Author Archive: Alex

The Female Factory

It took me a while to read this one. I read “Vox” and “Baggage” and then had to have a metaphorical lie down for a week, to catch my breath, then read the last two stories.

FemaleFactory-115x188Seriously. These two ladies. THEY DO THINGS TO MY BRAIN.

The no-spoilers version is: this collection is about being a woman, and children, and social expectations, and identity.

Now go read it. No, seriously.

Spoiler-filled version:
“Vox” is incredibly chilling, probably the most of the four stories, and on two laters. Kate’s obsession with the voices of inanimate objects is kooky but not that strange; her despair at not being able to have children is a familiar one. The further despair at having to choose just one child cuts deep… but the fact of what happens to the children she doesn’t choose? I had to reread the sections about the electronics’ voices a couple of time to check whether HannSlatt really had gone there. And yes, they really really had. Plus, Kate’s attitude towards her existing child… says some hard things about maternity. Confronting, in fact.

“Baggage” is a nasty little piece of baggage, with a central character lacking pretty much any redeeming personality features and a quite unpleasant world for her to feature in. Her particular ‘gift’ is never clearly explained, which I liked, given how supremely weird it is. There are definite overtones of The Handmaid’s Tale, although obviously it’s very different, and also perhaps Children of Men? Once again with maternity, although I imagine Kate would be horrified by Robyn’s attitude towards her own fertility, and the cubs she produces.

I loved “All the Other Revivals.” Well, I… hmm. Maybe I didn’t love all of them, but it’s not to say I didn’t love the others…. Oh anyway, it was interesting to come across a male voice, after the first two strong female voices. Not that Baron would see himself as a particularly strong <i>male</i> voice, I suspect. Once again the central conceit – the car in the billabong – isn’t explained at all; it just does what it does. And Baron is who he is, whoever that is – and will be. Once again the nature of motherhood is really strong here, although in a very different way from the first two stories; this time it’s a matter of absence, and one that’s never explained. I guess the billabong can be seen as a sort of mother, too, now that I think about it.

Finally, the titular “Female Factory” – named for a real place, I discover, in Tasmania OH MY BRAIN again. Again with the absence of motherhood (so it was a wise thing to do, to read the first two together and then the second two) – this time the story is from the perspective of young children – orphans no less – influenced by daring medical science in the early nineteenth century and their proximity to two cadaver-obsessed adults. Somehow this story, while creepy, felt perhaps the most comfortable of the lot; perhaps because its ideas are a bit familiar? Which isn’t to say it’s not an excellent story, which it is.

Overall this is an excellent #11 for the Twelve Planets, and once again Lisa Hannett and Angela Slatter have well broken me. You can get it from Twelfth Planet Press. 

One Small Step

Soooo this anthology came out in 2013 aaaand I’ve only just got around to reading it. Um. Oops. I have no excuse for this. It just didn’t happen.

OneSmallStepCoverdraft-196x300In my defence I read the whole thing last Sunday. That counts, right?

The subtitle is “An Anthology of Discoveries” and what’s really interesting is that this is such a broad anthology but yes, the theme of discovery – of place, or self, or strangers – is the unifying factor. Sometimes it’s obvious and sometimes it’s subtle; sometimes there are world-shattering consequences and sometimes not so much.

The other superbly interesting thing about this anthology is that it’s all women. From memory of Tehani discussing the process, pretty much accidentally so. And it’s not all just dresses and kissing! (Sorry; /sarcasm.) It’s basically a who’s who of established and emerging Australian writers, too, which is a total delight.

Some of these stories really, really worked for me. Michelle Marquardt’s “Always Greener” is a lovely SF story that ended up being simultaneously darker and more hopeful thanI expected (yes that’s a contradiction, too bad). And then to have it contrasted with the fantasy of Lisa Hannett and Angela Slatter’s “By Blood and Incantation” – which is not my favourite HannSlatt but is still quite good – neatly skewered expectations that it was going to be an SF anthology, pointing out that ‘discovery’ is a mighty broad concept. And then “Indigo Gold” by Deborah Biancotti! Detective Palmer!!! and !!! The Cat Sparks story is awesome (it feels like ages since I read a Cat Sparks story), Penelope Love is quietly sinister in “Original,” Faith Mudge does fairy tale things beautifully in “Winter’s Heart.” And the final story, “Morning Star” by DK Mok, is a magnificent SF bookend to match Marquardt but on a much grander, more extravagant scale.

This is a really fun anthology and I’m sorry it took me more than a year to read it. You can get it right here.

Dammit, Riggs

We bought the Lethal Weapon set. Oh yes. So far we’ve watched the first three.

imagesOh the bromance. Oh Mel Gibson’s hair.

The third film’s opening credits are to Sting’s “It’s Probably Me,” which smooshy adolescent me thought was incredibly romantic and older cynical me realises is frighteningly stalker-ish. But when I watched the music video, as an extra on the disc (which showed yes, that is Eric Clapton on the guitar), almost all of the scenes it showed were… Riggs and Murtaugh. Fighting, making up, Riggs saving Murtaugh from a bomb, recovering from a fight or an explosion. There’s one bit with Rene Russo (the awesome ‘my scars are better than yours’ scene) but that’s the only time a lady gets in. Other than that, the song (based on its visuals) is actually about non-sexual friendship. Which makes it way more palatable. Although still a little creepy.

Murtaugh is a pretty straightforward family guy, a career cop, does things properly. Riggs, though… well, he might have been that guy, but his wife is killed in a car crash and when we first meet him he’s suicidal and quite unhinged. In the first film, the whole narrative is around Murtaugh being a stable point for Riggs, bringing him back from the ledge (there’s also a drug ring blah blah). It’s a surprisingly sober film as a consequence, and the humour is often a bit uncomfortable because it often stems from Riggs doing something dangerous – and we know full well that it’s because he doesn’t really value his life any more. The second film is not the same. While there’s still mention of the dead wife – we finally find out a bit more about the car crash – Riggs’ craziness has become zaniness. There’s less reason for it; now it’s mostly just comic relief, without actually being revealing of Riggs’ psychology. There’s no reason for taking crazystupid risks; they’re just stunts for stunts’ sakes, at least until another woman is killed and he goes a bit revenge-nuts. The third has a bit less of the crazystupid, and basically no Riggs psychology. In the first film, Riggs bares his soul when Murtaugh makes some crack about not being as willing as Riggs to kill someone, and Riggs replies that it’s the only thing he’s ever been good at. He’s a veteran of the war in Vietnam, he was involved in black ops… so he was a bit screwed up even before Victoria was killed, is the message, and this film gives some hint about exploring how being good at killing might conceivably possibly be used towards the greater good, in a cop. But the rest of the franchise backs the hell away from that idea and moves towards Beverley Hills Cop instead. This is disappointing.

Also, a significant part of Riggs is his hair. Oh those long flowing locks… they’re so very cringeworthy.

Meanwhile, I do not like Leo Getz. He is abrasive and annoying and pointless except for finding occasionally useful information. I presume he’s meant to be some sort of comic relief but it’s no relief to me.

Now, as a white Australian I feel slightly uncomfortable and obviously unqualified to talk about black American issues in reality, but it is interesting to me to consider how they are portrayed in these films. First and foremost, it’s positive (at least it certainly feels that way to me, and if anyone can point to me the ways in which it is problematic I’d really, really like to know!). Please note I do not say ‘equal’ or ‘completely fine’, but still… . In the first film, a black man – Murtaugh – gets instructions from another black man (whose name I admit I did not catch), and there are other black men on the police force. I don’t recall a single instance of racism towards a black person (which is clearly therefore unrealistic; and there is an unpleasant instance of Riggs being racist towards a Chinese-American character). Interestingly, there’s a fleeting but prominent look at the Murtaugh family refrigerator, and it features an anti-Apartheid sticker that was obvious enough that both my darling and I noticed. This was particularly interesting when watching the second film, where the villains are apparently Evil because they’re running drugs and using their diplomatic immunity to get away with their nefarious deeds, but actually they’re the villains because they’re South African. It felt like there was far more emphasis on their attitudes towards black people than there was on drug running. Early on, there’s a scene where the head honcho is talking about the police involved in investigating them – and he describes Murtaugh as a ‘kaffir’. There’s a scene where the same man is explaining in a condescending tone to his secretary just why the police are harassing him – it’s because they don’t like South African policies – and another time when the fact that black men ‘have guns and badges’ is said in such a tone as to suggest ‘… and this will be the end of civilisation as we know it.’ And Riggs is allowed to sleep with the South African woman only after she has disavowed the policies of her country. It’s not a nuanced political film, but it is undoubtedly a political film. The third film has a more problematised view of black Americans, with young black kids getting access to guns and indeed one of them – a friend of Murtaugh’s son – being shot by Murtaugh. But the black kids aren’t shown to be evil villains; if anything they’re more victims of the evil white bent cop, Travis – and the black boss criminal is helpless, just like all the various white criminals and indeed many police, to resist (I’m not saying that this is entirely a good thing, since victimhood isn’t helpful to anyone, but at least they’re not simply coded as Gangsta.) Finally, while there is no interracial sexual relationship, there’s Rianne Murtaugh’s infatuation with Riggs… which Murtagh is aghast at not because of the racial thing, but because it’s his baby daughter and Riggs (and hopefully for the age thing too).

There are a few women in these films. Trish Murtaugh is a sensible woman, supportive of her husband but clearly doing her own thing as well. There are a few female cops – including Jenette Goldstein, who was also in Aliens AND Terminator 2: Judgement Day! You rock lady! Rika is a brief love interest in 2, but the real passion is sparked with Rene Russo. Of course it’s a convention that they initially fight on the job and then fall madly into bed, but I kinda didn’t mind it too much here and I think it’s because of Cole’s professionalism. She is a good cop. She knows her job, she’s passionate about justice, and boy can she kick villains around when she has to. The scene where she and Riggs compare scars? Priceless. The scene where she deals with five baddies and Riggs holds Murtaugh back partly because he knows Cole can deal with it, but mostly because he wants to admire her fighting style? Even better. Her professionalism doesn’t detract from her femininity, for whatever that’s worth, and Riggs is as protective of Murtaugh as he is of Cole. It’s a delight to watch.

Now that we’ve talked about the fun: these films are actually about police brutality. We know that, right? Kinda makes it uncomfortable to think about, doesn’t it?

Hidden Empire

… nah.

898232-1I picked this up from ibooks when they were doing a ‘get the first book in a series free’ thing. It sounded like it could be a fun epic, and it starts well enough: let’s turn a superJupiter into a star using alien tech! The first portag is a female xenoarchaeologist!

I don’t even mind multiple points of view.

But the first alien didn’t feel that alien, and was a bit too eye-rolly pompous. And the heir of the world-trees place goes to visit the alien planet – and the aliens are all very human-like – and one of the first things mentioned about the palace is that there are courtesans? And the heir of the alien planet is all ‘yeh I gotta sow mah oats real fast cos when I inherit, I get the snip’ … nah.

I liked the world-tree and their priests, but they didn’t seem as cool as the Templars in the Simmons’ Hyperion Cantos.

So unless someone can give me a really convincing reason to get back to it… nah.

Drowned Vanilla

I read it in a day.

DrownedVanilla-115x188I gave it to my mother for her birthday; she had previously loved A Trifle Dead. About this one, she says:

I was thoroughly entertained by this latest book from Livia Day. I appreciated her heroine’s inability to combine detective work, cooking skills and a complicated love life with aplomb! The plot kept me interested to the end; the recipes for summer drinks, gelato and ice cream almost made me want to spend more time in the kitchen, and her dealings with Bishop and Stewart made me want to take her aside for a maternal chat.

It’s just the sort of book I like for holiday reading while watching the cricket – enjoyable with no necessity for deep thinking!

Oh Ma.

As for me… well, I have moved somewhere and have room for some frivolous things, and after reading this I decided that yes indeed I did want an ice cream maker. I will, however, be making neither beer ice cream nor Shay’s butterscotch, for completely different reasons.

I am not maternal and so did not have the same reaction as my mother; instead it had me reading with one eye metaphorically closed as I waited for something to go deeply wrong.

As to the plot – I know I am no author when I hit the twists and turns and I am utterly amazed at the devious brain that comes up with the sorts of things that happen to Tabitha. Poor lass. Livia, you are So Mean.

Hobart and its surrounds come to life beautifully, if not quite as much a part of the plot as in A Trifle Dead. There is a love of food, a love of friends, and a general love of life evident in this book. Hugely enjoyable. You can get it from Twelfth Planet Press, hard copy or ebook.

Jean-Paul Marat

There are probably three figures in the French Revolution who most fascinate the well-informed everyperson. Georges Danton is my absolute favourite, for a bunch of complex reasons. Maximilien Robespierre is the one that a lot of people know of and blame for the Terror. I’ve read biographies of both of them in the last f ew years. And then there’s Jean-Paul Marat, often regarded as the epitome of demagoguery, inciting the poor uneducated masses to insane levels of violence.

marat2-connerI’ll start with a drawback of this book. The first is a direct consequence of its size: at 155 pages, there’s not room to go into great detail about very much (Conner neglects to mention the massacre of the Swiss Guard in the second storming of the Tuileries, which struck me as odd but I’ll concede it didn’t directly have much to do with Marat). Unfortunately this is hard to remedy, as he himself points out that there are only two other biographies of the man in English – he wrote one and doesn’t think much of the other.

Something else that might be considered a drawback but which I found deeply interesting is the author’s perspective. This is a drawback if you forget that (or were never taught that) every historian does have a perspective, and they bring that to their writing. Conner brings this issue to the very front of this short biography by spending the introduction skewering the perspectives of earlier historians and the way they have treated Marat; he shows – convincingly in most cases – that the bad press regularly regurgitated about the man is fallacious and based largely on anti-Marat propaganda, and/or others’ political convictions (a favourite line: “The episode reveals nothing about Marat, but a great deal about how historians allow their social prejudices to affect their judgement” (p5)). There’s also an amazing excerpt from 1919 wherein Marat’s insanity is affirmed and then a comparison is made to contemporaries who parallel him – like Bolshevik sympathisers and women who “have failed in woman’s first and natural function” (p6). I laughed, I cried. All of this is matched by Conner’s own attitude, which is not really spelled out but nonetheless comes through clearly. I can’t imagine how this book was received by conservative Americans. The final pages imagines Marat’s ghost questioning the legacy of the French Revolution. His big thing (according to Conner) was the idea not just of political and legal equality (thanks to the French Revolution, at least in theory TICK) but economic and social equality – hence his championing of the sans culottes. Conner’s last paragraph reads:

Marat would surely be shocked and dismayed to learn that after more than 200 years his struggle for social revolution had lost none of its relevance and urgency. Where is the People’s Friend now, when we need him? (p155)

I can understand some people being dismayed by this authorial intrusion. But if you hadn’t got that Conner is a bit of a radical himself, then you haven’t been reading very carefully. And if you’re reading the biography and being dismayed by Marat’s politics, then you’re probably not going to agree with this anyway (NB I don’t mean his methods but his ideology).

This is a wonderfully readable biography of a quite astonishing man. Marat was a doctor and an experimental physicist and a journalist and a politician and an intensely passionate advocate for social change (even before the Revolution). He dealt with a chronic skin disease (it’s apparently unclear what this was), and police harassment (occasionally warrants were for possibly-real issues, sometimes it was plain censorship and targeting). He was too radical for his times and thus often a voice crying in the wilderness; he would still be regarded as too radical, I would suggest. Conner sets out his life neatly and clearly. There’s just enough detail about the French Revolution that I think you could read it cold… but I know too much to actually be a reliable judge of that. I’m really glad to add this aspect – the man who was revered by much of the menu peuple, who too often get ignored even in histories of the French Revolution where they had a fundamental role.

The Lies of Locke Lamora

Locke-Lamora-UKThis has been on my radar for a while; when I finally added it to my Goodreads page, Katharine went a little mad and next thing I know it’s appeared in my mailbox.

Some slight spoilers below, although not that many and none too significant.

It took me about 4/5 of the book to figure it out, but finally I realised what Camorr reminds me of: it’s Ankh-Morpok at its grimiest. Maybe Ankh-Morpok crossed with Gotham? All the inhabitants are human, but it’s got that chaotic mad feel that Ankh-Morpok has… without the cheerfulness that Pratchett adds. The grimdark version of Ankh-Morpok? Dare I suggest the more realistic version of Ankh-Morpok… So anyway, I quite liked Camorr, although it’s not as ‘original’ as the George RR Martin quote on the front might suggest. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – originality is great of course, but building on others can be too. I am also a bit puzzled about the inclusion of the ruins of some long-forgotten alien race. Yes they add to the cityscape, and the idea of Falselight is really cool, but I was kinda expecting a bit more to be made of the Elderglass. Actually I was expecting that Locke was going to be a descendant of that alien race (spoiler! he’s not… well ok, there are apparently another six books after this, so maybe that’s a reveal in the fifth?). So… yes, it’s cool and it does add to the knowledge that this is a complex and complicated world and Lynch has given it great thought. But there was both too little info – who were they? how long ago are we talking?? – and too much info, because there were these teasers all throughout about the glass (can’t be broken, except there’s this one Broken Tower OOOooh, etc).

Is it passé of me to comment on the laydees? Or, let’s be honest, the lack thereof. Locke’s ladylove is mentioned a couple of times – very much in passing – and is completely forgotten for more than half the book. That bugged me. I loved that there were what I think of ‘incidental women’ – guards and merchants and criminals were just as likely to be women as men, but the ones that Locke and his Merry Band of Bastards interact with are almost always men. There are two significant female nobles, and they are awesome and get to be competent and I like them a lot. Buuuut… it could have been better.

So far you might be thinking that I didn’t think much of the book. Actually, I really enjoyed it. Like, a lot. Someone suggested it was an Ocean’s 11 kinda story, and it definitely is – except see that comment about missing the cheerfulness of Pratchett? There are some magnificent one-liners, and the variety of hustles are breathtaking and occasionally hilarious, but this definitely falls on the grimmer end of the scale. It’s a bit of a spoiler I guess, but… people die. I hadn’t really expected that, with my George Clooney/ Brad Pitt expectations. Talk about a kick in the guts.

The plot? It’s a con. There’s one con that threads through the entire thing, and a number of others that crop up. There are external things that get in the way and need to be dealt with; there’s everyday life, there’s death and mayhem, there’s revenge and pain (lots of pain), no romance and a lot of bro-bonding. Oh, so much dude-platonic-love. The ties of brotherly love have rarely had their praises such so highly… and I’m not even being sarcastic at this point.

The protagonist is, of course, Locke Lamora. He’s in the line of Miles Vorkosigan and other such brains-over-brawn heroes: he can hold his own in a fight but he’s not really very good at it and ends up with a lot of cuts, bruises, black eyes and a serious lack of blood at various points. But of course he makes up for it with a devious, cunning brain that comes up with madcap, near-to-impossible schemes. It’s just lucky he has willing confederates to help him carry it out. I really liked Jean, his bruiser with brains best buddy. I was initially a bit wary of the way that he was described as fat, and that seems to be forgotten for bits of the book – I can’t figure out whether that was a good thing or not. But their relationship works; they work well together but they’re not completely reliant on each other.

The villains are… interesting. For a while I couldn’t even tell who the villain was going to be, or even if there was going to be one; after all, the main characters are thieves – let’s not kid ourselves, much as they like to talk about their own code of morality, Locke and his friends get a great deal of joy out of stealing from, conning, and generally making life miserable for many of the honest people of Camorr. But there is/are indeed villain/s – their number depends on how you want to view things like “I was doing what I was paid for” – who of course make our heroes look positively virtuous. I have to admit that I was a little disappointed by the driving force behind the villainy. It felt a little… small.

Ocean’s 11, yes – and 12 and 13. I was also reminded of Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol (and the others, but that’s the one I’ve rewatched recently). It’s… well. Fun, yes, although with its fair share of rip-your-heart-out moments. It’s a good thing I got to the last fifty-odd pages with nothing else to do, because I just could not figure out where it was all going to end up and I nearly had to put the book down to breathe but I didn’t. I really enjoyed it.

You can get it from Fishpond.

Marie Antoinette: a biography

originalIt’s weird reading biographies. There can be no great surprises, really; you do already know the ending after all. And in the case of Marie Antoinette, I know the outlines of her life so well that I was curious to see how Fraser shaped the events, rather than finding them out – especially of the last half of her life. I knew very little of her childhood and in fact did not realise that she was the youngest daughter of the Austrian Empress, which does add a particular shade to her upbringing.

Overall I really enjoyed Fraser’s style, although the use of ellipses in a historical work is a bit weird. But she’s eminently readable; having the endnotes at the back of the book helps that, although it does also mean I didn’t look at any of them (none of them were discursive so I didn’t miss much). There were enough endnotes that I felt like I was reading a well-researched book, which I presume is accurate rather than being wishful thinking!

Of the content, the one rather odd note for me was that Fraser accepts as highly likely the idea that Marie Antoinette did have an affair with Count Axel Fersen, Swedish soldier and general lover of women who did spend time at the court and indeed helped to arrange the escape that ended so disastrously at Varennes. I didn’t feel that Fraser offered enough evidence to make their liaison quite as certain as she suggested. Other than that, Fraser is quite sympathetic towards the Archduchess/Dauphine/Queen – and I have no problem with that. Fraser shows the many difficulties that Marie Antoinette faced throughout her life ( for instance, more than seven years of marriage before consummation brings problems on a whole range of levels when you’re meant to produce the heir), and does so with an eye for detail and, yes, with sympathy. That’s not to say that she shadows the problems that Marie Antoinette brought on herself, and those she did little or nothing to minimise; they too are investigated, sympathetically but rigorously, honestly, as a thorough biographer ought.

Overall this is a really great biography, and reminds me that yes I really do enjoy reading history like this and maybe I should read some more. I believe that it would be quite accessible to those with little knowledge of the revolutionary period; it’s instructive of the way women were used politically in European aristocratic and royal circles for centuries, and reflects on the sorts of propaganda that is still used around powerful women today.

You can get it from Fishpond.

TV and films of 2014

There are a lot of films in the rewatch category this year. This was seriously impacted by Project Bond, of course, but also by our decision last summer holidays to rewatch the entire Harry Potter series (we had a run of really hot days), and then the CAHRAZY idea to watch all the Fast and Furious movies (mostly again). I had forgotten about some of the films I saw for the first time this year, and I feel like we watched quite a lot of television – most of it new, though, so that’s good I think.

TV (new):

House of Cards (US) (season 1) * Game of Thrones (season 3) * Sherlock (season 3) *  Fringe (season 1) * Orphan Black (season 1) * Fringe (season 2) * Fringe (season 3) * Fringe (season 4) * Agents of SHIELD (season 1) * Fringe (season 5) * Orphan Black (season 2) * The Hour (season 1) * The Hour (season 2) * House of Cards (US) (season 2) * Secret State * Alias (season 1) * Extant (season 1) * Haven (season 1) * Haven (season 2) * Haven (season 3) * Doctor Who (season 8) * Newsroom (season 2) * Homeland (season 4) *

TV (rewatch):

Battlestar Galactica (season 4) ( rewatch) * FarScape (season 2) *

Films (new):

Jonathan Creek and the Savant’s Thumb *  The Desolation of Smaug * Shakespeare’s Globe: Doctor Faustus * Cabaret * Riddick * INXS: Never Tear Us Apart * Escape Plan * 2 Fast 2 Furious * Furious 6 * 2 Guns * Evil Angels * The Monuments Men * Any Given Sunday * Captain America: The Winter Soldier * American Hustle * The Man with the Golden Gun * The Three Musketeers (2011) * X-Men: Days of Future Past * Edge of Tomorrow * Europa Report * For Your Eyes Only *  Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit * Robocop (2013) * Octopussy * Maleficent * A View to a Kill * Snowpiercer * Rise of the Planet of the Apes * The Incredible Hulk * Expendables 3 * Guardians of the Galaxy * Noah * Interstellar *

Films (rewatch):

Doctor No *  Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone * The Expendables 2 *  Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets * From Russia with Love * Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban * Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire * Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix * Goldfinger * Bran Nue Dae * Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (1 and 2) * Marie Antoinette * Thunderball * Iron-Jawed Angels * The Fast and the Furious * The Fast and the Furious – Tokyo Drift * Fast and Furious * Fast 5 * You Only Live Twice * On Her Majesty’s Secret Service * Ocean’s 11 * Thor * Ocean’s 12 * Ocean’s 13 * The Matrix * The Name of the Rose * Bend it like Beckham * Live and Let Die * Evil Angels * Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade * The Spy Who Loved Me * Moonraker * The Living Daylights * Thirteen Days * Captain America: The First Avenger * License to Kill * Aladdin * GoldenEye * Fellowship of the Ring (extended) * Aliens * Iron Man 2 * Iron Man 3 * The World is Not Enough * The Bourne Supremacy * The Blues Brothers * Blues Brothers 2000 * Die Another Day * The Outsiders * The Dish * Casino Royale * The Karate Kid (original!) * Casino Royale * The Return of the King (extended edition) * Quantum of Solace * Skyfall * Mission: Impossible III * Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol * Chronicles of Riddick *

The Tamuli

Earlier this year, Tehani, Jo and I read and reviewed The Elenium (The Diamond ThroneThe Ruby KnightSapphire Rose). It was fun! We enjoyed them – again! So we decided to do the same for The Tamuli! … and that took a bit longer. 

ALEX:

Dear readers,

Here’s an interesting thing. We’ve been writing these reviews in a Google document. This one, entitled Domes of Fire, has existed for a few months without anything being written in it. This is despite the fact that I think we would all have said that we enjoyed the second trilogy a lot, if not as much as the first, and that we all devoured the second trilogy on this re-read just like we did the first.

TEHANI:

Aw Alex. You don’t think all of us being crazy busy had anything to do with it? :)

ALEX:

It’s just that…well, there’s not really that much to say. We said most of it with the first trilogy, and the reality is that this second set, the Tamuli, is basically a reworking of the first.

TEHANI:

Heh, I like that Eddings pretty much acknowledges that about halfway through The Shining City:

“It has a sort of familiar ring to it, doesn’t it Sparhawk?” Kalten said with a tight grin. “Didn’t Martel – and Annias – have the same sort of notion?”

“Oh my goodness, yes,” Ehlana agreed. “I feel as if I’ve lived through all of this before.”

JO:

One will not point out similarities to the Belgariad either. Or the Mallorean. One will not.

ALEX:

Almost identical set of people, very similar set up – except just like any sequel, things are More Impressive and More Worse. Not just a puny god, but a serious one! Bhelliom’s not just an object but an imprisoned eternal spirit! Sparhawk is Amazing!!

…ok that one’s not that new.

What follows therefore is a general discussion of the entirety of the Tamuli – what we liked, what disappointed us, etc.

TEHANI:

I think part of the problem was that once we started reading, we just couldn’t stop – having glommed all six books in such short order made it super hard to separate this batch into separate reviews! So this one giant piece is a much more sensible idea.

JO:

Oh that’s absolutely it! I read all six in this big BINGE… and then you wanted me to sit down and be sensible about each one? Can’t I just say ‘yay’ Sparhawk? Also where are my notes…?

ALEX:

I quite like the opening to Domes of Fire proper, with Sparhawk riding through the streets but this time being recognised. It sets up the idea of familiarity and parallels with the first trilogy very neatly, and suggests that it’s all done deliberately. While I do recognise that this is somewhat lazy writing, I definitely understand the appeal of it for readers – because it appeals to me, when its done well: it’s the same reason why people like staying in the same hotel chain everywhere. Familiarity is comforting. I like reading for comfort sometimes.

JO:

I don’t see it as lazy at all. I see it as fanservice :)

TEHANI:

You know what else can be lazy writing? The “As you know, Bob” thing, which Eddings employs over and over to let us know/remind us what’s going on. AND I DON’T CARE THAT HE DOES! It’s still completely and utterly readable. I’m not sure what it says about me. Or maybe it’s just that even something “lazy” can actually be done well?

ALEX:

I think it’s done with humour, too, often, and that certainly helps his cause.

JO:

Yeah usually it’s just so much fun to read the ‘as you know’ doesn’t bother me as much as it should.

ALEX:

We are such fan girls.

So, straight into the issues: Danae manipulates a lot of people with kisses in these stories. It made me uncomfortable.

TEHANI:

Yeah. Despite the efforts to show women in positions of power, and able to WIELD that power, with Sephrenia, Xanetia, Ehlana, and even Aphrael/Danae herself and so on, there is still a lot of dodgy gender stuff going on.

ALEX:

Women and power… Ehlana comes into her own, but she does still get damsel’d – again. She shows herself quite resilient etc, but still… I’m really not sure what I think of Melidere. Great that she’s smart. Kinda fun the way she plays Stragen and all – you never see it but I have no doubt Stragen sees himself as a stud. Very uncomfortable about her manipulation of him into marriage. Urgh.

JO:
Yeah the gender stuff in these books really pissed me off by the end. SO MANY of the female characters are ‘strong’ because of their ability to manipulate the men around them. And do so ‘prettily’ so awww it’s actually ok. We got more ‘haha women are obsessed with marriage, poor men’ too.

ALEX:
Yes. Icky.

However and meanwhile, SEPHRENIA AND VANION 4EVA.

TEHANI:

They are so adorable! And I love that even though things get tough, they work things out. I also love they are a mature and completely lovely couple who appreciate and work with each others’ strengths!

ALEX:

And a Styric city! While there are some uncomfortable instances of racism that don’t get dealt with, I think this trilogy makes a sturdy – if, I don’t know, simplistic? – attempt at confronting it. Sparhawk confronting his own prejudices – being willing to protect meek and submissive Styrics but being affronted when they’re all assertive and happy – is a really nice moment.

JO:

Simplistic, definitely. But yes, at least it’s there.

TEHANI:

Yes! An excellently written scene. Very impressive to see this sort of examination of prejudice (however briefly) and the understanding that it can be unconscious and inherent to human nature, and challenging to deal with even when one is self-aware. Sparhawk’s conversation with Stragen where he says, “I just found something in myself that I don’t like.” is so short but encapsulates things very well.

ALEX:

Aw Sparhawk. Poor darling. Also? Older man learning about himself and still growing as a person? That is awesome.

JO:

Yes, very good point! That’s not something you usually see, is it. Older men are so often described as set in their ways etc. That’s a part of Sparhawk’s character I’d not noticed before. And it’s nice that he can be strong in ways like this, not just chopping off heads, but emotionally too.

TEHANI:

I particularly like how this comes around again later, when Vanion confronts Sephrenia about her behaviour towards the Delphae, and he says, “Nobody’s different! We have to believe that, because if we don’t, we deny our own humanity as well.”

ALEX:

And Sephrenia’s whole arc for the last novel or so is dealing with her prejudice against Xanetia and the Delphae.

That said, a “universal sisterhood of all women”?? Uh. No. Not until a lot of other issues are dealt with.

JO:

I have a BIG issue with Xanetia that I’d not noticed before, but this re-reading really hammered it home. She and her ability to read people’s minds are just one big plot device. After all the machinations and the foreshadowing, how do we bring the conspiracy out into the open? Xanetia reads people’s minds. BAM. How convenient.

I like her relationship with Sephrenia and the growth that Sephrenia goes through, but Xanetia herself… she’s just there to tell everyone who the bad guy really is so the story can progress. And it’s a revelation that isn’t earned, at all.

ALEX:

I quite like Xanetia – she’s kind of taken Sephrenia’s role as serene and helpful lady, in this series, because Sephrenia gets a bit more development. But yes, the mind-reading is a leedle too convenient.

JO:

Oh don’t get me wrong, I *like* Xanetia, because she’s an Eddings character so how can you not? I just find her mind reading abilities and their place in the plot a little bit of a cop-out. Same can be said for Bhelliom’s ability to jump around the world in the blink of an eye, but that doesn’t stop it being hilarious and cool.

ALEX:

Also meanwhile, I heart Bhlokw. And the Troll-Gods as a collective.

TEHANI:

They definitely grow on you! I really enjoyed how much more intelligent they are by the end than they are first presented. In fact, Eddings was actually rather clever there – when we first meet trolls, they are scarcely more than animals, but by the end of the series we have come to realise they are a complex culture with a firm religious beliefs and a strong sense of right and wrong. Fascinating really, if you’re looking at it from a tolerance and acceptance point of view…

JO:

Or he hadn’t thought that far ahead and just kinda shoe-horns the trolls into that role… but hey, maybe I’m a cynic.

TEHANI:

The whole religion thing in this trilogy is much more in-depth than in the Elenium I thought. There was more exploration of the idea that Danae is actually a goddess, but one among many, and that the gods and goddesses of Styricum are quite different from the other religions as well. I found some of the discussion, particularly pertaining to the Elene god, rather interesting.

ALEX:

There’s definitely more about religion here. The bits about the exquisite politeness between them – how hard it was to get the Atan god in the right frame of mind – is mostly endearing.

TEHANI:

The discussion of slavery in this series (focussed around the Atans and Mirtai in particular) is interesting. On one hand, that Atans are effectively a slave race, yet they are self-governing and pretty much are the means by which the Tamul empire works. However, Mirtai’s experience in slavery outside of this context was pretty horrific. I’m not sure how to unpack that juxtaposition.

ALEX:

It made me quite uncomfortable a lot of the time. The idea that the Atans had put themselves into slavery to look after themselves seemed way too disingenuous… and the fact that they basically rule themselves and that the ‘slavery’ is largely titular does nothing to make it feel better. Because SLAVERY. And as you say, it does lead to Mirtai having a seriously awful set of experiences.

JO:

Yeah, I agree with you there. It always made me feel uncomfortable. They whole “oh but they WANT to be slaves! They’re better off that way. No really, see if they weren’t slaves they’d all kill each other” made my skin crawl.

TEHANI:

It was good to see Eddings didn’t skip the class issues in this trilogy either. Khalad takes Kurik’s role in examining the nobility, but there are lots of instances where peasants are underestimated and aristocrats proven silly. Does it go too far, do you think?

ALEX:

I think it does, mostly because Our Heroes are almost all nobly born but they’re not idiots – which just adds to their exceptionalism. Which is now so overloaded it’s groaning.

JO:

Aristocrats who aren’t knights are usually the silly ones. Funny that.

ALEX:

Do you know, I don’t think I’d picked up that differentiation! and you are so right!!

TEHANI:

I originally read these trilogies in the wrong order, with the Tamuli first, and I still think that Eddings did a really great job with them. I didn’t ever feel when reading that I didn’t know the characters and it was never a problem figuring out what had gone before, or the dynamics of the relationships. Not because Eddings over-explained, but because the characters are so well-drawn. Take Kurik and Khalad for example. They essentially play the same role in the two trilogies, but they are still distinct people (and it’s lovely that Sparhawk never stops missing Kurik throughout the books). That’s not easy to achieve with a large cast.

JO:

It still breaks my brain that you read them out of order!

ALEX:

Me too!! That’s just… inconceivable  ;)

Anyway – it would have been so easy to treat Kurik as “hey, remember that guy?” I’m so glad the Eddingses didn’t. I really like Khalad.

JO:

And the brief moment where we get to see Kurik again… *sniff*

TEHANI:

The way Bhelliom slowly grew a personality was sweet – I particularly liked the scene where Sparhawk has it create a wall to stop the trolls, and when Sparhawk compliments the wall, it gets all self-deprecating. I also enjoyed the point where Aphrael realises that it seems Bhelliom had actually manipulated her into the events of the world, rather than her machinations being at her own instigation.

ALEX:

Oh I do love Bhelliom. Referring to the Earth as its child is so cute! And that brief SF moment of showing other worlds, and the alien soldiers they’re fighting, is quite weird. The discussions of origins is fun.

JO:

Oh me too! Love how it starts off all formal and uber-god-like, but Sparhawk and the gang rub off on it. Soon enough its cracking jokes. Pure Eddings.

TEHANI:

Some favourite quotes:

“I wish she wouldn’t do that,” Stragen complained.

“What’s the problem?” Kalten asked him.

“She makes it seem as if the light in her eyes is the sun streaming in through the hole in the back of her head. I know she’s far more clever than that. I hate dishonest people.”

“You?”

“Let it lie, Kalten.” (Domes of Fire)

“Is she speaking for all of us?” Talen whispered to Berit. “I didn’t really have a girlhood, you know.” (Domes of Fire)

“You’re all just itching for the chance to do Elenish things to those border guards.”

“Did you want to do Elenish things to people, Ulath?” Kalten asked mildly.

“I was suggesting constructive Elenishism before we even got here.” (The Shining Ones)

“Thine Elenes are droll and frolicsome, Sephrenia of Ylara,” Xanetia said.

“I know, Anarae,” Sephrenia sighed. “It’s one of the burdens I bear.” (The Shining Ones)

“Knights, your Grace,” Komier mildly corrected his countryman. “We’re called Knights now. We used to be brigands, but now we’re behaving ourselves.” (The Hidden City)

ALEX:

omg I loved that we got more of the Preceptors in these books. Also eeee Bergsten!

JO:

Personally, I never understood the ending. Would you really give up godlike powers to live a normal life? I mean REALLY? Maybe that’s just me, but that’s never rung true to me. Hmm superamazingmagic or your ‘humanity’. I’ll take the powers thank you very much. (My husband informs me that yes, this is probably just me…)

TEHANI:

He knows you well…

ALEX:

It would have been a very different book if that had happened; Sparhawk would not have been the hero we know if he had kept the powers. I’m not saying I wouldn’t read that book, but I think it would have been super jarring. For all he’s awesome etc, there is an effort to make him at least a little humble, and certainly content with his station in life. Staying a godlike being would have been a serious curve ball.

JO:

Maybe I should change that to – I never understood Sparhawk’s choice at the end. I mean yeah, totally works from a character and story telling point of view but… god-like powers man! I’d keep ‘em :D

TEHANI:

So the verdict? Clearly we still loved the experience of reading these novels again — not just a nostalgia trip but a genuine pleasure. And yet, with the weight of experience and a few years, we also can clearly see there are problematic elements with the books that we may not have noticed when we first fell in love with them, or they may not have seemed quite so concerning then. Is it okay to like books even though they are flawed?

JO:

This is pretty much what we decided for the first three, wasn’t it? Yep, flawed but still so much fun. I think it’s perfectly reasonable to like any media AND be aware of its flaws at the same time. I know that a big part of it for me is that I read these at just the right time and fell so completely in love with them. That feeling stays with me, flaws and all.

ALEX:

As you say, I think that loving any problematic thing is ok – we’re women, we kinda have to be ok with it on some level, right? Doesn’t mean we shouldn’t point out the flaws and work for things to be better, but nothing is going to be perfect and accepting that can sometimes be ok… I think? I hope so. Because while I may never read these again (although I wouldn’t rule it out!), this has been a fun ride.

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