Each week on a Sunday afternoon, join Alex (of Randomly Yours, Alex) and Katharine (of the unpronounceable Ventureadlaxre), as they re-watch the Australian-American sci-fi show Farscape, notable for the Jim Henson animatronic puppets, the excellent mish-mash of accents, and the best OTP ship of all time.
Season One, Episode Twelve: Rhapsody in Blue
Moya responds to a distress call that turns out to be from a colony of Delvians. Zhaan goes to assist her people, to slightly dire results.
K: Weird opening. John in bed with some blonde just about to propose and it becomes clear it’s something from his past – for a second I thought it was some weird crack-side episode where he’s flung into some awful space-soap opera.
A: NAWWWWW sad John. Meanwhile, do men really buy rings before they’ve proposed in real life? THat seems ridiculous to me. Also did he really get up and get champagne without her noticing and then came back to bed?
“Hail Prince of the Obvious” might be my favourite new term.
Published by Aqueduct Press, this remarkable book is a tribute to Octavia Butler. It includes personal reminiscences; photos; a poem; a transcript of a conversation with Butler; and the bulk is made up of academic essays – most of which are also somewhat personal.
I’ve read Butler’s Xeongenesis/Lilith’s Brood trilogy, but a long time ago… and that’s about it. Maybe some short stories as well? It’s one of those cases of ‘I’ve always meant to read more…’. So it was a bit of a weird experience for me to be reading academic analyses of stories that I haven’t read. However, and all kudos to the authors, I was neither hampered by that lack of knowledge – they all explained their points exceptionally well – and nor was I put off reading those stories. I have in fact bought the Parables books and am exceedingly excited to read them, armed with the theoretical discussions from these essays. I’m honestly not sure whether I will read Kindred, and I know this is a privileged position as a white Australian. I will definitely read Fledgling at some point, for all Butler was apparently a bit embarrassed by her vampire fiction. What I loved about the essays presented here is that each author so clearly loved the work they were examining – not glossing over faults, but showing how rich and subversive and powerful and present-speaking and future-prescient they are. How remarkable the women are, and how different the relationships, and how challenging the suggestions of how society could be. It made me realise just how powerful an author Octavia Butler must have been.
This is all beautifully resonant with the personal reflections included throughout. Butler’s shyness and insecurity and amazing generosity all come through, emphasising the sheer humanity of the woman – which I know sounds ridiculous, but it sounds like she made her life so full, and extended that to people around her, despite problems. The transcript of Nisi Shawl’s conversation with Butler, at the Black to the Future Conference in 2004, made me jealous of the people who got to see it live; Nnedi Okorafor’s reflections on sending emails to Butler – even after she died – and Steven Barnes’ very heartfelt reflections on his friend and mentor feel like precious gifts we should be thankful to have in print, so that we can glimpse those connections.
Strange Matings is a magnificent tribute to Octavia Butler that clearly works for someone with very little knowledge of her work, and must also work for those who’ve read far more. It’s provocative and powerful and human. Just like Octavia Butler.
This book was sent to me by the publisher, Allen&Unwin, at no cost. It’s out on August 24; RRP $32.99
I recently listened to an episode of the BBC’s radio show In Our Time about the Malian empire, which was the first time I learnt anything about that area’s incredibly rich cultural history. So I was completely stoked to receive a copy of this book – it’s modern, rather than about the production of the manuscripts and the intellectual foment of Timbuktu in its hey-day, but it’s an area that gets little attention in the English-speaking world of written-for-the-armchair-reader so its publication is a great thing.
However, this book is not quite what it purports itself to be. It’s a gripping book and one I don’t regret reading, but there’s a stretch in the middle of about 100 pages that talks about the rise of Al Qaeda jihadists in Mali and surrounds, their tactics and their eventual (brief) seizure of northern Mali (including Timbuktu). It was necessary context, since it’s that seizure that required the manuscripts of the city to be rescued, but it felt like there was too much exploration of the jihadist threat that wasn’t immediately linked to the whole point of the book. If Hammer’s point was actually to look at the cultural threat of AQIM (Al Quaeda in Islamic Maghreb), with the manuscripts of Timbuktu as a touchstone, then it should have had a different title. So don’t read this if what you’re really after is a discussion of manuscript preservation, or an overwhelming focus on the manuscripts or libraries themselves. This is not the book you’re looking for.
Nonetheless, as I said: no regrets. There is an extensive discussion of how one man, Abdel Kader Haidara, was responsible for collecting around 377,000 manuscripts from individual people’s homes, where they’d been sitting in holes or caves or just in trunks, because of a history of them being stolen or destroyed by various different groups (including the French, making many people suspicious of anything with foreign backing). This included some incredibly old Korans, and unique examples of medieval Islamic texts, and exquisitely beautiful calligraphy, and… well. What a trove. It’s then under threat when Timbuktu is occupied by AQIM, so Haidara organises for almost all of them to be smuggled out. This is the most incredible part of the whole story, since the logistics – in a place with limited communications, with serious threats in front and behind – are truly astounding. And uplifting.
One weird point: one of the people who helped Haidara was a woman who lived some of the year in Mali. She requested that her real name not be used in the book… but then her translation of an 1839 French grimoire is noted, complete with its title. Um. Surely that’s going to give her away?
Anyway, the collection that Haidara put together certainly sticks it to Hugh Trevor-Roper, who proclaimed in 1963 that “at present there is [no African history]… There is only the history of Europeans in Africa. The rest is darkness” (33). The story of their salvation (this time), through charitable donations from a significant number of international charities and, awesomely, a Kickstarter campaign, made me joyful. I’m sure Haidara would be painful to be married to, with his manuscript obsession, but it seems to me that Mali and northern Africa more generally owe him and his team a debt for looking after their cultural heritage.
You can get this book from Fishpond.
*Yeh… not so much with the fortnight(ish)… but we ARE still committed to it!
(Of course, this is not actually chronological. But that’s because it turns out Bladerunner isn’t on iTunes, so now we need to source that. THEN we will be back to chronological.)
It should be noted that this is one of J’s favourite movies Of All Time, whereas A consistently and constantly disses it whenever it gets mentioned.
A: The opening music is very cool. It builds a lovely level of suspense. I even like the opening on the aircraft carrier; the music matches beautifully. This movie has the opening of a truly awesome film. (Context: I grew up wishing I could have been a pilot in WW1 or 2 with Biggles and his crew, ignoring the whole ‘you’re a girl’ aspect.)
J: Tobacco graduate filters, steam catapults, jets, slow motion footage. AFTERBURNERS. Jets doing unnecessary aileron rolls at takeoff. This is the film that made me fall in love with Tony Scott’s cinematography.
A: A plane takes off and KENNY LOGAN AW YEH DANGER ZONE. LOTSA planes taking off and braking and men looking serious. (cue some serious couch dancing)
J: All the aerial footage was all shot on super 35mm film from the jets and it still looks fantastic if a little gritty on blu-ray Continue reading →
Season One, Episode Eleven: Til the Blood Runs Clear
John and Aeryn go for a little haunt ‘round the block to collect data towards getting John home. Things go far better than expected, which goes to show how rude John can be, and brings the science back to this show for an episode.
A: Just the title of this episode bodes poorly for D’Argo. I love Aeryn’s snarkiness in this opening; she’s so funny.
K: I didn’t even realise that. Ah well, maybe it’ll give him a chance to redeem himself for past episodes.
A: aaaand Zhaan is having A Moment in the sunlight, which is quite spoiled when Pilot points out the radiation could harm the baby. Guess that’s going to be a thing for the rest of the show. Continue reading →
This book was sent to me by a dear friend and unfortunately, it’s just terrible.
Too much? Perhaps:
This book is just not my thing.
I do believe that it has systemic issues that aren’t just problems for me, though.
Firstly, and I acknowledge this is partly my fault, I haven’t read the first book (Once Bitten, Twice Shy). So I don’t have the knowledge about the relationships that might have made some of the banter and the fraught silences make more sense. Pardon does attempt to explain how they’re all connected, but it didn’t always make sense.
Another thing that didn’t always make sense is the different others – and yes, that’s how they’re referred to in the book: the supernatural entities. It seems like a new being just pops up every now and then for the heck of it – and sometimes with narrative reason – and their powers or whatever aren’t clearly explained. Which is related to the biggest beef I had, narrative-wise: clearly Our Heroine, Jaz, is on the track of someone who happened in the first book – there’s occasional references to them and their Dastardly Deeds – but I have almost no idea what they did or how bad they are, aside being told they are Bad. I know info dumps are sometimes clunky, but gosh some detailed explanation would have been helpful so that I understood the stakes (… heh…).
Anyway. The narrative revolves around a team of maybe-CIA-connected types, who include a seer and a vampire, trying to track down and do… something… with a vampire who has stolen some technology. Things move incredibly quickly, but there’s still time for the description of intricate details about clothes, shoes and accessories being worn; this is problem for me, with rare exceptions like Gail Carriger. There’s a Winter Festival, and belly-dancing, and murder, and magical powers, and anti-other sentiment being expressed in unpleasant ways. There’s romance, although not in a very interesting way, and attempts at disguise, and Revelations of Nefarious Purposes.
And it’s just written badly. I did finish it, partly because I wanted to see how many twists cold try and get in, and where the romances would end up going (because this friend likes to send me romances), and because – well, it wasn’t quite so bad as to make me want to abandon it, and I was a little invested in some of the characters and knowing where they would end up.
I will not be chasing down any more Rardins.
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Season One, Episode Ten: They’ve Got a Secret
Peacekeeper issues are still on board as fits with the plot when it suits. It may have infected D’Argo, who is then hurled out of an airlock. All in a day’s work when you’re on Moya.
K: I wonder how this conversation started – ‘John, come here, I need a ladder I can order about?’
A: Oh I HOPE so. Plus, D’Argo is a right little whinger. “Wah, I’m doing droid work!”
K: And I wonder if Pilot can regenerate just so it’s easier to have his puppets back to normal after the last episode…
A: what, you don’t think it’s narrative-driven?! Continue reading →
This book was sent to me by the publisher at no cost.
This is the first book of the Manifold World series. It’s a portal fantasy and a coming-of-age story, with an Australian schoolgirl following a woman who had helped her – and following her through a rift into another world.
Saffron’s life is a fairly normal one; it opens with a distinctly unpleasant experience with a boy at school harassing her, and a stranger supporting her as (sadly) almost no one else ever had. In going to thank the woman, her adventures start – and almost immediately they go bad, showing very early on that this is not going to be an easy experience for Saffron (although the language barrier is dealt with through a particularly convenient piece of magic). She eventually discovers that she’s wandered into a state whose politics are currently rather grim, and has fallen in with people who aren’t exactly the Most Popular Citizens. And then an escapee from the castle ends up finding them, and things get even more fraught, and adventures ensue.
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about this book is the sheer diversity of the characters. Most of the leads are female, with a couple of men. There’s a wide variety of sexual orientation, from bi to someone I think is aromantic. There’s a wide variety of skin colours – you know, like in the real world; a trans character; those who are religious and those who aren’t; the magical and the not; old and young; parents and not; and all the other personality quirks that individuals humans can have, from characters with sunny dispositions to those who consistently make you want to leave the room when they enter.
In terms of narrative, there is a lot going on in this book. There’s the experiences of Saffron, who has to deal with the strange world she’s in and the physical changes forced on her – how will she explain these when/if she gets home? (I was forcefully reminded of Seanan McGuire’s Every Heart a Doorway.) There’s Gwen, the world-walker, trying to manage this new girl as well as her own allegiances and secrets. There are a lot of conflicting allegiances because there’s a huge amount of politicking going on: both of the states where most of the action takes place are in difficult positions regarding their leaders, with people trying either actively or passively to change the status quo. Sometimes, indeed, I felt like there was too much going on. I liked that Saffron is forced to deal with the politics of the world she’s entered, and that the places she’s in are not presented as the only states, and that politics can be confusing. But sometimes I felt like the political situation wasn’t explained clearly enough – or, actually, that the problems with the system or the way that people were using the system weren’t explained clearly enough for me to care to the level that I ought.
It’s a fast-paced story, problems rarely being dealt with before more crop up; there’s magic that is difficult to use and requires training; there’s a bit of romance but not too much (for my tastes!). There’s a bit of traveling-around-the-place and camping but mostly it’s urban, and there’s a variety of perspectives used to present the narrative too.
I did enjoy reading it, although I’m not left desperately waiting for the next one. The book largely stands by itself – there’s a bit of cliffhanger at the end but in terms of the main narrative, it’s largely complete, which I appreciated.
You can get it from Fishpond.
This is the sequel to The Godless, and will therefore have some spoilers for that first book. Like that one, this was sent to me by the author at no cost.
Aaaaarrrrrgggghhh. The third book isn’t out until 2017.
The Godless basically ends with the siege of Mireea ending badly for our friends there, with additional problems like having killed a couple of very powerful men, while Buerelan’s friends are dead and the child-god is being distinctly creepy. So you just know that this second book is going to be completely full of happy, cheery adventures. Or not.
Peek’s pre-prologue is from a historian writing fifty years after the siege of Mireea, which I quite like as a conceit since it allows him to remind the audience of some of the major events with a bit of chronological distance that provides for the introspection and reflection of good historical writing. The prologue itself is deeply unsettling, since we’re introduced to someone who, sadly, doesn’t survive (sorry, but it is kind of obvious). And that’s because he’s in the wrong place at the wrong time: on the coast, when Aela Ren – the Innocent, who was pretty much a myth and a rumour in the first book – comes to shore. Which bodes for the entire novel.
The Godless followed a few different perspectives; Leviathan’s Blood steps it up a notch by adding more perspectives as the web of the story becomes increasingly complex. A lot of the story occurs in Yeflam, whence the survivors of Mireea have decamped as refugees – and I can’t help but think that Peek’s presentation of their situation, being stuck on an island with little provision and viewed with deep suspicion by the people of Yeflam – reflects current experiences of refugees, especially in relation to Australia. Ayae is having to deal with being a refugee again but also being in a unique position as someone cursed, or blessed, with a god’s power – and therefore viewed very differently by the people of Yeflam, whose state is largely ruled by such people (the Keepers). She, however, largely feels loyalty to the Mireeans and their ruler – as well as to Zaifyr, who is also in a difficult position, since he’s arrived in Yeflam as a prisoner for the murder of two Keepers. Which he knew would land him in hot water, to say the least. Then you’ve got Captain Heast, who may be my very, very favourite character since he’s so much the put-upon, battle-scarred, trying-to-be-moral, old soldier (huh… so I have a type then: Sparrowhawk; Mal Reynolds; Han Solo). And then there’s Buerelan, who probably has the most difficult narrative throughout this book, since it begins in such a hard place – blood-brother dead and cursed by the child-god – and it just gets worse as he goes to Ooila, the home from which he has been exiled for a very long time and where he knows he won’t get a great reception.
This series is definitely one of those thats fits into the Rather Gloomy side of epic fantasy. That’s not a negative, but I probably wouldn’t be giving it to someone who hasn’t read any since they enjoyed David and Leigh Eddings as a teen! There’s a lot of difficulty for our heroes, and often our heroes aren’t actually very heroic. Instead, they’re fallible and frustrated and human; not always likeable but almost always compelling.
There were points at which I felt like the narrative dragged a little, when it feels like we’re getting a bit bogged down in the details of how the Mireeans will get out of their difficult situation with Yeflam or the internal politicking of Zaifyr and his completely dysfunctional family. Having said that, all of those details add up to a very rich world – one where life isn’t all adventures and near-misses, but where understanding realpolitik is genuinely life and death, and buying farms can be a risky manoeuvre, and who you spend time with might actually change your life.
And thus, dammit, begins the long wait for the final book.
You can get it from Fishpond.