The same caveat applies to this book as to every other Egan novel. If you are neither inherently fascinated by mathematics and physics taken past the bleeding edge, nor willing to tolerate possibly pages of physics discussion that you don’t get, then don’t read this novel. It’s not the book, it’s you – and that’s ok, it’s just not worth your while getting frustrated.
That said, if you’re willing to dive in, I think this is another of Egan’s awesome novels. Spoilers coming.
The premise is that at the end of the 30th century, there are some humans we would see as ‘normal’ – called fleshers here; there are more ‘people’ who inhabit the polises, which are basically massive computers – so yes, they’re virtual, from our current perspective. And there are also gleisners, who inhabit robot bodies. The plot is driven by the perspective of a couple of polis citizens; indeed it begins with the creation of an ‘orphan’, a citizen in a polis created with no input from any parental guidelines but by the polis itself, basically to test new possibilities. This orphan, who becomes Yatima, is a primary protagonist.
Some reviewers over on goodreads have been frustrated by the lack of fiction, or plot, in this story, and I can see where they’re coming from. However, there is a plot, and even if sometimes it takes something of a backseat to the ideas – well, that’s kinda the deal with an Egan story. But it’s not superfluous in any way. So what is it? Well, a gleisner astronomical survey indicates that two neutron stars are about to collapse into each other, several million years earlier than they ought to. They’re frighteningly close to the earth, and it does indeed do very bad things to the planet when the gamma rays etc get here. From this, eventually, there is a diaspora as people (broadly understood) attempt to understand this event and how to survive future ones and also, just Going Out into the universe as humanity has always dreamed of doing. Interesting things are discovered, of course.
This brings me to a rant about the blurb. It suggests that Yatima is searching for a world where no “acts of God” will occur. Um, no. If anyone is searching for that it’s Orlando, a flesher who goes into a polis after the catastrophe. But even that does absolutely no justice to anyone’s motivation. So… all I can think is that the blurber had no idea what to say about the book, and was told to focus on the plot (which they didn’t understand) rather than the ideas. This is my contempt you’re feeling right now.
And then there are the big questions Egan plays with. Some of these are things he’s actively working through over the novel, while others are things he simply takes for granted. For me, as always, his approach to gender is the most striking on a plot level. Because it’s one of the issues he simply takes for granted. Humanity living in a software-created virtual world? Why on earth would they keep to rigid binary (yes I know, all the caveats about it not actually being binary) understandings of gender? So most of the polis citizens are referred to as “ve” – and things happen to “ver” while belongings are “vis”, which is very neat. There are some who are gendered; Orlando, perhaps understandably, can’t shed his original gendered self perception; there are some polis-born citizens who also insist on it, and they’re regarded as frankly a bit weird. I adore this aspect.
The virtual nature of much of the story could lead to a complete divorcing from the physical, which is an issue I’ve been thinking a lot about since reading Nike Sulway’s Tiptree speech: the issue of divorcing matter and mind. However, I think Egan does a good job here of not doing so – and indeed of interrogating the issue. The polis inhabitants do still interact with matter, and it is important to them; there are discussions about the importance, or not, of interacting with the real and whether postulating crazy things like more dimensions than we can see or interact with is just offensive. Most polis citizens respect the material world even if they experience it differently from fleshers. And the diaspora, even if it takes places as (basically) flying computers, also interacts with the real and physical in important, fundamental and profound ways. So, go you, Egan, for not just going the lazy cyberpunk route.
Did I mention that this book takes place quite seriously over about two millennia, and then speeds up at the end to encompass even more time? What a head spin.
Some of the physics stuff he discusses: astronomy – especially the neutron star bits; extrasolar planets; alien life, including evolution and non-carbon-based possibilities; wormholes; quarks, leptons, fermions etc; and the possibility of other universes and how they would interact, or not, with the one we inhabit.
On that note, I can’t help but feel that this must to some extent be Egan’s answer to, or take, on Flatland. Indeed he references the idea of “flatland” at one stage. Because some of the characters are forced to interact with beings existing in 5 dimensions, and how are you going to do that? So that’s a really nice aspect for those who have read that somewhat obscure adventure into dimensional maths.
Some of the other ideas that Egan confronts: human evolution, both ‘natural’ and deliberate, and what that will mean for the various branches communicating with each other; the place of art and of mathematics; cloning, and its possibilities; parenthood and the nature of being an orphan; individuality and community.
I told you this was a dense, complex, and – I mean it – ambitious work, right? You can get it from Fishpond.
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 we get an Indian Cultural Showcase, a confusion of villains, and Q gets out into the field!
Alex: aaaaand we’re back to crappy Moore films. Once again a film takes us two sittings to get through. If we’d had popcorn I would have been throwing it at the screen.
See what they did with the film poster? I see what you did there!
The prologue starts in what I think is meant to be Cuba, at a horse race. There’s definitely a Castro analogue. Bond gets busted trying to blow something up, and captured; his lady accomplice distracts his guards by being very sexy. Bond gets rid of them by pulling their rip cords, because for some reason these soldiers in a jeep are wearing parachutes. Then he gets into a horse float… which turns out not to have a horse in it, but a folding plane.
This prologue was an omen of things to come. Bad things, confusing things, and eye-rolling things.
The plot of Octopussy is confusing because it’s unclear who the villain is. In For Your Eyes Only, there’s a twist to the villain, and that’s quite clever and neat. Here, there are several potential villains, all vying against each other, and the actual point of their villainy is sometimes confused. I have no problem with messy films that are trying for real-life verisimilitude. In a Bond film, however, it is out of place – and this is just messy, not clever-messy. Let me try to lay it out:
1. The Russians are fighting. General Gogol – head of the secret service? – is trying to convince the top brass that going along with NATO’s ideas of compromise is sensible. General Orlov, however, says nyet! (… sorry…) – because he’s a frothing-at-the-mouth expansionist. He may be my favourite character. Orlov has been selling Russian jewellery in the decadent West to fund his ventures, including – at the start of the film – a Faberge egg. He has a cunning plan to explode a small nuclear device on a US base in Germany, which will be confusing because there will be no trajectory! So NATO will be forced to completely disarm because they’re scaredy cats!! and Russia will take over the world!!! For this he needs…
2. Octopussy. Leader of a smuggling ring that has branched out into, among other things, circuses (…?!?). Orlov will use Octo’s circus trains to get the bomb to the base. But Octo doesn’t know this; she thinks she’s just smuggling jewellery. Their connection was set up by…
3. Kamal Khan. Suave, debonair, meant to be Indian but played by a French actor. (Sigh.) Kamal’s motives are… unclear. I think he’s ultimately just into money, because he’s never shown to be a true believer in the Soviet way or even especially interested in changing the world.
So at first Bond thinks he’s up against Kamal, because he’s chasing the origin of the Faberge egg that comes up at Sotheby’s (with a marvellous moment of egging the bidding on, giving his friend from the government a heart attack). Then it seems like Kamal is taking orders from a lady, with whom Bond ends up in bed. But then we see Khan reporting to a mysterious woman in a dressing gown with an octopus on the back – and we know she’s mysterious and powerful because we don’t see her face at this stage. We see Orlov and Khan chatting together so clearly they’re connected… then Bond goes to check out Octo’s island… and look. This is just confused, right? The villains are playing off against each other. Frankly I think this would be a better movie if it was entirely focussed on the villains and Bond just wasn’t in it. In fact, that would be an AWESOME movie.
Race: well, I was mighty sad Khan was played by a French dude. I really liked Louis Jourdain, don’t get me wrong – I think he’s delightful – but it’s not like there was a shortage of Indian actors (even Indian-American or Indian-British, I would have guessed) in 1983. It’s a throwback to Dr No. Bond has an awesome Indian sidekick, Vijay, who gets some great lines and is delightfully engaging – and then he dies. Dead brown man alert! And then there’s that delightful line from Bond, when he’s spreading around some largesse: “This should keep you in curry for a few weeks.” Ho ho! The film does its cultural showcase thing with India as it has done with some of the other Exotic Locales the franchise has visited. When Bond arrives there’s a lingering shot of the Taj Mahal, which I’m going to guess is entirely incongruous from a geographical perspective. And then there’s the equivalent of the Winter Olympics scene from the last film: during a chase, we see a man lying on a bed of nails, sword swallowing, fire walking, fire twirling, and ‘gurus’. And then there’s hunting scene – hunting a tiger, on elephants, in the ‘burbs – where Bond swings on a vine and does the Tarzan yodel. I’m serious.
Gender: Octopussy only gets that name, and it’s a nickname from her father. The first main woman, Magda, is only named some minutes after Bond sleeps with her. Bond goes to visit Octo’s island after hearing that it’s women-only, to which Bond responds: “sexual discrimination! I’ll have to pay it a visit.” Way to go negating a real issue, film! Octo and Bond appear to be working on the same level for a while… until Octo says “we’re two of a kind” (hello theme song reference), and appears to be offering Bond a job. Bond gets snippy, Octo gets offended by his sanctimonious attitude and storms out – and Bond follows her and forces her to kiss him. She fights a bit and then gives in. Because it’s soooo sexy when a guy forces you to do something you don’t want! Also, we get a short scene with Moneypenny – and Moneypenny’s assistant, who is young an glamorous and whom Bond chats up and then realises it’s not Moneypenny. Oops. Moneypenny does a lovely line in snark, at last, and the assistant says somewhat drily that she’s been warned about him. Of course, when he leaves the room they both have a little sigh.
Also, there’s this:
James: You gentle reader might expect me to write things about a balloon with a Union Jack on it (and Q in it), or the TV watch which Bond uses to ogle a pretty young thing in Q’s lab, but the truth is … ZzZZZZZZZzzzzzzzzzzz…….. I fell asleep in this one… Slow, confused, no truly great gadgets or cars. My favourite part ? This.
In which we talk harassment policies, upcoming publishing projects, Hugo reading and more! You can get us at iTunes or over at Galactic Suburbia.
Update on the Elise Matthesen harassment case from Wiscon 2013.
Anna Tambour collection – The Finest Ass in the Universe to be published by Twelfth Planet Press in July 2015
Kaleidoscope Table of Contents including Tansy’s story Cookie Cutter Superhero
What Culture Have we Consumed?
Alex: finished Fringe; Orphan Black season 2; Europa Report; Hugo reading: finished the novelettes, most of the novellas and shorts. Bikes in Space vol 2
Tansy: The Two-Hearted Numbat, Ambelin & Ezekiel Kwaymullina; Romanitas by Sophia McDougall, The Machine; The Musketeers;
Alisa: ON HOLIDAYS AND ONLY KNIT And Orphan Black, random PhD update of sorts
Thanks to Patreon supporters so far – we’ve hit our first milestone! To keep us Going!!! Our next milestone: quarterly spoilerific book/media club episodes become a regular feature.
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This should be being talked about more.
I came across Elly Blue courtesy of the Kickstarter folks featuring her in their weekly newsletter – as a result of which I now always take the time to at least skim that email, just in case there are other little nuggets of pure gold. Blue publishes a quarterly zine that focusses on “the feminist bicycle revolution,” and if that doesn’t sound awesome then I… have no other words. Taking the Lane looks at different aspects of cycling culture, and the original Bikes in Space was meant to be just a fiction edition of the zine. And then, from what I can tell from her website, it kinda grew. Such that this issue was published outside of the quarterly schedule (I believe), and as a book rather than as a zine. And there’s a third volume in the works.
It’s a cute little product – goes well with the Twelve Planets books; I don’t know who did the physical publishing but it feels nice and well-made. I love the cover! And the stories… well.
“Racing the Drones” is a nod to bike couriers everywhere, and the advantages they have over other forms of delivery. “The Sassy Chassis Lassies and the Devolution Revolution” makes comment on road etiquette – and the frequent lack of it from cars – as well as the freedom offered by bikes. “Winning is Everything” looks at a woman defying a male status quo, while “Grandma Takes Off” features a very awesome older lady. I have named my bicycle, so “Tabula Rasa” – about forming an emotional connection to your ride – worked for me; “Bikes to New Sarjun” is incomplete but takes up the idea of bicycles and charity and government intransigence. And Elly Blue herself addresses that bane of the cyclist’s life, butt-dialling.
“From an Interview with the Famed Roller Sara Zephyr Cain” is one of my absolute favourite stories. There is so much going on here, like hints at some sort of post-apocalyptic world, and tantalising ideas of genetic modification. But more profoundly, it’s a discussion about gender – choosing it, and dealing with people’s reactions to that. I’d love to hear what transwomen think of the story. Another of my favourites was “Midnight Ride,” which takes as its theme the freedom offered by cycling – and whether that can be inclusive (it is a little sentimental but/and I think it’s done nicely). And then there’s “The Bicycle Maker,” a lovely little story set well into the future, where humanity – at some point before they disappeared – delegated bicycle-making to a machine of some sort. And what’s that machine to do when there are no humans to ride its bikes?
But I don’t like bikes!
Tch. Come on. The bikes are always present, but they don’t necessarily play a huge role in the plot; sometimes they are simply there as transportation – although, of course, the use of bikes is often in itself a political statement. Which is part of the point of this anthology. Trust me, this is not a legit excuse.
You can buy this (and its predecessor, which I got as part of the Kickstarter and haven’t read yet) over here.
This review is part of Project Bond, wherein over the course of 2014 we watch all of the James Bond movies in production order.
Summary: in which
Tywin Lannister Charles Dance has a non-speaking role as a thug, Walter Donovan Grand Master Pycelle Julian Glover is a double-dealing villain, and James Bond refuses to have sex with a young woman. There’s a plot in there somewhere, too.
Alex: First of all: WHAT THE HELL is with that promo poster?? There is… I can’t… there are no words.
Second of all: I’m really sorry, Moonraker. It turns out I maligned you, because there is a worse theme song than yours, and it’s this one. I don’t remember 1981 except that I got a brother, so I don’t know whether Sheena Easton was just All That, but this is the first (…and only?) Bond in which the singer actually makes an appearance in the credits sequence (I was going to say that she’s lucky to be wearing clothes, because none of the rest of the women are, but actually I’m not sure I can say, definitively, that she is). And it’s just… forgettable.
This movie has perhaps the oddest, and weakest, opening of any Bond. Bond goes to put roses on Theresa Bond’s grave, and then his helicopter is hijacked by a bald man whose face we never, in a wheelchair. This is clearly meant to be Telly Savalas’ Blofeld, and I guess that means Bond throwing him (wheelchair and all) down an industrial chimney is meant to be just retribution or something? It’s weird, and without context quite uncomfortable. The helicopter aerobatics, and the cinematography of that section, is indeed spectacular.
Anyway, the film itself is about attempts to recover an ATAC – device that orders submarines to launch ballistic missiles – from the ocean floor off Albania. Of course the Russians want it as much as the Brits want it. This leads to the Havelocks – underwater archaeologists – being killed, in front of their daughter Melina’s eyes, which in turn leads to this masterclass in acting (you have to imagine the camera steadily getting closer in):
… and also leads Melina to declare that Greek women, “like Elektra,” always want revenge. Because that worked out so well for Elektra.
Bond ends up working with a Greek businessman, Kristatos (Julia Glover), who tells him that his former comrade in arms (Columba, played by Topol) is responsible. But surprise! It turns out to have been Kristatos all along! Columba is just an honest smuggler – he would never deal in heroin, or deal with those Ruskies. While we’re here: Columba is totally adorable. Always with the munching on pistachios!
I’m a bit worried that I am acquiring an immunity to Roger Moore, because I actually rather liked this film. This feels like a problem. There were still lots of issues – I’m getting there! – but the plot itself mostly worked (except for Melina leaving an oxygen tank on the ocean floor for no reason at the start of the film, and then OH LOOK it’s there when they need it at the end… oh right, and that bit where the parrot disclosed where the villains were heading). The pacing was pretty good, and – oh heck – even Moore was ok. In the accompanying features, Michael Wilson makes the point that they felt like Bond needed to literally and figuratively “come back to Earth” after Moonraker, and so they made this… dare I say it… grittier. So perhaps this is approaching the feel of my first Bond, Brosnan? Or yeh, maybe I’m infected with something.
But it’s not all sunshine and skittles! Of course I got cranky! Where to start… hmm… how about Moneypenny? Sprung putting on some lippy at the time she’s expecting Bond. Now I love Lois Maxwell a lot, but she has aged a lot since she started as Moneypenny, and while I have no problem with older ladies flirting with anyone they like (in a responsible, consensual manner), I do have a problem with the writers making her look pathetic at lusting after a man for nigh on 20 years, like this. She’s better handing out the snark and being arch. Then there’s Bibi – oh Bibi. A young, bubbly, blonde, ice skater – Kristatos’ ‘protege’ (aaaand all the eyebrows shoot up). Lynn-Holly Johnson is a fine enough actress given the circumstances, but Bibi actually has no role in this film. Actually no role. She serves no plot purpose. She does two things for characters: first, she makes Bond look marginally less like a womaniser because he refuses to sleep with her (oh so magnanimous), and then – when we already know Kristatos is the villain – she has the throw-away line “I know what you want. You’re too old for me.” So she makes one man look good, and one look bad. But those things are already established by other aspects of the film, so she’s irrelevant. Except, as James points out, as eye-candy…. There’s a “countess,” Lisl, whose role consists of sex for Bond and a bit of information on the side, and then she’s killed. The main woman, though, is Melina. She gets involved because she wants revenge (see above); she helps Bond out of difficult situations a few times, and he rewards her by bullying her out of her plans. I would have no problem with Bond saying “look lady, I’m trained for this, plus I have no compunction about killing, so maybe I could help you not die in getting revenge?” But Bond ordering her to leave, without explaining who he actually is – yeh, that’s just rude and high-handed. I was also cranky at the scene in the sleigh where they’re giving conflicting orders to the driver and the driver listens to Bond. And when they stop arguing, he looks over his shoulder and sighs “Amore!” um NO. Really NO. Anyway, she gets to be competent – she’s a skilled scuba diver, she knows her father’s codes, she navigates the 2-man sub, and she’s a dab hand with a cross bow. So that’s something.
Worth noting: M is “on holidays” while these events take place, so Bond has to deal with the Minister and some random flunky. And this is because Bernard Lee died at the start of 1981, so presumably he was already sick and/or too old while filming was going on. Very sad, and I’m therefore on fire to see whether/how they replace M for the next four movies, given the glory that is Dame Judi Dench with Brosnan.
James: Is this the part where I write about all the awesome stereotypically boy parts of the film which Alex has neglected ? Why yes it is. Basically this is everything that happened in the film anyway. First the car … a Lotus Esprit Turbo which meets a quick end in the film when one of the thugs trips the ‘car alarm’ and self-destructs the car – angular, 80s and cool.
Next we have a winter sports montage chase scene where Bond and his pursuers take part in four or five winter olympic events on a mix of skis, motorbikes and feet; the ski jump and the luge are the highlights. Out of the snow and into the water via the Neptune mini sub searching for the secret (but tracked by the Russians and quite obviously not secret) British ship with the ATAC – this section of the film culminates in a hilarious fight against an enemy with a comically HUGE diving suit getting his head literally blown off by a limpet mine Bond just happens to have from the ATAC unit. Finally we get some modern technology too in the form of Q’s new identigraph system which takes a series of very Tron (or is it logo writer) graphics and suddenly punches out a face on a 9pin dot-matrix impact printer using nothing but ASCII characters (with the identity and dossier also of course). The movie finished up with a suspense filled infiltration of a cliff top monastery, culminating with a dying Columbo saving Bond and Melina from Kristatos, saving her from the previously mentioned revenge task of digging two graves. Oh, wait… Bond and Melina kiss at the end; come on it’s James Bond people.
L. Timmel Duchamp says that Love’s stories consist of “fairly plain words (and never very many of them),” in her introduction to this collection. That might sound like faint praise indeed, except that the rest of the introduction praises those same words’ “amazing, amusing magic” – and she’s right. It’s also why, when Alisa Krasnostein (of Twelfth Planet Press, who put this collection out – yes, fair dealing, she’s a friend) asked what I thought of it I had to pause, and think through my response. Which initially concerned her, I think, but my hesitation wasn’t about “how do I tell my friend I didn’t like the book?” but “how do I my feelings into words?” It was compounded by the fact that I read the collection in very fast time (two and a bit tram rides, to be exact) – it is only 80 pages long, in the cute little format that all of the Twelve Planets have come in.
So what did I think? Well, most of the stories feel pretty easy to read, thanks to that simplicity of prose Duchamp identifies and the fact that there’s no padding in any of them. Most of them, though, are likely to sneak around to the back of your head and whack you one to make you realise that simplicity of prose is by no means the same as simplicity of purpose, or theme, or consequence.
“Secret Lives of Books” has the most straightforward narrative structure of the stories here. Ritchie is dying, and his books have always been of far more importance to him than human relationships. So, simple: after death, go live with the books. In the books. But as he whispers to his ex-wife Luisa: Books suck your blood. How will they respond to this invasion, and how will they react when their existence might be threatened? And when they find out about the internet? … A simple narrative, yes, but a provocative probing into our relationship with books and with other people, and with the concept of knowledge. I read once a (mostly tongue-in-cheek) suggestion that humanity was the weapon grasses like wheat utilised in order to fight the trees. I was reminded of that, here.
True fact: I have never heard of Kiddofspeed. Turns out this is a real thing, a website where Elena Filatova discussed riding a motorbike through the area around Chernobyl, post-disaster. In “Kiddofspeed” Love does a glorious job of interrogating the question of fact v fiction, and especially the question/issue of how the internet makes the casual reader’s understanding of the line between these two things so much harder. If it’s on the internet it’s true, right? If I say it is? (I’m put in mind of this article suggesting/explaining that Tom Cruise did not, actually, jump like a mad thing on Oprah’s couch – well, not how most of us “remember” him doing so, anyway.) Love also has a dig at some of the wilder “theories” about Chernobyl, and shoots them down in very few, scathing, words.
A qasida is “a form of lyric poetry from Arabia about the pain of lost love” – at least so says the prologue to the story of the same story, and coming straight after “Kiddofspeed” there is part of me that pauses and wonders whether the entire collection might be playing some sort of grand didactic prank… but surely not. (Right?) This story flicks between Bronnie, living now and with the knowledge that Mars-obsessed Del is lost, and Livia Wynne – general fixer for the British Empire in its last gasp, after the First World War. I could completely spoil the narrative (Del is on Mars) and not spoil the story. I haven’t, promise. (And because it’s on the internet….) Relationships, the quest for knowledge, the (im)possibility of cross-cultural understanding, the drive to go, the complexity of language: all of these are touched on, lightly but generally profoundly.
“The Kairos Moment” is probably my least favourite story. I don’t dislike it, it just doesn’t work for me like the others. ‘Kairos’ is the Greek term (apparently… who me, paranoid?) for a moment of something wonderful happening. The narrator theorises that music is one method by which to achieve a kairos moment, and proceeds – as part of her research (I just realised I’m assuming it’s a her – I don’t think it’s revealed) – to try and create one. It’s not entirely straightforward, nor entirely a healthy experience for some.
The final story is
The slut and the universe
The relations between feminism, global warming, global financial meltdown,
asteroid impact, the nuclear arms race and the mass extinction of species.
How feminism got to be both the root of all evils and the means of salvation from them.
It opens with “One upon a time, there will be a young girl who live with her family in the middle of the woods.” Can you tell this is my favourite story? Marysa lives with her mother and her grandmother. They argue about the clothes she wears, with the word ‘slut’ bandied around – “Not that they mean Marysa is a slut… [but that she] has chosen to dress like a slut, and therefore… people she meets… will treat her like a slut and TAKE ADVANTAGE” (68). A condemnation of slut-shaming in a page of prose, hell yes. And then they get on to the patriarchy and all of the things suggested in the multiple titles. With Gaia along to stir up the conversation a bit. The narrative is tenuous, true; there are hints of a world that has gone bad (worse than ours at the moment anyway), and the relationships between the three generations. The focus is absolutely on conversation and argument between the four. It’s a place for Love to set up ideas and be provocative and maybe even extreme, and I loved it.
This collection is awesome. You should buy it.
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, space. And Jaws. But no sharks.
Alex: still not a fan of Moore. However, there were some parts of this film that I actually liked. It’s definitely better paced than the earlier Moores, and who doesn’t love a good giggle over the hilarity of 1970s space stations? It does, however, feature my least favourite Bond theme. Sorry Shirley, it does nothing for me.
The prologue introduces us to the shuttle, Moonraker, as it gets hijacked. We also see Bond encounter Jaws again, henchmanning for some random villain, and then they both end up out of a plane sans parachute. This section had some truly awesome cinematography, and the feature on the DVD about how it was shot is definitely worth watching.
The shuttle was built by Drax Enterprises, and himself is pissed that the British lost his shuttle. So Bond is off to California to snoop around, see who might be responsible for it going missing. I WONDER WHO IT COULD BE? Oh wait, Drax is dressed almost entirely in black and speaks with a slight accent and in a monotone! Nothing suspicious here! No visible deformities, anyway, which is just about a first for this franchise. He does have two Lady Friends, one black and one white, who don’t speak; and two perfectly trained Dobermans; and a Generic Asian Servant. And yes, I really do think those three things can be listed as about equal, from the film’s perspective.
Drax graciously allows Bond to meet one of his chief scientists, Dr Goodhead. Who is, surprise! Female. Bond, condescending: “Are you training to be an astronaut?” Goodhead, I Am So Used To This Crap: “I’m fully trained, on loan from NASA.” What follows would be termed willy-waving if it were between two men, but because it’s between a man and a woman there’s the mandatory sexual frisson – from Bond anyway – as he tries to demonstrate to the woman WHO HAS AT LEAST ONE PHD that he knows as much as her. Because showing you’re smarter than her is a sure way into a woman’s pants. Or something. Still, hurrah for a competent female scientist! She may be my favourite woman from the Moore era yet, which still isn’t saying a whole lot because I didn’t love her. As an actress I found her boring and wooden; as a character she started off well but, as always, goes downhill after she (inevitably) succumbs to Bond’s irresistible charms. Not only does Bond have an ORGAN I CAN’T MENTION that turns women from evil to good, it also apparently saps the competency from them.
Anyway. Bond chases Drax’s establishment to Venice – hello gondola chases – and has a tour through a glass museum, which as soon as it comes on screen you just KNOW is going to be the scene of a horridly destructive fight. And it was. Then Bond goes to Rio, as far as I can tell just so that he can sleep with the local MI5 contact and the film can showcase Carnevale. And then he and Goodhead, who have now teamed up because she’s actually CIA, are off down the Amazon and there find Castle Anthrax. Seriously. All the astronauts in training there are beautiful and lissom and – it turns out – paired to one another, because Drax’s goal is to sterilise the Earth and bring back his genetically perfect humans to Rule The World! They all end up in space, and eventually, after some pretty cool null-grav scenes, Bond escapes and destroys it.
Brief space rant now. It can’t be that far out in orbit because it doesn’t take that long to reach it in their shuttles. How did they avoid detection? Well, Drax has developed a cloaking device (basically) that prevents radar from detecting them. Ta dah! … but wait – what about the astronomers?? This is pre- any space telescopes. It’s also a time when, I presume, the light pollution wasn’t nearly so bad as it is today. I can guarantee that amateur astronomers would have spotted it, let alone the pros. Heck, I’ve followed the ISS in a telescope by moving the scope manually, and you can see the shape quite easily. This space city is meant to be much bigger than the ISS.
That issue aside, the end of the space city is actually the most terrifying part of the whole movie because US-trained space troops fly up to occupy it (once they know it’s there): they know how to fight in space, and they have laser guns. This is what the 1980s feared with discussion of the militarisation of space. And I can well understand the fear.
Weird moment: the code to get into a secret lab is the signature motif from Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
From a racial perspective: Generic Asian Servant gets to beat up Bond a bit, but of course can’t win. There are some non-white astronauts in Drax’s plan for perfecting humanity, so that’s awesome – but it is overwhelmingly white.
From a feminist perspective: Goodhead isn’t bad; she takes a while to succumb to Bond, and she is blunt about her lack of trust in him. She stays mostly competent when she’s allowed to demonstrate it. There are three other “Bond women.” He’s smooching one at the start, who then pulls a gun on him – hilarious, but she is then nowhere while the fight takes place, and given it’s on a plane that makes no sense. Then there’s Drax’s helicopter pilot. Bond kisses her, she responds with “You presume a great deal” – and then kisses him back. She dies. The Brazilian contact is attacked by Jaws in a clown outfit.
Jaws! How remiss of me not to mention: Jaws gets a girlfriend! Aww… they meet when he’s just finished destroying a cable car with Bond and Goodhead on board. They both end up on the space city, and Jaws actually helps Bond when he realises that neither he nor Braids meets Drax’s standards of human perfection. And he even gets to speak, which I’m sure meant that he had to take out the metal teeth.
James: Classic movie poster – almost as awesome as the vintage Star Wars ones. It might be my favourite part though. The effects are improving as we move forwards in time too but like Alex I’m bored with Moore and ready to move on. More space, more lasers – I had never really noticed in the past how central space, orbital weapons and lasers are to Bond (and it’s not about to stop yet…). 2 Martinis.
I did not manage to finish the book prior to this one, Gwyneth Jones’ White Queen. I am slightly surprised that I finished this one, in that light, but the structure of this novel is definitely easier to cope with, and I think the plot is slightly more straightforward too.
So in White Queen the aliens arrive and it turns out they’ve been living amongst for rather a long time. The world is a difficult place in which to live anyway – environmental stuff etc – and when the aliens finally decide to make contact there’s a conference on women happening … and for whatever reason, the aliens decide that that is the world government. Which means that all of a sudden (ok, I think it makes months or years) there is an actual real Sex War, at least partly because of the aliens. Stuff happens… etc.
North Wind is told from two main viewpoints. Sid is a human liaison to the Aleutians – the aliens. Bella, also known as Goodlooking, or the librarian, is an invalid Aleutian. Their experiences of the world are very different: because of their expectations of gender, because of their expectations of humanity, because of their expectations of family and other social interactions. Their interactions with each other are immensely complicated for all of these same reasons, and because of the circumstances in which they find themselves.
This novel could have been relatively straightforward. It’s an attempt to figure out what is indeed a complex problem, but the actual events along the way are not that Byzantine.
Jones, however, was not interested in writing a relatively straightforward novel. And that’s perfectly fine; just don’t expect it to be one. Because Jones used this novel to explore concepts of gender, in particular, in detail and in complexity that you don’t often get in novel form. Not from widely popular novels that get nominated for the Clarke Award (in 1995) necessarily, anyway. The Aleutians have a very different concept of gender from most of humanity, and the intersection between the two species’ expectations and lived experiences highlight, in particular, humanity’s limitations.
I found this a difficult book to read partly because of the switching of pronouns, which takes some getting used to; partly because Jones uses narrative ellipses to imply things and sometimes I wasn’t fast enough on the uptake. Probably I missed some subtleties from not finishing White Queen (like the issue with Johnny, but that is eventually explained). It’s a clever book, and it’s an important book, and I want to say it’s an ambitious book but so often that phrase gets used in a condescending tone and I really don’t mean it like that. I really mean that Jones is doing ambitious and difficult and passionate things. But… I didn’t love it. I think it was too difficult for me. I won’t be rushing out for Phoenix Cafe, the third in the series. Which makes me a bit sad because I had intended to read all of Gwyneth Jones’ work, but I don’t have to like everything, I’ve decided.
Yet another book off the TBR shelf! Go me!
In which we emerge from our cake coma to discuss awards, speeches, hashtags and online activism. And, okay, more cake. You can get us from iTunes or at Galactic Suburbia.
Norman Hetherington’s birthday celebrated by Google: Australians love Mr Squiggle!
Nebula award winners announced.
Alisa’s post: If You Aren’t Part of the Solution
Discussion of #yesallwomen and #notallmen
Charles Tan’s important essay on Bigotry, Cognotive Dissonance and Submission guidelines
What Culture Have we Consumed?
Alisa: Total Devotion Machine, Rosaleen Love; Perfections, Kirstyn McDermott; The Lady Astronaut from Mars, Mary Robinette Kowal
Alex: A Pursuit of Miracles, George Turner; Black Ice, Lucy Sussex; Jane Bites Back, Michael Thomas Ford. Project Bond.
Tansy: X-Men Days of Future Past, Sex Criminals by Matt Fraction, Robotech Rewatch
Galactic Suburbia Scrapbook – is still a preorder which means if you go ahead and preorder, we’ll send you a copy of the book when it drops, glitch with the Paypal means it charges you 1c on preorder but Alisa refunding those. And also, all sales for the Scrapbook will go towards running costs for GS.
PS we have a donation button on the Podbean site, which we thought we would mention because we got scolded by email… if you want to throw us a donation towards our hosting fees, we will be very grateful!
Check out our Pinterest board for the entries in our cake logo contest! We haven’t been able to choose, so we’re asking for feedback from our listeners. Vote for your favourite by emailing us – and remember it’s not about how much you like the look of the cake itself, but which picture you think makes the best logo to represent us for our next 100 episodes.
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Summary: in which Russia’s best agent is a woman, someone is stealing submarines, cars turn into submarines and Bond visits Egypt. All to a very groovy 70s version of the Bond theme.
Alex: well, it turns out that James was right. There are a lot of Bonds I haven’t seen! … most of the Moores, in fact. And you know what? I am not sad about that fact. Because if I had, indeed, seen these movies before, then I would now have sat through them at least twice each, and I’m just not going to live that long.
I’ve figured out how to make a decent Roger Moore Bond. Take this plot, make Christopher Lee play Stromberg, and Jane Seymour Triple X. Ta dah!
Back in From Russia with Love, we were introduced to the idea of a Russian agent being female. The prologue here opens with the Russians deciding to put their best agent onto the case of a submarine going missing – then cutting to a bedroom scene – and it turning out that Triple X is actually the woman. Surprise fake out! Amusingly, this is then replicated with the British doing the same thing and, of course, cutting to Bond also in bed. He then escapes from dastardly Russians via a parachute with a Union Jack on it…
The credits feature an astonishing number of nude women in silhouette. And Carly Simone, whose “Nobody does it better” has grown on me a lot since I’ve stopped automatically associating a real estate agent with it.
We meet the man responsible for the disappearing subs very quickly, and the fact that he’s ruthless immediately: he kills his lover for apparently giving away secrets, and for I think the third time? is a villain with a penchant for sharks. He, too, continues the villain-as-deformed theme, although less obviously than some: his thumb and forefinger webbing is very pronounced. I guess this is meant to account for his love of the life aquatic? Or something anyway. Writing that I realise that other villains have a thing with water – Dr No, and the guy in Thunderball I think? Stromberg gets the coolest looking lair to this point, although it’s spoiled by the narcissism of calling it Atlantis. Stromberg’s villainy is further amplified by, of course, his henchmen. Let’s just glory in the fabulousness that is Jaws for a moment:
Yup, fine specimen of a henchman. To my everlasting joy, the film managed to combine both Stromberg’s love of sharks and Jaws’ ability and willingness to bite anything and everything by featuring a fight between a great white and the metal mouth himself. You know who wins already.
There is actually a plot here, and I think it’s a better one than the previous two – so surely that’s a good sign, right? The first was rock bottom, the second clawed its way out of despair, this one is almost conceivably bearable? Almost? Bond and Triple X (who is named at some point, I know, but I missed it and anyway the code name works) end up in Egypt chasing down the owner of a microfilm with details about the sub-thief. Bond turns out to rock pseudo-Tuareg gear and to speak Arabic, as well as having an old Cambridge chum who sets him up for the night in a totally Lawrence of Arabia tent and a member of his harem. Then, getting back to the point, Bond continues searching and manages to get a third woman killed by a bullet intended for him. There’s some killing, some arguing, and then Bond and Triple X find themselves having to work together when Jaws makes off with the microfilm.
To James’ eye-rolling, I must stop here a moment and squeal about how awesome it was to see Bond on location in Egypt, having been there myself. I’m astonished they let them film in Karnak, but I guess the 70s was a different time. The most hilarious bit, though, is when they’re at the Sound and Light show at Gaza… because the voice-over from 1977 is exactly the same one that I heard in 2013. Exactly.
Bond and Triple X fight Jaws at Karnak; there’s a hilarious moment where Triple X can’t get their escape van into gear, because everyone knows that women can’t drive, especially not manuals! Ha ha! And then neatly reverses into Jaws. Bond notes “You did save my life;” she tartly replies with “Everybody makes mistakes.” And then they walk in the desert, because the van breaks down, and they seriously, no jokes, do so to the strains of the Lawrence of Arabia theme. My eyes rolled so hard it hurt.
And then Triple X and Bond discover they have to work together. Gee, thank bosses. Off to Sardinia they go, via a train trip featuring Jaws in Triple X’s wardrobe (Bond electrocutes him, she falls into Bond’s arms afterwards) and the discovery that Stromberg is capturing nuclear missiles in order to blow up both the USSR and the USA so that he can start the world anew… apparently under water or something? Isn’t this all sounding very familiar, a la Blofeld? I guess there are only so many supervillain prime motivating factors to go around, and wealth is not Stromberg’s concern at this point. Anyway, Bond foils the plot, making the nukes blow up the subs instead… which still means that there were two nuclear explosions in the middle of two oceans, but apparently we don’t care about that. Triple X is taken by Stromberg back to Atlantis and forced to wear an outrageous dress; Bond rescues her and they get away in a bachelor pad escape pod, complete with Dom Perignon 52:
I really liked Triple X most of the time. She has a lovely line in snark, is well aware of what Bond is about, and is mostly allowed to be competent. Blowing sleeping powder in Bond’s face when he gets amorous? Priceless. Apparently getting over her dead lover very quickly is less so. Vowing to kill Bond after the mission, when she discovers he killed her lover, was awesome – I love her professionalism in agreeing to finish the mission before killing him. And she didn’t blow their cover as his ‘wife’ even when Bond tells her “don’t be a bother” when being shown around Atlantis. Reneging on that vow to kill him – without even trying! – was disappointing. I would have liked her to put up more of a fight.
Bond continues to be a snob and ludicrously knowledgable. He poses as a marine biologist, he knows Arabic, he gets a detonator out of a nuclear bomb, and he can reprogram computers.
Underwater car … one of the coolest Bond cars yet? Another lukewarm film otherwise. The opening ski chase is classic bond and Triple X is a nice evolution for Bond as a franchise but there was still more cheese than a 1970s fondu set. Great music.