In which the boob window is explained. Don’t say we’re not educational! You can get us from iTunes or Galactic Suburbia.
Drink Tank loves us! Download their Hugo shortlist commentary here.
Mondy loves us too! He makes us go awww.
James Tiptree Jr finally in the Science Fiction Hall of Fame, and about time too.
Talking to Alistair Reynolds: he defends the idea that science fiction has a limited number of plots
Women in (Japanese) Comics: Cheryl Morgan reports; Anime News Network
Some kickstarter stuff:
Feminist Historical Anthology from Ann & Jeff VanderMeer
What Culture Have we Consumed?
Alisa: We Wuz Pushed by Brit Mandelo
Alex: Castles Made of Sand, Gwyneth Jones; Captain America; The Avengers; Confusion of Princes, Garth Nix
Tansy: A Confusion of Princes, Garth Nix; The Avengers; Earth 2 & World’s Finest; Ishtar
Tansy’s Note: “I do not mourn the boob window” is a classic line that should be long remembered and oft repeated – but Cheryl Morgan said it first! I only steal from the best…
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Khemri, our narrator, tells us straight up that he has died three times, and that this is the story of those deaths “and my life between.” It’s also made clear that although he is called a Prince, he hasn’t been born into a royal family but, rather, effectively kidnapped – requisitioned might be a better term. The story is that of Khemri learning that much of what he knows about being a Prince is wrong, or at least wrong-headed. He learns this while avoiding being killed – usually not because of his own wits – and while gradually coming to terms with the realities of the Empire. He has a wise, enigmatic Master of Assassins by his side (and the novel includes a bonus short story that gives just a little more insight into Haddad’s character), and while he does die a few times the first time isn’t until he’s actually learnt some things, which is a plus.
The overall story is fairly enjoyable. The twists and turns in Khemri learning how the Empire actually works, as opposed to how he has been taught that it does, is generally well played, although not especially original; there were only a couple of times I was genuinely surprised. I enjoyed the idea of the Princes all vying to be the next Emperor and how that might play out when there are ten million of them, mostly bloodthirsty or at the very least ruthless. And the world building was particularly interesting.
Truth be told, it was the world building that really kept me reading. The combination of Mektek, Bitek and Psitek is wonderfully intriguing – how an empire could get to the point where all three are valued, and used, and used in conjunction is fascinating. The idea of the Empire itself was… interesting, and intriguing even, but there wasn’t quite enough background or explanation to satisfy me. There is some explanation of what it means to be Emperor by the end of the story, but still not really anything about why it is an empire that rules this sprawling, mostly-human conglomeration of planets; nor why or how it was decided that Princes ought to be sought from the general population. I really liked this aspect, but it still was confusing about why it was there in the first place, if not simply as a narrative device.
Sadly, it was an aspect of the world building that really, really grated on me and meant that even if the story had been glorious, I would still not have been in love with this book. Princes get mind-programmed thralls: butlers, valets… courtesans…. This aspect of Khemri’s life, and the fact that throughout all of his adventures he basically accepts this as his due, revolted me. If there had been some questioning of this ‘right’ for Princes, if there had been some interaction with a thrall that indicated they had awareness and Khemri wondered about them, I could perhaps have swallowed a bitter pill and taken this for an aspect of a hinted dystopia. But there isn’t. Instead, we have slaves, who have been programmed, conditioned, to serve their master and be incapable of rebelling. This, I cannot accept.
On a different note, Khemri is your Perceval-type character. (Remember when David Eddings wrote a big long thing about how to construct a fantasy world and story? Maybe at the start of… I forget, one of the Belgariad tag-along books. Anyway, he said your main character, who was clearly going to be male, basically fell into Arthurian archetypes, and Garion was Perceval: the slightly dim well-meaning young fellow who needed everything explained to him.) He’s arrogant and dim, without realising the latter while relishing the former; he has his hopes for his young Princely life dashed and then nearly his actual young Princely life as well, and he gradually learns about power and authority and their right use and etc. Standard stuff. Haddad is nicely played as enigmatic-older-guide, and I would really liked to have seen more of him; the fact that people such as him get assigned to different Princes over their careers suggests all sorts of intriguing possibilities for issues of loyalty. Other than that, there’s A Girl, and a fairly large cast of C-characters who alternately challenge, nearly kill, and befriend our hero.
The gender issue is also an interesting one in this story. Princes can be either male or female, and they are treated no differently from one another; once you are a Prince, with all the conditioning and genetic tweaks attendant on that, you’re just… a Prince. Male or female no longer counts for anything, if it ever did. The same goes for priests and assassins; there seems to be no barrier about holding significant roles within either field, or indeed any other, based on gender. With all of that, the one female who plays a significant role is a love interest. She does other things too, but it still feels like she almost entirely defined by the romantic aspect, and the impact this has on Khemri. Which was a little disappointing.
Overall, I was somewhat disappointed: by the thralls specifically, but by the lacklustre nature of the story more generally. It’s touted as a space opera, but it’s just not grand enough for that. Some might argue that it is grand enough for a YA space opera, but I don’t think YA means getting to be a little bit boring with plot and magnificent gestures. It may be that I am cynical and jaded (never let it be said that I am too jaded to admit that’s possible). On the other hand, maybe this does just miss the mark.
I am a long-time fan of both Garth Nix and Sean Williams (more so the latter’s SF than fantasy), so the idea of a collaboration between the two – aimed at children – is exciting indeed. And I was fortunate enough to hear Sean Williams speak about the act of collaboration at Natcon50, where he discussed the different things that each brought to the writing: that (I think!) Williams wrote the first rough draft, then Nix added bits and changed bits, and sent it back again… and so on. I was particularly amused to hear that the two got into some serious brinksmanship over who could be the most gross, since they are both little boys at heart, so I intrigued to read and discover what this looked like in practice. (The answer: they do indeed manage to be quite gross. I am not a fan of rats or cockroaches.)
Troubletwisters harks very strongly to the classics of fantasy written for younger readers. The main characters are twins: Jaide and Jack. (In talking about the story, Williams admitted that he has long been intrigued by twins and their use in fiction. As I see it, it’s almost like you’re getting a character for free – and it means that you always have the opportunity for your characters to discuss things, disagree about things, or be worried about someone.) Their father is away a lot, and they know nothing about his side of the family… until a disaster means that they have to go and stay with their mysterious paternal grandmother, where they begin to learn about some strange abilities. These plot devices could have felt hackneyed and stale, being by no means original; instead they feel familiar, but by no means comfortable. Williams and Nix use the twins as a means of exploring different reactions to scenarios and individuals, and there are indications that the two will have different experiences of their abilities that will be explored in later books of the series (there will be another four). The trope of leaving home and going to an alien place is as old as fiction itself; it can be, and is used here as, the catalyst for self-discovery and learning about the world. The strange relative and slightly intimidating new environment – Grandma X and her weird house – are perfect for the target age-group: visiting unknown relatives can be a very scary thing indeed.
The plot moves quickly: the twins arrive at their Grandma’s house and soon things start to go wrong. Additionally, weird things happen when they are around: a sign their mother can’t see, a freak whirlwind, talking cats…. There is, of course, a reason for this – it’s their nature – and the narrative is largely concerned with the pair beginning to learn about their abilities, and what it means to use them. Of course, they can’t simply do this is peace and quiet. Instead, they are confronted with a rather nasty villain, and it’s in dealing with this villain and its impact on their environment that they really start to learn about what it means to be “troubletwisters”. While the twins are allowed some breathing space – Williams and Nix don’t pretend 12-year-olds can simply go on throughout the night – the main action takes place over only three or four days, so it does feel a bit relentless. Since this is certainly how it feels for Jaide and Jack, that’s a perfectly reasonable feeling for the reader.
As with Nix’s Keys to the Kingdom series, which shares a certain tone with Troubletwisters, it’s unclear what country this book is set in. Grandma X lives in Portland – but not the one you’ve heard of. Reading as an Australian, I could well believe that this was set on the Victorian coast. Having visited the UK, I can imagine it set there, too, and I imagine that setting it in America would be as easy for readers there. This ubiquity is no doubt good for getting international readers; it also gives the book a certain Everyplace vibe. This could happen to anyone, anywhere.
I have two, fairly minor, quibbles with this book. The first is the naming of the twins. I quite like the names Jaide and Jack… but those names are short for Jaidith and Jackaran. These names simply do not work to my ear – Jackaran in particular seems too complicated, and I am not a huge fan of made-up names in a real-world context. I really hope that there is an explanation for the names in later books. On the same topic, but in the opposite direction, I was disappointed by the lack of originality in naming the villain (which I won’t reveal here). It seemed too mundane for something that so threatening.
Overall, then, this is a marvellous opening to what promises to be a very interesting new children’s fantasy series. It sets up the main characters as attractive and interesting, although not without their problems, as well as introducing some supporting characters who will no doubt go on to be important (did I mention the talking cats?). There is clearly a problem to be resolved – what to do about the villain – as well as a quest, in learning to use and control their abilities. Plus, of course, there’s the issue of their slightly fractured family, which will no doubt continue to be an issue that the twins have to deal with. I have faith in the two authors that this series will continue to be enjoyable, without being predictable.
By the last day of a con, everyone is starting to get a bit weary, and understandably so. There were a number of people who were particularly… weary… post-Hugos. Me, I was doing fine. So I completed my not-stalking of Alastair Reynolds by going to his book reading, and I’m glad I did because he chose a short story he’d written for Barclays Bank, on the issue of data security, which is unlikely to get much exposure elsewhere. The story was good, but seriously: can you imagine being asked to write an sf story for non-sf readers working in a bank on data security?? Tough gig . Oh, and that came after another little fangirl moment, when I was chatting to Jonathan and got to meet Garth Nix….
The only other panel I got to was the second half of one on maps in fantasy writing, with three writers who all do their own maps. One of them was David Cornish, whom I’d met a couple of days before, having interviewed him for both Snapshot ’07 and Snapshot ’10. The discussion was actually more interesting than I’d expected, about what to include and why, and the sheer number that these three, at least (Cornish, Ian Irvine, and Russell Blackford), produce for their own interests and the sake of the narrative which never then appear in a book. Reading list: The Selected Works of T.S Spivet (which I’ve been meaning to get for ages).
The rest of Monday involved helping Alisa, Terri, and Tehani pack up their section of the dealers’ room, with able assistance from Mitch and Rohan. After the bazillion boxes were loaded up and taken down to the loading bay, and picked up by the freight company, Alisa and I staggered back to Tansy and Finchy’s place with Trent in tow to debrief somewhat, after farewelling Tehani with hopes that she wouldn’t get done for excess baggage. And then I managed to get home not tooo late.
Bonus extra Aussiecon4 day
Although Monday was officially the end of Aussiecon4, Tansy and Alisa and I managed to draw it out for another few hours by catching up on the Tuesday to record some final, face-to-face Galactic Suburbia. So we did a Hugos round-up, like we did for the Ditmars; and then we did a worldcon wrap-up too. Our subscribers are going to be totally overwhelmed….
Day 30 – What book are you reading right now?
So, I went away, and I considered automating this but I didn’t. So… when I should have answered this, I was reading the anthology The Beastly Bride, compiled by Ellen Datlow, and it was brilliant. But I read that in a day, so I’m not reading it right now.
What I am, at least in theory, reading at the moment, includes:
The Secret Feminist Cabal, by Helen Merrick, which I am hoping to finish before the semi-official launch of said book at AussieCon4 in OH MY GOSH less than a fortnight;
Legends of Australian Fantasy, an anthology from Jonathan Strahan and Jack Dann – I’ve read four stories so far, by Nix, Canavan, Marillier and Carmody, and I am loving it!
Holy Machine, by Chris Beckett, which I’ve only just started and really ought to hurry up and read in order to review it (hi, Alisa…).
Why yes, there are three books listed there. This is not actually an unusual situation for me.
Garth Nix reading the prologue to Superior Saturday. At last! I’ve been looking forward to this book for, oh, a year? However long it’s been since Lady Friday came out. What makes it sad is that as soon as I get hold of it… it will be read, in a couple of hours, and then I’ll have to wait a year or so until finally Lord Sunday, and I get completion. I hope.
Anyway: June this year! That’s not really that long away!
Garth Nix is the author of the Keys to the Kingdom series, as well as the Old Kingdom series (Sabriel, Lirael, Abhorsen). He can be found online here.
Q1: The fifth book in the Keys to the Kingdom series, Lady Friday, was published this year, so there’s just two more to go – Superior Saturday and Lord Sunday. Have you already completed these? If so, how does it feel to have to sit on them for years before they actually get published – does it get frustrating? (Also, as a bonus: what did it feel like to have the UK bookstore WH Smith give away Mister Monday free to people who ordered Harry Potter 7?!)
I wish I had already written them, but unfortunately I’m still working on SUPERIOR SATURDAY and will have LORD SUNDAY to do after that. But it’s a nice feeling to be most of the way through the series, and also to be able to begin to reveal in more detail the entirety of the ‘big story’ that I had in mind when I started thinking about the series back in 2000-2001.
The WH Smith promotion was a good one, and I always like my books being part of some clever marketing. They ended up giving away more than 250,000 copies of MISTER MONDAY and if all has worked out as planned, some appreciable proportion of those readers will pick up the rest of the series or some of my other books.
Q2: You’ve been a guest at a number of conventions now: the Brisbane and Sydney Writers’ Festival, for example, and most recently at Conflux in Canberra. Is this just to keep the fans happy and get a chance to travel, or do you get something out of it as well?
The whole festival/convention scene is a funny one. Like everyone else, when I first started out I didn’t get invited to be a guest at any of them, but I had time to go and would have liked to be a guest. Then as time passed and I had more books published I started being invited to some, and then a few more and now I get invited to so many that I could probably be a guest at some sort of festival or convention somewhere in the world almost all the time. But now I don’t have time, and of course, I couldn’t do that and live my normal family life, let alone get any writing done. I have met other authors who can write when they’re at festivals or on tour, but I find it very difficult myself. Nowadays, I tend to accept invitations that tie in with when I’m going to be on tour anyway, like the Bath Festival of Children’s Literature in the UK in September, or where I have not been able to take up an invitation for a few years, like Melbourne Writers Festival later this month. I also decided to try to get to the World Fantasy Convention every two years, mainly to catch up with fellow writers from all over the world. Apart from the social aspect of catching up with other writers and publishing folk, festivals and conventions are also a good way to connect with a lot of readers in a short space of time.
Q3: You’ve written a number of novels, and quite a few short stories – those collected in Across the Wall, as well as being published in the webzine Jim Baen’s Universe and anthology Dark Alchemy. In the next five or so years, where do you see yourself concentrating your efforts – novel or short? And will you stick with writing for young adults?
I don’t really plan the short fiction, just every now and then an idea crops up and it turns out to be a short story rather than part of a current novel or notes for a future book-length work. So I expect that I will keep writing occasional pieces of short fiction as well as working on novels. I have a story in Jonathan Strahan’s forthcoming ECLIPSE anthology, for example, and another in Ellen Datlow’s and Terri Windling’s CINDERELLA GAME. Some of these stories are for young adults, some are slanted older, but I don’t really think much about that either, they just turn out to have a natural reading entry age which may be younger or older.
Q4: Amidst the traveling and writing you’ve done this year, hopefully you’ve squeezed in some reading too: what do you think is the best thing you’ve read so far in 2007?
I don’t read as much as I used to, nor as much as I would like, and a lot of my reading is non-fiction. One of the best things I’ve read this year is DOUBLE EAGLE AND CRESCENT: VIENNA’S SECOND TURKISH SIEGE AND ITS HISTORICAL SETTING by Thomas M. Barker, which is quite an old book. In terms of new genre fiction, I’ve enjoyed SATURN RETURNS by Sean Williams and many of the stories in THE NEW SPACE OPERA edited by Gardner Dozois and Jonathan Strahan. Apart from that, I’ve been re-reading some old favourites, including a bunch of children’s historical novels by Ronald Welch, KNIGHT’S FEE by Rosemary Sutcliff and to round out the eclectic mix, the GUNNER ASCH books by Hans Helmut Kirst.
Q5: Finally, to finish on a silly note: are there any fictional characters that you would like to meet, and be… intimate… with?!
Oddly enough, given that I love the deep immersion of reading and I love writing and trying to make characters ‘real’, I never think of my real life and any world of fiction or the people in it intersecting, either intimately or not. I suppose that even when engrossed in a book I am also observing it and my own experience reading it, so am forever fated to be detached. I also have a strong instinct for the ‘rightness’ of stories, they are whole constructs that exist in themselves, and taking characters out of the story or out of their relationships within the story to have one with me feels like breaking an 18th century porcelain teapot to run off with the handle. There, plenty for the amateur psychologists to think about!
It was good; I enjoyed it. That is, I really just want to find out how Nix is going to resolve the whole issue, so I was bound to enjoy it unless it was dreadful. This wasn’t dreadful. Some of the characters were a bit annoying, and the action seemed to take a while to get going, but it was still fun. Lady Friday wasn’t quite the same opponent as some of the others, though… and the Piper only appeared personally for a couple of pages. Most of the time it was Arthur dealing with lots of issues, which is the same in the others but I seem to remember that there were more personal conflicts in the others. Probably one of the more interesting things were that Dame Primus is being more dreadful, which is a bit of fun – will be interesting to see how that turns out – and Arthur starts to wonder more about Superior Saturday and Lord Sunday.
Now I have to wait for the next one. Again.
1. Just finished Lady Friday, by Garth Nix.
2. History of Spice, by … someone…
3. the Theory and Practice of Communism, by RN Carew Hunt
Pretty much sums up my reading habits, really… fantasy, history, food, and technology.
Oh yes, joy joy joy: Lady Friday has been released! Woohoo! I thought I was going to have to wait until June or so, but turns out I can buy it this weekend! Yay!
Unless, of course, Readings is stating what will be published this month, meaning I have to wait another couple of weeks… oh, that would make me sad sad sad.