Monthly Archives: September, 2010

Galactic Suburbia turns 17

You can download us from iTunes, or go to Galactic Suburbia to get it from our website.

In which we talk about awesome women, excellent short stories, and make Alisa throw away a book!  Our pet topic is film-to-book, book-to-film and why you’d want to move a story from format to format.


The Winners of the British Fantasy Awards 2010 announced.

FemSpec: announcement of new feminist press (via Aqueduct Press).

365 Days of Women Writers blog.

New podcast: Helen Merrick and Tama Leaver do Pangalactic Interwebs.

What have we been reading/listening to?

Tansy: Diana Comet, Zombies v. Unicorns
Alisa: Watching: Moon.
Listening: Bad Film Diaries, also first ep of Pangalactic Interwebs.
Embargoed Reading 😦 sigh for Aurealis Awards and TPP 2011
Toss out for the week: Succubus in the City
Alex: Subterranean (spring and summer), Is Anybody out There? (ed. Nick Gevers and Marty Halpern), Glitter Rose, Marianne de Pierres. 

Pet Subject

book –> film –> book
– why make films of books?
– what makes a good film adaptation?
– conversely, why make books of films, why do they get less attention, can they be as good as the film?

Please send feedback to!

Lots of Ce’Nedra, and a few other people: the Belgariad, book 4

See Tehani’s post for the comments she gets!

Castle of Wizardry: Book 4 of the Belgariad

David Eddings



This may have the dumbest title in the whole series. I don’t anyone ever calls Belgarath a wizard. And what exactly is meant to be the castle – the stronghold at Riva? That’s just ridiculous. I choose to believe that some editorial knob decided that it was the sort of title that would appeal to the BFF fans, and ignored the fact that it doesn’t represent the storyline at all.

The big OMG REVELATION of this book is that OMG REVELATION Garion is actually Riva’s descendent and therefore the rightful Rivan King!!! And most importantly that means OMG REVELATION that he has to marry Ce’Nedra!!!! And most importantly to her, scullery-boy Garion now outranks her!!!!! Oh, the drahmah.

Heh. I don’t remember whether this really was a revelation to my 13- or 14-year-old mind. I’d like to hope not, but even today I try to cultivate something of a ‘don’t anticipate the storyline’ attitude: I like being surprised, so if I can help it – especially if I think it will spoil the book or movie – I try not to figure things out in advance. Of course, sometimes I can’t help it, and sometimes it’s more fun being smug that you had it figured out waaay in advance.


I didn’t read this til I was at least 19 or 20, so yeah, totally knew all the big “surprises” WAAAAY before they were revealed! But I’m the opposite of Alex – I love figuring out stuff in advance. It’s kind of like when people tell you stuff that’s embargoed and you get to feel all smug that you know something other people don’t. Well, kind of the same, cos, yanno, there’s all those OTHER people who figured it out first. Or read the book before you. And the author… Well, it makes ME feel good anyway!


So, yes. Garion discovers that he is rightfully a king. All of that whinging and feeling sorry for himself ought to stop now … although of course it doesn’t. I actually really like the revelatory scene itself, with Garion still uncomprehending and Errand finally completing his errand, and everyone excited – and Ce’Nedra devastated. Eddings never mentions it, but I always imagined her as having read too many Arendian romances and really quite enjoying the pathos of “oh I love him but we can never be together.” And then, all of a sudden, she gets what she wants … but not how she wants it.


It’s true! It’s like a Shakespearian tragedy as far as Ce’Nedra’s concerned, but then all of a sudden she’s told she CAN have what she wants, and that kind of takes lal the fun out of it!  She does do very well with coming to terms with it – and turning it to her advantage. Definitely a product of her upbringing there…


I love Errand, the little boy who managed to steal the Orb. I love the fact that he makes everyone wet their pants by offering the Orb to them out of the blue. The idea of a genuine innocent is of course a fascinating one, particularly when you think about the fact that Errand was brought up by a man who had sold his soul to a malignant god rather than the pure one he’d originally served. You’d think that would make Zedar incapable of not corrupting the boy. And what about the circumstances in which he grew up? Are we to assume that Zedar cared for him so well that he never misbehaved to get more attention? – or does that behaviour not count? Of course, we find out in the next series that Eddings is a cheat, when it comes to Errand, but still; interesting questions.


I wondered the same thing when I reread – between Ctuchik and Zedar, surely he’d HAVE to be exposed to some corruption. Although was it mentioned at some point how confining and challenging it was for Ctuchik to contain himself from his usual debauches? Regardless, there is the “cheat” aspect revealed in the Mallorean, and, well, Errand is just so CUTE!


One of the tangents of the gang turning up at Riva is Garion’s reunion with Lelldorin, now sort-of married to a Mimbrate woman, whom he would formerly have sworn off as an enemy. What I love about their little story is that it has all the elements of a classic medieval romance … and it’s just so ridiculous. Eddings plays it with a straight face, but it just gets more and more insane, until it’s quite obvious that he’s totally gaming the reader. I love it.


All the relationships in these books are fun though – there’s always something that sets them apart from the norm just a little, and the couples all have their little quirks. One thing that bothers me, and I think you’ve mentioned it before, Alex, is the way the women all seem to have some little (or big!) manipulative tricks that make it seem like they are always the ones controlling the relationship. Ariana does it to Lelldorin, Ce’Nedra does it to Garion (and her father), Polgara does it to Belgarath (and everyone), Taiba does it to Relg, the Queens do it to their husbands, and so on and so forth. Which is a bit sad, because while it’s intended (I guess) to show how women are just as able to control their lives as men, despite outward appearances, what mostly comes across is that women have to be scheming and deceitful to get what they want…


Getting back to Ce’Nedra, I really really like her part in the last quarter or so of this book. Garion, Belgarath and Silk are off on another journey, but Ce’Nedra womans up and organises a great big damn army to distract the Angaraks away from his and his vital mission. I love her armour, and that she makes the armourer give it bigger boobs than he had originally forged. I love that she gets so nervous before giving speeches that she feels sick. I love the dramatic speeches, the Churchill-esque eloquence, and then – the cold-hearted, calculated, bitchy climax – the way she manipulates both her father and the Tolnedran legions is absolutely, totally, gold. Although, seriously? All of that at barely sixteen years old?


Hey, we just had an Aussie girl sail around the world on her own at 16… Certainly I can see Ce’Nedra succeeding in this with the backing of the Kings and Polgara, and when you consider she was raised as the daughter of an emperor, it makes sense that she has the statesmanship to come up with the idea and have the nous to pull it off. This is my favourite Ce’Nedra of all the books I think – she’s really shown off to great effect in this section!


The book as a whole has a different feel from the others, and it’s largely the “breaking of the fellowship” effect. We get to see Belgarath being compassionate towards Vordai, the witch of the fens – but we’re not stuck with the three boys off gallivanting. Instead Polgara and Ce’Nedra have – no, they don’t have. They compose the Tantrum to End All Tantrums, and then get on with actually leading the West, rather than traipsing around. I really, really like that we get more of an insight into the kings and how they relate to one another – I still like Anheg a lot. It’s also quite remarkable because we actually see serfs, if only briefly. While they’ve been occasionally noticed in the background – and, in a smart-alec way, Garion has previously overheard the two serfs whom Ce’Nedra meets – it’s a nice touch that Eddings actually includes a little story about how the serfs end up in her army. Of course, being in the army is actually a horrible, horrible thing, and the main (aristocratic) characters couldn’t usually care at all about the people dying in droves around them. But the fact that Eddings condescends to include this little vignette is nice.


Have to confess, one of my favourite things about big fat fantasy is the multiple viewpoints of characters all living separate lives until they come together, so this book is just up my alley! While it’s been a separation, rather than different storylines, the back and forth between events really works for me!


There is no climax in this novel. It’s a classic middle-of-the-series book, moving all the pieces into place for a resounding finale. Which is fine, if you have the final book to hand.


Which fortunately, we both did! Onwards, to the “end”!

Feminism(s), sf, fandom and the cabal

The Secret Feminist Cabal: A Cultural History of Science Fiction Feminisms
Helen Merrick
Aqueduct Press, 2009

… what kind of self-respecting cabal would openly advertise its ‘secret’ existence through websites and conventions, identify its members through the wearing of garish temporary tattoos, and fund itself by the sale of home-baked chocolate chip cookies?” (p1)

I did not grow up considering myself a feminist; I have no idea whether my mother would identify as a feminist or not. That said, I grew up in the ’80s with a younger brother and there was never a time at which I felt that I could not do exactly the same things as my brother, if I wanted to, so I know (now) that I benefited from second-wave feminism – and from liberal, caring parents. I was regarded as a feminist by at least some people by the time I was in my late teens (looking at you, high school teachers), probably because I was loud and everyone loves a stereotype. It’s only been over the last decade (my twenties) that I have consciously thought of myself as a feminist. And it’s only been in the last couple of years that I have consciously sought out feminist books, feminist perspectives on historical issues, and really come to grips with the idea that feminism is not a singularity.

All of this is by way of contextualising my reading of The Secret Feminist Cabal, a marvellous book that has challenged the way I think about science fiction, fandom, and feminism. Merrick had me from her Preface, where she describes her journey towards writing the book in ways that resonated deeply with me, from the nerdy adolescent to the discovery of feminism and the dismay that many female acquaintances not only do not share our love of science fiction, they are completely mystified by it. Having only recently discovered the niche community that is sf fandom, the fact that so much of this book is concerned with expressions of feminism within that community – and how they impacted on sf broadly – was the icing on the cake.

Merrick begins by examining the very idea ‘feminist sf’, defining which – much like attempting to define sf by itself – is like the proverbial attempt by blind women at describing an elephant. She approaches it by discussing the multiplicities that are the reality of the genre, which is indicative of the approach she takes in the book overall and an incredible relief for those of us who are sick of being told THIS IS THIS and if you don’t fit, get lost. She also gives some space to justifying the use of literary criticism on science fiction, tackling that persistent and derogatory argument that science fiction doesn’t count as literature. While accepting that sf and popular fiction generally have an ambivalent position, as far as literary critics – including feminists – are concerned, Merrick makes no apology for using their tools. The rest of the introduction lays the groundwork for the book: what feminist fiction is or can be, the potentially problematic nature of feminist genre writing, and the ongoing divide that exists between mainstream criticism and feminist sf criticism. I particularly enjoyed that while Merrick engaged with these issues, at no point does her discussion become a polemic against those who have disagreed. Rather, she situates her investigation within the ‘grand conversation’ of feminist sf, and demonstrates constructive ways in which that can be extended to mainstream criticism – to the advantage of both.

I was forced to stare into space for some minutes when I read the opening to chapter 2. Merrick quotes from a letter written in 1938 wherein an sf reader opines that: “[a] woman’s place is not in anything scientific. Of course the odd female now and then invents something useful in the way that every now and then amongst the millions of black crows a white one is found” (p34). If nothing else, this book has made me grateful for the changes that have occurred over the last century, such that I have never been personally confronted with such a statement. This chapter provides an overview of the ‘invasion’ of women, sex, and feminism into sf, with a fascinating if horrifying look at the arguments of the 1920s and 30s for and against women being allowed into the genre. (She makes the point that of course women were already there, both as authors and readers, and that it’s hugely problematic when those foremothers are written out of history, as happens too often.) The 1960s and 70s saw some changes to the field, and the disputes that attended this period of ‘sexual revolution’ make for fascinating – if, again, horrifying – reading. My favourite section is that on Joanna Russ writing letters and criticism and the way such respected names as Philip K. Dick and Poul Anderson responded to her and her comments. I love the fact that what now generally appears on blogs as a long and convoluted comment-thread then featured in magazines, albeit at the mercy of the editor. This chapter alone is worth its weight in cookies for outlining the milieu in which both male and female sf writers and fans existed for so much of the twentieth century – an invaluable resource for a newbie like myself.

The third chapter takes up one strand mentioned in the second and runs with it: the idea of ‘femmefans’. The fact that female fans were distinguished by a separate moniker goes some way to revealing how they were regarded, at least by some males of the community. It’s almost heartbreaking to read of the letters written to pulps such as Amazing Stories by women who imagine themselves as the only female readers of such stories – another reason I love the future that is blogdom. What I particularly love about this chapter is its uncovering of specific women involved with sf fandom, in many and varied ways. Instead of making generalisations about readers and contributors to zines, Merrick goes out of her way to trace named individuals and outline their experience within the scene. Appropriately, there is a section on Australian women, who seem to be even more hidden from view than their American or British sisters.

The development of specifically feminist criticism of sf is discussed in chapter 4, with a fair amount of space given to Joanna Russ, as one of the progenitrices of formal feminist criticism and the name to which many others felt themselves to be responding. Merrick chronicles the rise of feminist fanzines in the 1970s, and the impact these had on writers and fans, as well as the increasing numbers of feminist anthologies being produced. The chapter moves through to the 1980s and ’90s, noting trends and struggles as feminists of those times attempted to define themselves as well as understand their histories. As with the previous chapter, Merrick provides copious accounts of individuals here, and an extensive reading list of both criticism and fiction.

Bouncing back to fandom, chapter 5 examines the development of feminist fandom concurrent with the development of feminist criticism of chapter 4. Again going for the intensely personal stories to illustrate a broad, diverse narrative, Merrick weaves a story of female fans and their involvement in the fannish community from the 1960s to the 2000s. The feminist fanzines sound like an amazing community to have been involved in. Her discussion of the place of Marion Zimmer Bradley in this community – beginning as a fan, becoming a well-known writer, and causing all sorts of controversy over her (at least early) non-identification as a feminist – is enthralling, and beautifully illustrates the axiom that the personal is always already political. The chapter ends with a discussion of how WisCon (a feminist sf convention) and the Tiptree Awards were established.

The last two chapters of Cabal “examine how recognition of the cultural work of sf feminisms filters out into other critical communities,” and as a consequence have a heavier, more literary-critical, feel, which may make them more opaque to some readers than the first five chapters. Chapter 6 deals with sf feminim’s response to cyberpunk, a 1980s sf movement that some saw as eclipsing or superseding the feminist sf fiction of the 1970s. Merrick connects this with theorist Donna Haraway’s call for feminists to consider the cyborg as a way of considering the fundamental issue of what it means to be human. The movement also connects with a growing sub-genre of cultural studies, that examining techno-science and cyberculture. A feminist take on these issues is an intriguing one, especially in its observation that much cyberpunk is opposed to the material, the body – and how problematic that can be.

Interestingly, Merrick takes her discussion in what feels like quite a different, although still relevant, direction for her last chapter: the connection of feminist sf with science itself, and how feminism is and can be in dialogue with that discipline. She suggests very strongly that sf feminisms can and should play a vital role in dialogues negotiating the interplay of science, nature, and culture, and gives examples of a number of ways in which this has already occurred productively.

Finally, Merrick has a provocative conclusion. She addresses new challenges such as those posed by queer theory and postcolonialism, and where or how feminism might still fit in. Along with a consideration, appropriately enough, of what the Tiptree Award has taught us since its inception, Merrick considers the question of whether the science fiction field is ‘beyond’ questions of gender. She argues that feminism – as long as it remains the challenging and diverse field it has been until now – still has a great deal to offer science fiction writers and readers.

A critical work based in a deep-seated love of the genre, Cabal is a testament to the enduring impact of women, feminism, and fandom on the fractured behemoth that is science fiction. 2010 saw it shortlisted on the Hugo ballot for Best Related Work, and win the fan-voted William Atheling award for best critical work. These are well-deserved honours. I hope coming generations of both writers and fans will make use of the cornucopia of references Merrick has gathered, both to understand the history of the field and because most of them make for wonderful reading.

Godlike Machines

I got to read a review copy of Godlike Machines a while back, and fell totally in love with it. It’s finally, finally, been published, so I get to talk about it!!

I am so in love with Big Dumb Objects. And Small Dumb Objects. And grand, time-spanning, galaxy-sweeping space opera. Godlike Machines was, basically, written for me.

The opening story is “Troika,” by Alastair Reynolds. Told be a cosmonaut to an old woman, Nesha, it details humanity’s reaction to an astonishing object appearing in our solar system – the Matryoshka. Reynolds has delicate character development, gripping plot development, and an all-too-real visualisation of near-future Earth. This story made me sigh with pure pleasure. A novella, it could easily be a full-length novel; in some ways it reminded me of Clarke’s Rama sequence. I have nothing bad to say about the characters, or the narration, or the climax. This one goes straight to the pool room of All Time Favourites.

Stephen Baxter’s “Return to Titan” was perhaps not as infatuation-producing as I have not yet read any of the Xeelee sequence; but it’s still a good yarn, about going to Titan – obviously; the reasons for doing that and the weird things the explorers discover. The characters were intriguing, and not very likable overall.

Cory Doctorow’s “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow” seemed a bit aimless, after the first two which have such strong, driving, and relentless plots; still the characterisation is a marvel, and some of the ideas are breath-taking.

Having recently read “A Map of the Mines of Barnath,” I was immensely pleased to read “A Glimpse of the Marvelous Structure” by Sean Williams. This one goes up alongside “Troika,” for my money; the characters are drawn sparsely but believably; the plot unfolds gently, relentlessly, and suprisingly; and – and – I just loved it!

How can you make a story about a BDO sad and poignant?? Robert Reed manages it in “Alone,” but I’m still a bit bemused. This is another story going straight to my favourites list… a machine on an enormous ship, alone for enormous swathes of time: would it want to know its provenance? Is it possible to be self-contained to such an extreme, for any sentient? *sigh* it’s just wonderful.

And finally, Greg Egan’s “Hot Rock” is yet another take on what exactly a godlike machine could be. In this case, it’s a planet. Explorers from two different worlds come together to a wandering planet, which – despite having no sun – still manages to be balmy and atmospheric. Once again interacting with aliens is the theme of the day; managing your own prejudices and expectations, and figuring out how to make the best of a situation for everyone involved. In this case, it was the action that pulled me along; the characters are interesting enough, but not quite at the same level as Alone or Reynolds’ cosmonaut.

Basically, this anthology has ruined me for space opera for a while. It will be hard for anyone else to compete.

Galactic Suburbia 16

Galactic Suburbia can be downloaded from iTunes or our blog

In which we have apparently learned the art of conversational restraint! Clocking in at a miraculously tidy 45 minutes, the Galactic Suburbia crew discuss publishing news, a bunch of great new books, and read some feedback.

Strange Horizons Fundraising Drive.
Tehani’s post on open short story markets in Australia.
Aqueduct Press now releasing several of their titles as ebooks.
Ticonderoga to publish Year’s Best Australian Fantasy & Horror; editors Liz Gryzb & Talie Helene.
MindMeld best female characters.
Alisa and Tansy on Coode Street podcast.

What have we been reading/listening to?
Alex: Liar, Justine Larbalestier; White Cat, Holly Black;
Tansy: Cryoburn, Lois McMaster Bujold; Kiss Me Deadly, Tricia Telep (ed)
Alisa: Love Songs for the Shy and Cynical; Tomorrow when the War began; new segment (whcih i will start next ep)

Pet Subject
from Jason Fischer & Thoraiya Dyer, plus a shout out to Celia from Worldcon!

Please send feedback to or follow @galacticsuburbs on Twitter

Journeying onwards and leaving endings hanging: The Belgariad Book 3

You can find Tehani’s post over here, if you want to see what comments she gets. More spoilers ahead!

Magician’s Gambit: Book 3 of the Belgariad
David Eddings

Ce’Nedra gets to star in this book a bit more than the others, and I’m sure she loved that. Firstly, I think it’s totally awesome that Durnik, of all people, gets to be the one to peg her for being lovelorn over Garion. It’s really a very cute scene, and Ce’Nedra’s dreadful acceptance that she belongs to the Empire and therefore cannot make her own choices in that regard is somewhat heartbreaking. Additionally, of course, it’s immensely amusing for the reader that she keeps refusing to understand who and what Belgarath and Polgara are, and the adventure that she’s got herself involved in. It’s like Eddings is allowing a sceptical reader – a reader who hasn’t been totally suckered by the story yet – someone to identify with.

I hadn’t thought of it that way! But you’re right, Ce’Nedra’s naivety in the ways of the gods does permit a certain scepticism in the reader. I like that we get a view here of Durnik as actually being rather wise in the ways of relationships – he’s always been portrayed as intelligent, but rather backwater and perhaps a bit stodgy, but his observations here offer another side to him, which is rather important later on.

I think you’re right about Durnik. I found myself liking Durnik more and more this time around, partly I guess because I know how it all turns out, but also because I’m finding the ‘normal’ characters a bit more appealing than the exceptional ones, a lot of the time.

There’s a lot of journeying in this book. Firstly, the band has to go through Maragor, perhaps the most sobering of all the lands in this imaginary world. Grolims may butcher people all day every day – but they’re Angaraks, and we have no sympathy for them. Here, although we’ve never met a Marag, we know enough that their slaughter was totally unwarranted: especially with the heavy hint that the Tolnedrans did it for the gold, not to stamp out their ritualistic cannibalism. The concept of a god who weeps eternally is a staggering one.

It’s not a very flattering portrayal of the Tolnedrans, and this is interesting in terms of the rest of the nations. Nyssians are not shown in a very good light, but we as the reader are still able to find them likeable in some way – in fact, all of the other Western nations, while generally “good”, are given faults of some kind (however slight), but we find them quirky rather than not nice. With the extermination of the Marags, Tolnedrans are painted with a completely different brush, which is quite unusual, particularly as one of our main characters is from that background. Or is her Dryad nature what save Ce’Nedra? Or perhaps the message is that she overcomes such an acquisitive heritage?

That’s a very interesting observation. I don’t think the Dryad aspect is emphasised enough – and we don’t know enough about them – for that to be the mitigating factor. So I’d go with the idea that it’s meant to show how much she changes. Huh. Paints her in a much better light, doesn’t it?

Also in this section we finally learn a bit more about Garion’s ‘friend’ – the one in his head – and exactly what this entire adventure is leading up to. I have to say I find the idea of a universe that has a purpose (although no guiding intelligence), and that purpose getting divided because of a little accident, one of the weaker parts of the whole plot. I have no problem with two destinies battling it out; I’m a Christian, I can do dualism. But that there was an accident, which managed to split the purpose? That just seems … silly. Especially if there is no overarching God to take notice of that accident. Anyway – I accept it for the plot-device it is, and continue.

It sometimes seems a bit of a cheat really – I wonder what mistakes Garion would have made if it weren’t for the meddling voice in his head?

I’m sure someone has written that fanfic… or they should, if they haven’t ☺

We get to visit the Vale of Aldur, for the first time: it’s like hearing about someone’s house for ages and finally getting there. Seeing Polgara surrounded by adoring birds humanises her, I think, in a bizarre way. Garion’s attempt to move the rock – by lifting it, so that he ends up almost burying himself in reaction – is hilarious, and I really like that their magic actually does have physical repercussions like that. And have I mentioned yet how much I adore Beldin? I love him. I love his crotchetiness, I wish Eddings had actually written his oaths down, I love his insulting nature and that (we find out eventually) it hides an intellect both enormous and immensely caring. He makes me happy.

From the Vale the troupe heads to Ulgo, with another of the more interesting groups of people in this world, and one that I can’t think of an analogue for. It’s curious, too, that they are less stereotyped than others. Admittedly we meet fewer Ulgos than members of other races, but nonetheless: Relg is a fanatic, but he’s clearly marked out as being different even from most of the other Ulgos in that respect. The trip into Ulgoland is marked by wonderful monsters, and I think Eddings did very well in this area. Flesh-eating horsey-looking critters? Respect, man. And we get to ditch Ce’Nedra for a while, leaving her with the Gorim. Aw, poor man! No, wait: the way he deals with Relg? He can deal with anything.

I’ve always felt like the Ulgos are analogous with Jewish people (and my little Wikipedia link suggests that too!).

Leaving Ce’Nedra behind also lets Garion miss her, I think, which obviously eases him into his feelings a bit more. Not so much in this book, but in the next…

Finally, the adventure leads to Cthol Murgos. Various adventures ensue, and my favourite may be the encounter with Yarblek, if only for the facts that Polgara deals with his Nadrak ways – thinking she might be for sale – with such aplomb, and for the way she tells everyone else to keep their indignation to themselves.

That whole gender thing with the Nadrak people is a really interesting one – on the surface it looks like women are treated in a fairly negative way, but then you see Polgara take control of her situation and you start to wonder about the practice, and it’s eventually revealed (in a later book) that it’s most definitely the women who are in control, despite outward appearances.

You know, I think the Nadraks may be one of my favourite groups of people, for exactly the same reasons that I adore Silk.

During their time in Gar og Nadrak, Relg has to rescue Silk by taking him through rock, and it’s not often you get to see Silk totally and utterly at a loss.

And that going through rock thing bothers Silk for quite some time to come – it REALLY puts him out of sorts! Gets a bit belaboured by the end of it, in fact…

Belaboured is putting it mildly!

Finally, there’s the epic battle between Belgarath and Ctuchik, which is actually not so epic. That is, in concept it is, but Eddings doesn’t draw it out nearly as much as he might have. I’m in two minds about whether I would like to have seen more , or not. And the fact that Ctuchik essentially destroys himself … well. It’s a bit of a cheat, but it does make sense. I guess.

This book is pretty violent overall – lots of random Murgos being killed because they’re in the way of the group. It’s all rather bloodless though, which is probably why I never realised just how brutal the series is in general until this reread – lots of characters killed “off screen” and even those who cop their serve right up front don’t really seem to have an impact. I actually found the way the main bad guys have died to be more bothering, often because of the reaction of Garion and the others to how it happens.

The fact that they are largely callous and coldhearted about it? Yeh, bothered me too.

There were some new (to become ongoing) characters introduced in Magician’s Gambit who bear notice. Yarblek, who Alex already mentioned, comes to be quite pivotal and who I like for his brassness, and Errand, the innocent raised by Ctuchik to steal the Orb. I tried to read the character of Errand with fresh eyes when he’s introduced in this book (which is a bit hard, knowing how his storyline concludes), to look at him as he’s presented, and to view his initial part in the story without consideration of where he ends up. Conclusion? He’s a little cutie! I love his seriousness in his efforts to hand the Orb to random people, and I love that he’s foreshadowed from the beginning to be important later.

I too tried to see Errand with fresh eyes, and in some ways it’s easier this time around: last time I read it, I hadn’t been around young kids for a while! Makes it easier to imagine him as the cutie he’s described as when you’ve got a point of reference.

This book really does feel like the middle of a series, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. We know all the main characters; now we get to see them interacting and meeting new people. We know the basic aim of the plot, and indeed the book finishes with the retrieval of the Orb, which for a while appeared to be the main point. But it finishes with Our Heroes in a building that’s crashing down around their ears, and the suggestion that there is yet more to do for this particular adventure to finalise itself. I’m so very glad that I wasn’t reading this series as it was being published, because the ending – everyone heading out of the citadel – is immensely unsatisfying if you can’t immediately go and read the continuation.

Which is, of course, what I did.

Ahem, and so did I. To the exclusion of much else, including these reread notes! Got very distracted by story and forgot to be critical! Will try harder…

Galactic Suburbia 15.3

And finally, we record our Aussiecon4 wrap-up special. Which was partly an excuse to spend more time together, partly a chance to debrief – the good things, a few bad things, just how much we actually like cons… it was great.

Galactic Suburbia 15.2

This time it’s our Hugos special – just like our Ditmars special only about something that more people in the world care about. Or something. In which we admit that we are total awards junkies…

Galactic Suburbia: 15.1

Um, yes. We kinda went overboard on Galactic Suburbia when we were together for Aussiecon4. Well, wouldn’t you? The opportunity to actually SEE each other while recording?!

Anyway, you can now download our wrap-up of the Ditmars, which was a lot of fun to record and also includes a bonus at the end of me interviewing the awesome creators of Girl Genius – who two days later won the Hugo for Best Graphic Novel! Hurrah! Anyway, the quality is average because we recorded in the dealers’ room, and I giggle waaay too much… but it was SO COOL.

Revolutionary women

So, a while ago on the Coode St podcast, Jonathan and Gary wondered what it would be like if you tried to write a history of sf through the female writers. I think this is a most interesting idea, and relates to my desire to find women writing space opera.

Which relates to a book I’ve just finished reading called Liberty: The Lives and Times of Six Women in Revolutionary France by Lucy Moore. I was expecting it to be a book essentially looking at six women, all very different, and their experiences in the French Revolution. However, what I got was so much more than that. Alongside the bios – and they were really interesting women, all of them – I got a full history of the Revolution itself, almost entirely from the point of view of women. And the really, really cool thing is that it totally, totally worked.

Women were involved at every level of the Revolution. It was working-class women who marched on the palace in 1789 and scared the king and queen terribly. Women were involved in planning and suggesting policy in the convention’s various incarnations, and getting it passed too, thanks to both direct action on the streets and more indirect action in the various salons. Women were directly impacted, of course, by changes made to the laws – although they were not accorded citizenship rights under the great Declaration – and, perhaps more interestingly, perhaps stereotypically, but nonetheless dramatically, fashion was also of huge importance. Especially in the streets of Paris, what you wore was an immediate sign of your allegiances. In a world where there were laws about how could wear what, having women on the street insisting that everyone wear the revolutionary cockade was pretty influential. As was when aristocratic women, formerly the paragons of incredibly expensive haute couture, wore clothes that wouldn’t look out of place on a sans coulotte.

The women under investigation were Germaine de Stael, Pauline Leon, Theroigne de Mericourt, Theresia de Fontenay, Manon Roland and Juliette Recamier (all names missing accents, since I can’t figure out how to add them in). Leon is perhaps the most interesting, in some ways, because she was the most definitely working-class. I had come across her (and Mme Roland) in Marge Piercy’s City of Darkness, City of Light – daughter of a chocolate maker, active on the streets and probably in violence. Mericourt had probably been a courtesan, and was also immensely visible on the streets. The other four were all basically aristocrats, on various levels and with differing views on politics – what they wanted to get out of politics, and how they went about doing it.

Each chapter is based around one woman, but Moore weaves so skilfully that she keeps the larger story of the Revolution moving, and brings in the narratives of the other women as well. It’s a marvellously well-written book, which I thoroughly enjoyed – even though I was reading it for school! – and it’s now covered in (appropriately pink!!) comments in the margins. Hugely recommended to anyone interested in the French Revolution or women in history more generally.