You can get us from iTunes or at Galactic Suburbia.
Continuum 11 debrief: panels and programme stuff we loved.
Tansy’s Guest of Honour speech: Fantasy, Female Authors & the Politics of Influence.
FictionMachine announcement: Something New Can Come Into This World, a book of film essays by Grant Watson.
Discussion piece: “Stop Asking Is This Feminist” at the Mary Sue.
What Culture Have we Consumed?
Alisa: Prep for the Alice Sheldon’s 100th Birthday Spoilerific episode in August: James Tiptree Jr: The Double Life of Alice Sheldon, Julie Phillips; Tiptree’s short stories – read “Houston, Houston Do You Read?”, “Your Faces, O my Sisters, your Faces filled of Light!”; Call the Midwife S1 -3
Tansy: Lois Lane: Fallout, by Gwenda Bond; Uprooted, by Naomi Novik, “Waters of Versailles” by Kelly Robson, illustrated by Kathleen Jennings; Once Upon A Time Seasons 1 & 2
Alex is reading fiction for Hugo voting next episode!
Please send feedback to us at email@example.com, follow us on Twitter at @galacticsuburbs, check out Galactic Suburbia Podcast on Facebook, support us at Patreon (http://www.patreon.com/galacticsuburbia) and don’t forget to leave a review on iTunes if you love us!
New science fiction from Kim Stanley Robinson! HOORAY.
(This book was provided to me by the publisher. You can get it from Fishpond.)
PRETTY excited to get this book. Enough that I actually started reading it the day it arrived – and would have finished it that day too had I not decided to Be An Adult and stop reading at a somewhat sensible hour in order to sleep. And overall I was very happy with it – some nice big ideas, characters fairly good, some action and good plot twists. My delight is not unalloyed, but the issues I had are not enough to stop me from being happy about Aurora‘s existence.
The non-spoilers should-you-read-it: did you like Robinson’s 2312? Do you like Alastair Reynolds books? Then probably yes: don’t read more here, just go get it.
Slightly more detail: the book opens with Freya and her family living what appears to be a normal life. Her mother, Devi, is kept very busy dealing with issues of algae and salt and oxygen, because they live on a generation ship that is heading to what they hope will be a habitable world. I love a good generation ship story: Elizabeth Bear’s Jacob’s Ladder series was awesome, I enjoyed much of Beth Revis‘ Across the Universe stories (although the relationships were wearing by the end), and Stephen Baxter’s had a go at it too (plot taking precedence over character, usually). So this is already a good premise for me.
We join the crew within years of arriving at Aurora – of course, because it’s hard to do a good story about the middle of the journey, unless something is going drastically wrong. Anyway, they do eventually get to Aurora, and Things Happen (it’s approaching 500 pages in trade paperback; you didn’t think it was going to be all sunshine and roses, did you?). The Things That Happen are logical and consistent with the characters as revealed; they also give insights into how Robinson views humanity which, while not earth-shattering revelations, are nonetheless poignant and worthy of consideration. How do humans cope with setbacks? How do humans cope with disagreement? What price progress?
For a ship of 2000-odd, the cast of central characters is relatively small. Freya is the central human character, so there’s an element of the coming-of-age story – she’s becoming an adult as the ship completes its quest, there’s dissension within the family, and so on. I wasn’t entirely happy with Robinson’s description of Freya at some points; he suggests things about her nature and then never builds on it or challenges it. Nonetheless I found her a useful focus for the narrative; being young she’s out and about learning and meeting people, rather than stuck in a job. And given that the novel covers a fair amount of time, Freya gets to age and I think that’s often a really great thing in a character.
Interestingly, the other point of view character is the ship’s AI, thus allowing Robinson to have intimate knowledge of humanity and show the broader sweep of actions, decisions, and ramifications. I liked, too, that the AI developed and changed. There’s a little section that tickled the Arts student in me pink: the computer learning about how to construct a narrative. So meta, very wonderful.
However… issues. I had a couple.
Firstly, it surprised me that a book set in the 26th century would talk about the Old and New Worlds. Really? Maybe this is an American thing because it’s not something we in Australia say – and surely in 500 years that will be even less relevant? If the builders of the ship (who lived around Saturn, making this demarcation even weirder) insisted on some Earth-analogue in splitting up the two Rings, why not make it Northern and Southern Hemisphere? It does at least have some basis in geography, rather than an old and surely irrelevant socio-political perspective.
Secondly, the ending. SPOILERS. (Other spoilers follow, too.)
WHY? I presume Robinson is trying to say something about physicality and Earth being the right place to be? I dunno. To me it came across as ‘if you don’t surf you don’t understand the world.’ It felt out of place in the story overall and disappointed me given how much I liked the rest of it. I would have liked a bit more from Freya’s arc.
Thirdly – and something that I’m not sure, overall, whether I’m entirely on board with – the decision to go back to Earth. It’s only feasible, in the end, because they get the hibernation thing worked out, although I guess when they leave Aurora the situation didn’t look so dire. But… it’s been seven generations. Most people haven’t been paying attention to any of the news feeds from Earth for years, if ever. Would they really feel such a deep call to go back, when Aurora is a failure? I guess most of them would just have been thinking they’d be staying on the ship (all they’d ever known), and their children’s children etc would be the ones to arrive in the home solar system… but still. I’m really not sure. It feels like Robinson is suggesting there’s a deep feeling of attachment to this ball of mud that doesn’t just rely on personal experience.
In which this Hugo nominated podcast is Hugo nominated and discusses the Hugo nominations while being Hugo nominated. Also, the internet is full of things. Some of those things discuss gender, feminism and equality, some have wide ranging implications for the future of SF awards, and some of them are nominated for Hugos. You can download us from iTunes or get us from Galactic Suburbia.
Hunger Games: Build up to make a hit
The reviews are in:
“But in the real world, the character Katniss Everdeen faces an even greater challenge: Proving that pop culture will embrace a heroine capable of holding her own with the big boys. It’s a battle fought on two fronts. First, The Hunger Games must bring in the kind of box office numbers that prove to Hollywood that a film led by a young female heroine who’s not cast as a sex symbol can bring in audiences. And second, for Katniss to truly triumph, she must embody the type of female heroine — smart, tough, compassionate — that has been sorely lacking in the popular culture landscape for so very long.”
The Clarke Award Shortlist:
Christopher Priest’s original post
Cat Valente responds:
“Because let’s be honest, I couldn’t get away with it. If I posted that shit? I’d never hear the end of what a bitch I am”; and further response
Outer Alliance discussion on Gay YA Dystopia & Paolo Bacigalupi
Qld Premier cancels Premiers Literary Award
“Before the election, the LNP pledged to cut government “waste” as part of its efforts to offer cost-of-living relief to Queenslanders.”
Response of Queensland Writers Centre
The Fake Geek Girl at the Mary Sue
Kate Elliott on the portrayal of women in pain & fear
Tehani on Aurealis Awards stats, gender
BSFA stuff – Actual winners
The first post that raised the problems with the ceremony.
A response (there for historical sake, though I think since at least partly recanted)
how the Tweets saw it
**The BSFA issued an apology right about when we were recording**
What Culture Have we Consumed?
Tansy: So Silver Bright, Lisa Mantchev; Kat, Incorrigible, by Stephanie Burgis; Cold Magic, Kate Elliott
Alisa: The Hunger Games (movie and books), The Readers (podcast)
Please send feedback to us at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow us on Twitter at @galacticsuburbs,, check out Galactic Suburbia Podcast on Facebook and don’t forget to leave a review on iTunes if you love us!
There’s the gender aspects. Robinson goes beyond gender-bending and into gender-thwarting. I first really realised something was going on when a new character was introduced and for the entire interaction, there were no pronouns used. And it’s a gender-neutral name. So… no clue as to whether biologically or otherwise male or female, and it didn’t matter in the slightest; and nor did it matter for the many other characters for whom this was also true. The gender aspect is one where Robinson’s sly use of language and meta-references comes in: there’s a comment somewhere (I wish I had bookmarked it!) where the difficulty in determining sex or gender is remarked on, and the fact that humanity could now be called “ursuline” – because of the notorious difficulty in sexing bears, is the commenter’s note. But I see what you did there, Robinson, and since le Guin is one of my favourite authors, I quite literally laughed and crowed aloud. This society has what ours would regard as the “normal” genders (with “outrageous” (p431) macho and fem behaviours as something of an art form), as well androgyns, wombmen, hermaphrodites, gynandromorphs, eunuchs, and the gender-indeterminate. There are people who have fathered and mothered children at different times, people who never disclose their gender to anyone, and… really the broadest range of sexual and gender identity that I can imagine (actually, broader than I had previously imagined). So, that aspect is a lot of fun – and it’s presented as normal and as a full expression of humanity.
The political aspect comprehensively wooed and won me. It’s common enough – perhaps not so much today, but still sometimes – in science fiction and fantasy to have a monarchy, or an authoritarian regime of some flavour to work within/against, or at any rate a government that can be seen as leaning to the right. And the characters often either agree with it or are actively rebelling against it. Robinson’s solar system is far more complex and interesting. For a start the Earth isn’t given a single governing body; it actually has more countries here, 300 years in the future, than it does today. The other planets and moons often have one controlling authority, but they are disparate in their aims and desires. In fact much of the inner solar system is held together as part of the Mondragon (based on the idea of a Basque town, see here). A non-profit, cooperative-based, economic model aiming at mutual support. Yes please. This is contrasted with Earth, and again I will admit to laughing out loud at this description: “late capitalism writhed in its internal decision concerning whether to destroy Earth’s biosphere or change its rules. Many argued for the destruction of the biosphere, as being the lesser of two evil” (p125). I laughed, and then I wept. Also this: “confining capitalism to the margin was the great Martian achievement, like defeating the mob or any other protection racket” (p127). A system where, overall, I feel encouraged by the politics and economic aims? Not utopian but aiming high and nobly? That makes me pretty happy.
These aspects combined make this an optimistic novel about the future, which also makes me happy. Don’t get me wrong: this isn’t a glorious love-in where nothing bad happens, where there’s sunshine and rainbows and cookies for all. Life on Earth is hard – climate change has had a serous impact, especially if you lived anywhere near the coast (or where the coast used to be…); life on Mercury and the moons involves great difficulties; there is crime and anger and wanton destruction of life. But those things exist today, too. What makes this optimistic is the attitude taken by both Robinson and many of his characters that there is something that even insignificant people can do about it all. Maybe it won’t make a change immediately, and that will be annoying, but long term changes can be worked towards – they’re worth working towards, and enduring the setbacks, because people and institutions can change.
Of course, all of these things are well and good. The story is happy-making too. It’s told largely though the lens of Swan Er Hong, resident of Mercury and restless spirit. Several other characters become important over time, and Robinson cleverly uses chapter titles to indicate which character will dominate (“Swan and Wang” = Swan is most important, Wang will loom large too).
Speaking of chapters, there are sets of Extracts and sets of Lists scattered at different points throughout, too. Extracts are a form of info-dump, with sections of texts literally like they are extracts from news reports, histories, or scientific papers. This is a neat trick and one that felt immersive – because it could easily be Swan or another character skimming books or websites – rather than throwing the reader out by being too info-heavy. And the Lists often feel whimsical, but they certainly add depth; my favourite, in a melancholy way, is a list of words beginning with boredom and escalating to death wish; it captures quite nicely the sentiments of at least one character at the time. (There’s also a wonderful list of women honoured by having a crater named after them, from Annie Oakley to Emily Dickinson by way of Sappho and Xantippe.)
But back to the story: it’s a curious one really. For much of the novel, it feels like the story is happening around the characters, but they’re not often directly involved – at least, not in the big events: destruction of a city? Not there at the time. These big things have a big impact on our protagonists, but – much like we normal mortals experience events – those events act on them, rather than (mostly) being caused by them. For this reason Swan, for all she has important connections and is moderately famous, feels remarkably like a normal person. The narrative itself is basically a whodunit that gets bigger than expected: Swan’s grandparent has died and left a somewhat unexpected inheritance, and then soon after her home, the city of Terminator on Mercury, is destroyed, leaving Swan determined to help find the culprit. This leads her all over the solar system (up to and including the moons of Saturn have been comprehensively colonised), interacting with people of all shapes and sizes (literally; being a tall or a small is more of a division in this society than gender). There’s intrigue, and dismay, and maybe-love, and some wild ideas for how people in three centuries might get their kicks, from tampering with one’s physiology to some rather extreme sports. Swan and friends do end up having an influence on events, but the manner and the outcome are far from predictable.
Swan herself, as I said, is a fairly normal-seeming person. She gets cranky and has wild ideas and is frequently hard to please; she is contrary and independent and determined and wants the best for the universe (mostly), so who can’t people just agree with her when she’s clearly right, dammit? The supporting cast – Wahrum and Wang and Genette and others – are varied, from police to scientists to politicians, with a variety of sexual orientations (when it’s even specified), and a plethora of priorities and ambitions of their own. The society as a whole is gloriously well realised and complex, but familiar as human nonetheless.
In sum, then, this is a realistic (non-utopian), largely optimistic, enthusiastic look 300 years into the future, with complex and occasionally frustrating characters who may well remind you of people you know. This is what I would like science fiction to be like a lot more frequently.