Tag Archives: feminism

The Ruby Knight

UnknownEDDINGS RE-READ: The Ruby Knight, BOOK TWO OF THE ELENIUM

Because we just don’t have enough to do, Tehani, Joanne and I have decided to re-read The Elenium and The Tamuli trilogies by David (and Leigh) Eddings, and – partly to justify that, partly because it’s fun to compare notes – we’re blogging a conversation about each book. We respond to each other in the post itself, but you can find Tehani’s post over here and Jo’s post here if you’d like to read the conversation going on in the comments. Also, there are spoilers!

ALEX:

Sparhawk starts this book a) immediately after the end of the first one, and b) wanting someone to jump him, so that he can get all violent on some unsuspecting footpad. I don’t think I was really paying attention to that sort of thing when I was a teen. He’s actually not a very nice man a lot of the time, and that makes me sad.

JO:

It is a bit sad isn’t it :( Sparhawk’s most common reaction seems to be violence, and the narrative and tone celebrates that part of him.

TEHANI:

Alex, you say “not a very nice man” but I never read it that way (and still don’t, I guess!) – he’s a product of his culture and his time. They seem to quite happily wreak havoc on people at the drop of a hat, and he IS a knight, trained to battle!

ALEX:

OK, maybe I don’t have to be quite so sad about him – that he’s a product of his time – but still his active desire for violence does act, for me now, against my lionising of him as a teenager. He is flawed, and I’m troubled because Jo is exactly right – the narrative celebrates him and his anger/violent tendencies.

TEHANI:

You’re both completely right. I still choose to read it in the context of the book, AND STICK MY HEAD IN THE SAND. Damn. That’s the problem with rereading with a few more brains behind us, isn’t it?!

ALEX:

Something we didn’t note in our review of The Diamond Throne is that the book is prefaced by a short excerpt from a ‘history’. This is a really neat way of building up back story and developing the world without having to info-dump – although of course the Eddings pair don’t really have an issue with info-dumps; after all, why else assign a novice knight to teach a young thief history? Anyway, I still like it, and it does show that there has been a fair bit of thought put into the world, even if much of it simplistic.

JO:

Yeah I enjoy these histories too. Good way to set the scene, highlight anything that’s going to be important for the book (like Lake Randera) and do a quick recap. They definitely like an info-dump, but at least the Eddings do it with style and humour!

TEHANI:

I reckon there’s reams of world-building behind these books, especially if the work that we see in The Rivan Codex (for the Belgariad/Mallorean world) is any context!

JO:

I enjoyed this book a lot more than I expected. I remembered The Ruby Knight as a very ‘middle book’, just basically a long build up to finding Bhelliom and saving Ehlana. But on the reread it was a lot more engaging than that. Maybe it’s because Eddings has the space here to really get into the characters, and I love these characters so much that I enjoyed that to no end.

TEHANI:

It really does boggle me that even though I’ve read this several times, I still don’t get bored of this long questy-ride-alonging. It really IS a middle book, and nothing terribly much happens, but it’s still a really enjoyable read! Bizarre. Is it nostalgia that makes it so, or some quality about the book that means I don’t chuck it across the room like I would most other “middle books” that really just march in place?

ALEX:

I found this one a bit more boring than I remembered – it really is just them wandering around. I totally still enjoyed the character development, and it is banter-ific, but on this re-read I got a bit impatient with the lack of actual plot movement.

JO:

They’re also very good at throwing everything in Sparhawk’s way. I mean, this is basically a quest book. We even have a ‘fellowship’ don’t we – Sephrenia mentions how important it is to have a certain number of people on the quest, it’s all about symmetry. But from the outset, everything that can go wrong does, and all of this does a great job of increasing the tension. Not only that, but characters we meet in the beginning and/or middle come back towards the end, which makes these side-quests feel a little less side-questy. By the time Sparhawk and Co. get roped into Wargun’s army I just wanted to scream because they were so close and it is so not fair! But I do love it when characters get put through the wringer like that. Nothing’s easy.

TEHANI:

Masochist! But I’m right there with you – wouldn’t be any fun if things just went to plan, right?

ALEX:

omg when I got to that and remembered that they were being co-opted I think I might actually have groaned out loud. GET ON WITH IT.

TEHANI:

I like that there’s a few points in this book that smack back at the classism – Wat and his fellows teach Sparhawk a thing or two: “Not meanin’ no offence, yer worship, but you gentle-folk think that us commoners don’ know nothin’, but when y’ stack us all together, there’s not very much in this world we don’t know.”

Ulath backs this up some chapters later: “Sometimes I think this whole nobility business is a farce anyway. Men are men – titled or not. I don’t think God cares, so why should we?”

“You’re going to stir up a revolution talking like that, Ulath.”

“Maybe it’s time for one.”

ALEX:

Tehani, you beat me to it – I LOVE that bit; I metaphorically punched the air.

JO:

Go Ulath! :)

TEHANI:

Unfortunately, there is also some nasty gender stuff – it doesn’t stem from our heroes, but isn’t challenged by them, and is somewhat supported by them to an extent (Kurik emphasises the nasty noble’s words by drawing his sword in this exchange):

“Mother will punish you.”

The noble’s laugh was chilling. “Your mother has begun to tire me, Jaken,” he said. “She’s self-indulgent, shrewish and more than a little stupid. She’s turned you into something I’d rather not look at. Besides, she’s not very attractive any more. I think I’ll send her to a nunnery for the rest of her life. The prayer and fasting may bring her closer to heaven, and the amendment of her spirit is my duty as a loving husband, wouldn’t you say?”

(more follows on p. 217 – of my copy…)

ALEX:

urgh. Hate that.

JO:

And it’s ok that he feels this way because it was an ‘arranged marriage’. Poor bloke, getting stuck in an arranged marriage like that. *flat stare* There are a lot of comments in these books about women being obsessed with marriage and men ‘escaping’.

ALEX:

And there’s other uncomfortable gender moments, too, like the serving girls in the tavern often being blonde, busty, and none too bright… *sigh* And then there’s Kring, who asks whether it’s ok to loot, commit arson, and/or rape when they partake in war with the Church Knights.

TEHANI:

Oh, so many uncomfortable moments…

JO:

Yeah I’d totally forgotten that about Kring. I was so excited to see him, because I always liked him, but that took the wind out of my sails a bit.

TEHANI:

But Kring kind of changes, I think (though later on) and that element is quite lost later. However, it does NOT do well to realise which culture the Peloi are intended to represent. Oh, the casual racism…

ALEX:

On the topic of racism – every time Sephrenia rolls her eyes and says “Elenes,” I can’t help but think of the bit in The Mummy where Jonathan says “Americans” in that insulting tone of voice (which I can’t find on YouTube, darn it).

TEHANI:

I think Sephrenia is quite within her rights saying it in that EXACT tone of voice!

ALEX:

Also, Ghwerig being ‘misshapen’ isn’t quite suggested as the reason for his being evil, but it’s pretty close – and keeps cropping up throughout the series. I can’t imagine how that makes a non-able-bodied reader feel, given it makes even me gnash my teeth.

TEHANI:

You know, I never actually read it that way – it mustn’t be quite as overt as some of the other uncomfortable things. But of course, now you’ve pointed it out, yes, I completely see it.

JO:

Oh hey I never really noticed that either! But now that you mention it, I can’t unsee it. Which says a lot. Why do I see all the gender stuff immediately, but this passed me by? Of course there’s a long literary tradition of physical deformities = spiritual ones. That’s no excuse. I must be more aware in my reading.

TEHANI:

Kurik’s acknowledgment of Talen (p. 392) made me cry as much as it did Talen!

ALEX:

You softy. I didn’t cry in THAT bit…

JO:

Oh no, the bit that always made me cry is still to come…

ALEX:

Mine too.

Apropos of nothing, did either of you find it a bit odd that Kurik checks on Sparhawk in the middle of the night?? I bet there’s fanfic out there…

TEHANI:

There’s fanfic out there for EVERYTHING! I didn’t think it odd, though I did love the naked man-hug in the early pages of the first book! (go on, go check, I’ll wait…) :)

JO:

I am NOT going to go looking for fan fic. I am NOT…

ALEX:

Oh, I don’t need to check, Tehani, I remember  :D

Also, do you remember whether you suspected Flute of being actually divine before the great revelation at the end of this story? I’m not sure! I hope I did…

TEHANI:

Well, I read these completely backwards (Tamuli before Elenium), so I was spoiled for that already I’m afraid!

JO:

Tehani that breaks my brain.

I had suspicions about Flute from very early on. I remember being very impressed with myself at the time. I reread it now and think how could you not? They do kinda hit you over the head with it :p

TEHANI:

I think by now we’ve read WAY too much in the field to be surprised by something like that – but a newish reader to the genre? Maybe they wouldn’t pick it!

Well, being the middle book of the trilogy, there isn’t really much by way of plot to chat about, I guess, so shall we move along? Perhaps faster than the plot of the book itself… :)

JO:

We should talk about plot shouldn’t we :)

Sooo… As usual the book opens up with Sparhawk travelling through Cimmura at night in the fog. Notice how often that happens in these books?

TEHANI:

Yes, you’re right! It’s a trend in the books, for sure.

JO:

I quite like the repetition. He’s got both rings, and now he knows he needs Bhelliom to cure Ehlana and it’s time for the sapphire rose to be found again anyway. The fellowship head off on their quest for the magic jewel and have adventures along the way, including being stuck in the middle of a siege, dealing with Count Ghasek’s possessed sister, raising the dead and finally fighting the Seeker who has been chasing them all this time.

Eventually they make it to Ghwerig’s cave – after the introduction of Milord Stragen, another favourite character – fight and defeat the troll. Flute is revealed as the child-Goddess Aphrael, and gives Bhelliom over to Sparhawk.

Was that the kind of thing you had in mind? ;)

TEHANI:

This is why YOU’RE the writer…! Nicely summed up indeed. The Count Ghasek storyline was a bit of a tough one. On one hand, Ghasek seemed like a nice enough chap. On the other, the motives behind his sister’s madness, well, not great to examine that too closely, I think.

JO:

Although I did appreciate the throwback to book one – Eddings could have introduced any old character here, but Bellina is the woman Sparhawk and Sephrenia witnessed going into that evil Zemoch house.

TEHANI:

Well seeded indeed…

ALEX:

GET ON WITH THE STORY, EDDINGS PEOPLE!

 

The Diamond Throne

Diamond_ThroneEDDINGS RE-READ: The Diamond Throne, BOOK ONE OF THE ELENIUM

Because we just don’t have enough to do, Tehani, Joanne and I have decided to re-read The Elenium and The Tamuli trilogies by David (and Leigh) Eddings, and – partly to justify that, partly because it’s fun to compare notes – we’re blogging a conversation about each book. We respond to each other in the post itself, but you can find Tehani’s post over here and Jo’s post here if you’d like to read the conversation going on in the comments. Also, there are spoilers!

TEHANI:

I was feeling a little book-weary yesterday so thought I might as well start my reading for this conversational review series, given it’s usually a soothing experience. Within a single PAGE, I was reaching for Twitter, because SO MUCH of the book cried out to be tweeted! Great one-liners, the introduction of favourite characters, and, sadly, some of the not so awesome bits as well. I was having a grand time pulling out 140 character lines (#EddingsReread if you’re interested), but the response from the ether was amazing! So many people hold these books firmly in their reading history, and it was just lovely to hear their instant nostalgia.

ALEX:

And I read those tweets and everything was SO FAMILIAR that I immediately started reading as well. And finished a day later.

JO:

Ok. A) You people read too quickly! B) Tehani those tweets were enough to start me feeling all nostalgic. I was in the middle of cooking dinner and had to put everything down, run upstairs and dig the books out of their box hidden in the back of the wardrobe.

TEHANI:

I am not at all repentant! :) Also, did you both find this a super easy read? Is it the style, or just that I’ve read it several times before? It really was like sinking into a warm fluffy hug, hitting the pages of this book again. I actually can’t remember the last time I read it, but it’s got to be over a decade, yet I felt instantly at home again. Eddings was one of the authors who caused my addiction to the genre, and even in the very first chapters, it’s easy to see why. The light and breezy writing style is instantly accessible, and the way we’re thrown straight into the action, with our hero Sparhawk leading us through, makes the book start with a bang.

ALEX:

Reading that first page was a little bit like going back to my high school, many years after graduating. It just felt so familiar, and comfortable. And like high school, I know it’s not without problems – but it’s still somewhere that has a lot of ME wrapped up in it. I also don’t remember when I last read these, but it’s not for aaaaages… And yes, super easy to read. TOO easy!  ;D

JO:

Oh yes, absolutely. As soon as I started reading it all came back to me. I remembered the moment I found The Diamond Throne in the library, and the first chapter and intro of Sparhawk hooked me instantly. While I think as a teenager I identified the most with Polgara from the Belgariad (I wanted to BE her) I have always loved Sparhawk.

ALEX:

Polgara is still one of my absolute favourite characters! Sparhawk is too, though – one of the great characters for me in my early teen years. I adored that he was older, and cynical, and world-weary. When I was 14 I thought I was all of those things…now that I am 34 I still absolutely empathise! This story also shows that his cynicism is cut with a very large streak of sappiness, which I think serves to make him just a bit more relatable. His love for Sephrenia, his respect for Vanion and Dolmant and Kurik – he’s actually a fairly well-rounded character, as these things go. His habit of calling people ‘friend’ and ‘neighbour’ is why I call everyone ‘mate’ to this day. True story. I also adore the relationship he has with Faran, that ugly roan brute; I love Faran unconditionally.

TEHANI:

He is so pragmatic, completely prepared for violence at all times, and yet from the very early pages where he gives the street girl some coins and calls her “little sister”, we see he’s an absolute marshmallow inside. I’m with you Alex, I adore him.

JO:

I have an admission to make. I still love him, but Sparhawk’s making me a little uncomfortable in this reread. For all his neighbours and his giving money to the scrawny whore, I’m starting to feel like he’s a bit of a bully. He gets what he wants because he can and does threaten violence if he doesn’t get it…and it feels like Eddings thinks this is ok because he’s Sparhawk. He’s a Pandion (not only a Pandion but the best of them, as we are repeatedly reminded) and the people he threatens are ‘evil’ anyway so no harm done… I dunno, it’s just made me feel a bit squeamish this time round.

TEHANI:

That’s a really good point. I’ve had a similar discussion with my Doctor Who reviewing buddies Tansy and David about David Tennant’s Doctor – he does and says some pretty awful things, but we accept it generally without question a) because he’s the Doctor, but more importantly b) because David Tennant plays him so charismatically. Sparhawk has the same sort of issues – we know (or are given by the narrative to believe) that he’s on the side of right, and that he is the Champion, therefore we accept his behaviour because it’s presented as being for the right reasons.

ALEX:

*sigh* you are of course both correct – Sparhawk’s use of “might is right” is totally accepted by the novel because he is so awesome. And if that’s not an abuse of power, right there, then nothing is.

On a more positive note, I think I like all of the other characters, too. Sephrenia is delightful although definitely not rounded out enough here…and I do have a problem with her “we Styrics are so simple and you Elenes are so complex” thing. I want to believe that she’s just serving back to the Elenes what they believe about themselves, so that she can manipulate them, but I’m not sure if that’s knowledge of the rest of the series or wishful thinking (more on that below). Talen is already totally amusing and reminds me a lot of Silk, from the Belgariad, which is unsurprising. The Merry Men really are dreamy; Ulath and his blonde plaits will always be my favourite, because who doesn’t love the quiet cryptic type?

TEHANI:

And I adore Kalten, because he’s always needling Sparhawk yet they clearly love each other. Talen was a definite favourite from early on too, and Kurik is marvellous – a definite father figure, or maybe more an uncle…

ALEX:

The classism and the racism…ouch. The Rendors are meant to be Arab analogues, right? Because everyone knows that living in the heat makes your brain go soft. OUCH. Also, why have I always thought the Styrics were analogues for Jews? Is it just that the Elenes burning their villages is frighteningly similar to pogroms in Christian Europe in the Middle Ages? (But of course there’s no religious similarity at all, and the only ‘real’ similarity is the refusal of pork.)

JO: I always thought that about the Styrics too.

TEHANI:

Oh yes, that was the first thing I picked up on in terms of the negative stereotypes – completely over my head when I read these in my late teens, front and centre now. I actually wrote a uni paper on representations of reality in Eddings and Feist, but I’ve sure learned a lot since then! I could easily IDENTIFY the real world correlations, but did I notice the negative aspects of this? No I did NOT. *sigh* Bad past me, bad!

This time around, the classism was just as interesting too – I think I was so indoctrinated into the usual process of high fantasy in my 20s that this would never have even occurred to me to see. This time though, Sephrenia’s derision about the intelligence “common” Elenes and Styrics is, ugh, just awful. And when it’s other races as WELL as commoners, well, that’s terrible.

ALEX:

The class aspect is ugly as all get out. When they’re in the council chamber confronting Vanion, Dolmant – the lovely, gentle Dolmant – says why believe an untitled merchant (his words!) and a runaway serf over and above the honorable Preceptor (code: titled)? Now we know that those are both lying, but that’s beside the point. I dunno, Dolmant, maybe because truth and honesty aren’t actually the privileges of the wealthy and titled?

JO:

Oh goodness yes. I have to admit this is something that passed me by the first time I read these. Maybe because in the world Eddings writes it does feel so natural. Which is disturbing.

TEHANI:

It really is, isn’t it! And once you see, you can’t unsee…

ALEX:

This is one of the first real instances I remember of the Crystal Dragon Jesus trope – taking what can be broadly recognised as a version of the medieval Catholic Church and transporting it to a secondary fantasy world.

TEHANI:

I’ve not heard of the “Crystal Dragon Jesus trope” – please elaborate?

JO:

Neither have I!

ALEX:

Instead of creating your own religious system for your magical fantasy world, you take the broad brush strokes of (usually) the medieval Catholic Church – because hey, everyone knows that medieval stuff is bad, plus Catholics are easy to laugh at, right? It generally involves a monotheistic religion with a convoluted hierarchy, seemingly-pious churchmen (and only men) who are meant to be celibate but often aren’t, because that also makes them easier to turn into evil characters. The only thing that the Eddings missed is the saviour/messiah/ someone who sacrificed themselves bit, of the religion. It irks me because it is so lazy.

JO:

I did not know there was a term for that :)

ALEX:

Tehani, you said there was a Lord of the Rings reference early on – did you mean Ghwerig the Troll-Dwarf being like both Sauron and Gollum, with the whole rings thing? (Also, how did Ghwerig ‘casually’ smash a diamond?) There’s also a Hamlet reference, at the end, when Sparhawk comes across Annias praying in the chapel and chooses not to kill him.

TEHANI:

Yes, exactly! I missed the Hamlet reference, and I think there were a couple of others in there!

I could hand-wave the diamond smashing – I figured if he was working under the influence of the gods, he could pretty much do anything!

JO:

You know, there’s a lot of repetition in this book. It almost feels like any time anything happens, it has to be reported back to the group in the next scene, and discussed. Same goes for any time they meet a new character, we have a recap of events up until this point. All done with amusing dialogue, of course. But still!

TEHANI:

You’re right, but it’s so breezily written I hardly notice it! I do quite like the way travelling actually takes a significant amount of time, even when that slows down the action.

ALEX:

Thanks to your tweets, Tehani, I noticed every single time the word ‘peculiar’ was used.

JO:

By the end there I was getting a little sick of “I’m (terribly) disappointed in you, ___.” Or something similar. I noticed it a couple of times then couldn’t unsee it!

TEHANI:

Yes, Eddings has several “tics” of writing that once you notice them, you ALWAYS see them! “Flat stares” are my favourite :)

JO:

Particularly when they come from Faran. I love that horse and his flat stares.

TEHANI:

That horse is practically human.

ALEX:

That horse and his prancing make me happy.

JO:

I’m having a strange and conflicted reaction to the female characters in these books. On the one hand, they are such wonderful strong people. Sephrenia is powerful, but that’s almost not what makes her strong – rather her pacifism compared to the bloodthirsty knights around her, and her determination to do her duty to her goddess. And her relationship with Vanion. Ehlana’s still encased in diamond at this point, but the effect she had on Sparhawk pretty much says it all! Even Arissa has her own desires and knows her own mind. But…but… I dunno, something feels off to me. Maybe because there are few of them? Maybe Lillias’ rather large hissy fit soured it all for me. I just don’t know. Would love your reactions.

TEHANI:

I actually thought the Lillias thing was reasonably well handled – it was made pretty clear it was a cultural “norm” rather than her personal feelings, which made it okay for me, I guess. The female characters are interesting though; I wonder if it’s because they are constantly stamping their feet at the men and pretending to be less powerful than they are to get their own way that’s the problem? Possibly I’m getting ahead of myself though – this is only the first book!

ALEX:

I loved Lillias’ melodramatic turn – and that Sparhawk played to it for her sake. I am conflicted about Sephrenia: are the knights looking after her because they love her, or because they see her as weak? Or is that an “and” situation? I don’t like Arissa but I admire her strength. For me, I think it’s that this is such a boys world the women feel a bit out of place. The other female character of course is Flute, and she’s quite funny, but one thing I wanted to point out: she ‘somehow’ escapes the convent where they leave her, and meets the crew further on…and no one goes back to tell the convent she’s ok?! Seriously??

TEHANI:

Don’t look too hard Alex, there’s all SORTS of little nitpicks like that! I think we’re almost ready to move on to the next book. I don’t suppose it really matters that we’ve not talked about the plot, right? It’s your basic high fantasy quest, with lashings of barriers thrown into our hero’s journey, a cast of thousands (seriously, it gets quite large in the end…) and lots fun dialogue that means you completely don’t notice that sometimes nothing really happens for several pages *cough chapters cough*.

ALEX:

Things happen! Characters develop! Banter is committed!  :D

JO:

Yeah, what more could you possibly want? Lots of riding horses to get to places. Things go wrong for our heroes all the time. I do think Eddings is good at that in particular. Just when you think they might finally achieve something, *bam* something goes wrong. Usually involving Martel. And yes, lots of banter. Banter is awesome.

TEHANI:

Hey, have you two seen this? http://42geekstreet.com/fantasy-casting-agency-the-diamond-throne-the-elenium/

ALEX:

omg. How awesome. One big nitpick: they CANNOT make David Wenham Martel! Nononononono. No. Kalten maybe?

JO:

LOL ‘who could play Sparhawk in a movie’ is my husband’s favourite pastime. It drives me nuts.

Also, Gerard Butler? Gerard Butler? That’s it, I quit the internet. *walks away from the internet*

TEHANI:

What’s WRONG with Gerard Butler! *wanders off whistling* See you both back here for the next exciting instalment of our reread!

 

Diaspora, Greg Egan

The same caveat applies to this book as to every other Egan novel. If you are neither inherently fascinated by mathematics and physics taken past the bleeding edge, nor willing to tolerate possibly pages of physics discussion that you don’t get, then don’t read this novel. It’s not the book, it’s you – and that’s ok, it’s just not worth your while getting frustrated.

That said, if you’re willing to dive in, I think this is another of Egan’s awesome novels. Spoilers coming.

Greg Egan_1998_DiasporaThe premise is that at the end of the 30th century, there are some humans we would see as ‘normal’ – called fleshers here; there are more ‘people’ who inhabit the polises, which are basically massive computers – so yes, they’re virtual, from our current perspective. And there are also gleisners, who inhabit robot bodies. The plot is driven by the perspective of a couple of polis citizens; indeed it begins with the creation of an ‘orphan’, a citizen in a polis created with no input from any parental guidelines but by the polis itself, basically to test new possibilities. This orphan, who becomes Yatima, is a primary protagonist.

Some reviewers over on goodreads have been frustrated by the lack of fiction, or plot, in this story, and I can see where they’re coming from. However, there is a plot, and even if sometimes it takes something of a backseat to the ideas – well, that’s kinda the deal with an Egan story. But it’s not superfluous in any way. So what is it? Well, a gleisner astronomical survey indicates that two neutron stars are about to collapse into each other, several million years earlier than they ought to. They’re frighteningly close to the earth, and it does indeed do very bad things to the planet when the gamma rays etc get here. From this, eventually, there is a diaspora as people (broadly understood) attempt to understand this event and how to survive future ones and also, just Going Out into the universe as humanity has always dreamed of doing. Interesting things are discovered, of course.

This brings me to a rant about the blurb. It suggests that Yatima is searching for a world where no “acts of God” will occur. Um, no. If anyone is searching for that it’s Orlando, a flesher who goes into a polis after the catastrophe. But even that does absolutely no justice to anyone’s motivation. So… all I can think is that the blurber had no idea what to say about the book, and was told to focus on the plot (which they didn’t understand) rather than the ideas. This is my contempt you’re feeling right now.

And then there are the big questions Egan plays with. Some of these are things he’s actively working through over the novel, while others are things he simply takes for granted. For me, as always, his approach to gender is the most striking on a plot level. Because it’s one of the issues he simply takes for granted. Humanity living in a software-created virtual world? Why on earth would they keep to rigid binary (yes I know, all the caveats about it not actually being binary) understandings of gender? So most of the polis citizens are referred to as “ve” – and things happen to “ver” while belongings are “vis”, which is very neat. There are some who are gendered; Orlando, perhaps understandably, can’t shed his original gendered self perception; there are some polis-born citizens who also insist on it, and they’re regarded as frankly a bit weird. I adore this aspect.

The virtual nature of much of the story could lead to a complete divorcing from the physical, which is an issue I’ve been thinking a lot about since reading Nike Sulway’s Tiptree speech: the issue of divorcing matter and mind. However, I think Egan does a good job here of not doing so – and indeed of interrogating the issue. The polis inhabitants do still interact with matter, and it is important to them; there are discussions about the importance, or not, of interacting with the real and whether postulating crazy things like more dimensions than we can see or interact with is just offensive. Most polis citizens respect the material world even if they experience it differently from fleshers. And the diaspora, even if it takes places as (basically) flying computers, also interacts with the real and physical in important, fundamental and profound ways. So, go you, Egan, for not just going the lazy cyberpunk route.

Did I mention that this book takes place quite seriously over about two millennia, and then speeds up at the end to encompass even more time? What a head spin.

Some of the physics stuff he discusses: astronomy – especially the neutron star bits; extrasolar planets; alien life, including evolution and non-carbon-based possibilities; wormholes; quarks, leptons, fermions etc; and the possibility of other universes and how they would interact, or not, with the one we inhabit.

On that note, I can’t help but feel that this must to some extent be Egan’s answer to, or take, on Flatland. Indeed he references the idea of “flatland” at one stage. Because some of the characters are forced to interact with beings existing in 5 dimensions, and how are you going to do that? So that’s a really nice aspect for those who have read that somewhat obscure adventure into dimensional maths.

Some of the other ideas that Egan confronts: human evolution, both ‘natural’ and deliberate, and what that will mean for the various branches communicating with each other; the place of art and of mathematics; cloning, and its possibilities; parenthood and the nature of being an orphan; individuality and community.

I told you this was a dense, complex, and – I mean it – ambitious work, right? You can get it from Fishpond. 

Octopussy

This review is part of Project Bond, wherein over the course of 2014 we watch all of the James Bond movies in production order.

Octopussy_-_UK_cinema_posterSummary: in which we get an Indian Cultural Showcase, a confusion of villains, and Q gets out into the field!

Alex: aaaaand we’re back to crappy Moore films. Once again a film takes us two sittings to get through. If we’d had popcorn I would have been throwing it at the screen.

See what they did with the film poster? I see what you did there!

The prologue starts in what I think is meant to be Cuba, at a horse race. There’s definitely a Castro analogue. Bond gets busted trying to blow something up, and captured; his lady accomplice distracts his guards by being very sexy. Bond gets rid of them by pulling their rip cords, because for some reason these soldiers in a jeep are wearing parachutes. Then he gets into a horse float… which turns out not to have a horse in it, but a folding plane.

This prologue was an omen of things to come. Bad things, confusing things, and eye-rolling things.

The plot of Octopussy is confusing because it’s unclear who the villain is. In For Your Eyes Only, there’s a twist to the villain, and that’s quite clever and neat. Here, there are several potential villains, all vying against each other, and the actual point of their villainy is sometimes confused. I have no problem with messy films that are trying for real-life verisimilitude. In a Bond film, however, it is out of place – and this is just messy, not clever-messy. Let me try to lay it out:

1. The Russians are fighting. General Gogol – head of the secret service? – is trying to convince the top brass that going along with NATO’s ideas of compromise is sensible. General Orlov, however, says nyet! (… sorry…) – because he’s a frothing-at-the-mouth expansionist. He may be my favourite character. Orlov has been selling Russian jewellery in the decadent West to fund his ventures, including – at the start of the film – a Faberge egg. He has a cunning plan to explode a small nuclear device on a US base in Germany, which will be confusing because there will be no trajectory! So NATO will be forced to completely disarm because they’re scaredy cats!! and Russia will take over the world!!! For this he needs…

30MaudAdams2. Octopussy. Leader of a smuggling ring that has branched out into, among other things, circuses (…?!?). Orlov will use Octo’s circus trains to get the bomb to the base. But Octo doesn’t know this; she thinks she’s just smuggling jewellery. Their connection was set up by…

octopussy_5-620x3. Kamal Khan. Suave, debonair, meant to be Indian but played by a French actor. (Sigh.) Kamal’s motives are… unclear. I think he’s ultimately just into money, because he’s never shown to be a true believer in the Soviet way or even especially interested in changing the world.

So at first Bond thinks he’s up against Kamal, because he’s chasing the origin of the Faberge egg that comes up at Sotheby’s (with a marvellous moment of egging the bidding on, giving his friend from the government a heart attack). Then it seems like Kamal is taking orders from a lady, with whom Bond ends up in bed. But then we see Khan reporting to a mysterious woman in a dressing gown with an octopus on the back – and we know she’s mysterious and powerful because we don’t see her face at this stage. We see Orlov and Khan chatting together so clearly they’re connected… then Bond goes to check out Octo’s island… and look. This is just confused, right? The villains are playing off against each other. Frankly I think this would be a better movie if it was entirely focussed on the villains and Bond just wasn’t in it. In fact, that would be an AWESOME movie.

Race: well, I was mighty sad Khan was played by a French dude. I really liked Louis Jourdain, don’t get me wrong – I think he’s delightful – but it’s not like there was a shortage of Indian actors (even Indian-American or Indian-British, I would have guessed) in 1983. It’s a throwback to Dr No.  Bond has an awesome Indian sidekick, Vijay, who gets some great lines and is delightfully engaging – and then he dies. Dead brown man alert! And then there’s that delightful line from Bond, when he’s spreading around some largesse: “This should keep you in curry for a few weeks.” Ho ho! The film does its cultural showcase thing with India as it has done with some of the other Exotic Locales the franchise has visited. When Bond arrives there’s a lingering shot of the Taj Mahal, which I’m going to guess is entirely incongruous from a geographical perspective. And then there’s the equivalent of the Winter Olympics scene from the last film: during a chase, we see a man lying on a bed of nails, sword swallowing, fire walking, fire twirling, and ‘gurus’. And then there’s hunting scene – hunting a tiger, on elephants, in the ‘burbs – where Bond swings on a vine and does the Tarzan yodel. I’m serious.

Gender: Octopussy only gets that name, and it’s a nickname from her father. The first main woman, Magda, is only named some minutes after Bond sleeps with her. Bond goes to visit Octo’s island after hearing that it’s women-only, to which Bond responds: “sexual discrimination! I’ll have to pay it a visit.” Way to go negating a real issue, film! Octo and Bond appear to be working on the same level for a while… until Octo says “we’re two of a kind” (hello theme song reference), and appears to be offering Bond a job. Bond gets snippy, Octo gets offended by his sanctimonious attitude and storms out – and Bond follows her and forces her to kiss him. She fights a bit and then gives in. Because it’s soooo sexy when a guy forces you to do something you don’t want! Also, we get a short scene with Moneypenny – and Moneypenny’s assistant, who is young an glamorous and whom Bond chats up and then realises it’s not Moneypenny. Oops. Moneypenny does a lovely line in snark, at last, and the assistant says somewhat drily that she’s been warned about him. Of course, when he leaves the room they both have a little sigh.

Also, there’s this:

octopussy-1352392876Oh Moore. The irony is probably lost on you.

James: You gentle reader might expect me to write things about a balloon with a Union Jack on it (and Q in it), or the TV watch which Bond uses to ogle a pretty young thing in Q’s lab, but the truth is … ZzZZZZZZZzzzzzzzzzzz…….. I fell asleep in this one… Slow, confused, no truly great gadgets or cars.  My favourite part ? This.

aligator

1 Martini

 

Galactic Suburbia 103

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

News

Update on the Elise Matthesen harassment case from Wiscon 2013.

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

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

What Culture Have we Consumed?

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

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

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

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

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

Bikes. In. Spaaaaace

This should be being talked about more.

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

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

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

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

But I don’t like bikes!

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

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

For Your Eyes Only

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2.5 Martinis

Secret Lives

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

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

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

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

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

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

The final story is

The slut and the universe

or

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

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

or

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

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

This collection is awesome. You should buy it. 

Moonraker

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.

bond3Alex: 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.

bond4The 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.

bond6Anyway. 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 bondthem. 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.

/end rant

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.

bond5JStar Wars Theatrical Posters Around The World in 1977 (1)ames: 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.

 

 

 

North Wind

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.

9780312859268North 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!

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