characters themselves to mean that he’s more emotional and sensuous (in good ways) than the more prim British.

Oh, and Prudence of course. Her family situation has meant that she is quite worldly in some ways, while still naive in others – and she knows it. She’s curious and game for adventure, intelligent and witty, and aware of her own faults. Perhaps the most intriguing part about her is her conscious use of character. She pays attention to those around her and she deliberately adopts mannerisms – mostly from her parents – that she thinks will help her in different situations. This idea of re-negotiating identity, in effect, is fascinating.

I love that Carriger is exploring more of the world that she created initially in Soulless. I love that we’ve now got a young adolescent perspective (in The Finishing School books), the 20-something perspective (here, in The Custard Protocol books), and the… 30-40, I guess? perspective (Parasol Protectorate). If I started re-reading the last again, maybe a book every six months, I could get myself thoroughly chronologically confused.

I’m really looking forward to the next book in this series (Imprudence).

Note: I had a… discussion… with some friends about whether there’s a typo on the first page, where Prudence is described as inspiring “immanent dread” in people. Given who and what she is, I think this spelling of ‘immanent’ is fine. However, I was disappointed to find a number of typos throughout the book. I’m not silly enough to blame Carriger for this and it doesn’t really subtract from my enjoyment of the novel itself, but I am quite disappointed by finding them and they do detract somewhat from my reading experience.

Blackmail Blend

BlackmailBlend-115x188 IMG_0710Set between A Trifle Dead and Drowned Vanilla, Tabitha once again has complicated boy issues, complicated food issues, and complicated I’m-not-a-detective issues, not necessarily in that order of importance. This time Livia Day has gone suspiciously meta on us, by having the victim of an attempted crime be a glamorous author; the situation is a writers’ retreat. I can’t help but wonder whether she is channelling her own experiences, or vengeful dreams….

As always there is excellent food, although perhaps not quite enough tea. There’s definitely not enough Ceege, although the presence of Xanthippe almost makes up for it, while Nin’s eyebrows only appear once. Tabitha’s discovery regarding high tea is pretty much worth the price of admission, and there is an adequate level of snark.

I read this while drinking Perth Breakfast rather than the specified Blackmail Blend. But that’s because I took Tabitha’s tea to work.

Galactic Suburbia 121: Live from Melbourne!

Galactic Suburbia 121: Live From Melbourne

The Tea Salon edition in which we drink the Tabitha Blend in front of a live studio audience at Continuum XI and chat about feminist hashtags and vampire college girl romance.

Kathleen Jennings drew us while we talked!

Tehani storified some of the tweets from Writing While Female.

What Culture Have we Consumed?

Alisa: Emerging Writers’ Festival: Writing while Female (How To Be A Woman in Any Boys Club); Bitch Planet, Issues 1-2; Twelve Monkeys
Alex: Cranky Ladies of History; Carmilla (based on J. Sheridan Le Fanu Novella); Veronica Mars; Radio Lab podcast catch up
Tansy: Sons of Anarchy; A-Force by Marguerite Bennett & G.Willow Wilson – AND Carmilla!

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!

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