Monthly Archives: October, 2010

Galactic Suburbia #19: the Greco-Roman issue

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While Alisa is away, Alex & Tansy play… in ANCIENT GREECE!  We talk awards, the end of publishing as we know it, stressful feminist debates, Vonda McIntyre, Twitter fiction, Stargate, and whether there’s enough Greek & Roman mythology in modern fantasy.

Tansy wins WSFA Small Press Award for Siren Beat;

Last Drink Bird Head Award Winners;

John Joseph Adams takes over from Cat Rambo & Sean Wallace as editor of Fantasy Magazine;

Realms of Fantasy dies: from Shawna McCarthy, and the publisher;

Wiscon committee disappoints through inaction (also here); and then finally moves to disinvite Elizabeth Moon as GoH (warning, many of the comments on that one are pretty awful to wade through); also here and here;

Paul Collins on how the ebook revolution isn’t working so well ;

Cat Valente on tedium, evil, and why the term ‘PC’ is only used these days to hurt and silence people;

Peter M Ball explaining how white male privilege uses requests for civility to silence the legitimate anger of others;

on Vonda McIntyre’s “Dreamsnake”, a controversial Hugo winning novel from 1979 which has been out of print for 10 years; and an interview with Vonda McIntyre about the book.

What have we been reading/listening to?

Tansy: Death Most Definite, Trent Jamieson; Blameless, Gail Carriger, Bleed by Peter M Ball, “Twittering the Universe” by Mari Ness, Shine & “Clockwork Fairies” by Cat Rambo,
Alex: Silver Screen, Justina Robson; Sprawl; Deep Navigation, Alastair Reynolds; The Beginning Place, Ursula le Guin; abandoned Gwyneth Jones’ Escape Plans; listening to The 5th Race, ep 1 (Stargate SG1 fan podcast).

Pet Subject

Classical mythology in modern fantasy. Can it still work? Do you have to get it ‘right’?

Book mentioned:
The Firebrand, Marion Zimmer Bradley

Medea, Cassandra, Electra by Kerry Greenwood

Olympic Games, Leslie What

Dan Simmons’ Ilium and Olympos

Gods Behaving Badly, Marie Phillips

Troy, Simon Brown

Margaret Atwood’s Penelopiad and Jeanette Winterson’s Weight, also David Malouf’s Ransom – along the same lines as Lavinia by Ursula Le Guin

Robert Holdstock’s Celtika, Iron Grail, Broken Kings

Please send feedback to us at, follow us on Twitter at @galacticsuburbs or on Facebook, and don’t forget to leave a review on iTunes!

Deep Navigation

What better book to take on an astroholiday than an Alastair Reynolds anthology? Dude’s an astronomer! It’s perfect!

I’d read maybe a third of these stories already, in other places, but I enjoyed re-reading all of them – and it was interesting to read them in the context of his other work. Given this was a collection of previously-published work, I was a little disappointed that it wasn’t arranged chronologically, because I think that would provide some interesting insight into the authors’ development of style and changing interests. I have no idea how the order of stories was decided. I did read them mostly in order (it’s what I do) although I did read one of the middle stories, “On the Oodnadatta,” first since hey: he’s Welsh, but he wrote a story set in waaay outback South Australia. What’s with that? Turns out, quite a lot – it’s one of those stories that starts off innocuously enough but ended up sending deep shivers of horror through my spine. Reynolds also managed to capture the slang and conversation of outback racist bogans very effectively.

I had a number of favourite stories from the collection. For a start, it was nice to see a story set in the Revelation Space universe, since I love it; “Monkey Suit” is about a ship fleeing Yellowstone and the plague there. It’s a closed system, of course, and it’s always interesting to see how authors handle personal interactions in that sort of environment. It’s made me want to re-read the Revelation Space books….

Although I ultimately felt a bit unsatisfied by it, I loved the idea behind “The Fixation”, because I’m fascinated by the Antikytheria Mechanism. I do wonder how people who aren’t familiar with the thing dealt with the story; it’s not vital to know anything about it, of course, because the story is about how history might be changed by seemingly-small things, but still – I think having knowledge of it helped. I liked the conjunction of alternate history timelines, sf theories of multiple universes, and ancient history.

I adored “Fury” when it was first published in Eclipse 2, and I adored it still on the re-read. The grand scope of the story, the slowly unfolding revelations about both personal and galactic issues, the moral conundrums… it’s breathtaking. It’s the essence of space opera, encompassing both the minutiae of the personal and the grandstand of human affairs over thousands of years.

On the other hand, this was the first time I’d read “Fresco.” It’s not really a story, more a vignette. And given that I read it while at an astronomy camp, amidst talk of galaxies and extraterrestrial life… well, I nearly cried.

Deep Navigation is not the easiest book to get hold of – it was published by NESFA, in honour of Reynolds being the Boskone Guest of Honour. It’s apparently limited to 1000 copies, but I’m not sure whether that means overall or just in the hardback version (I got #938). I’m awfully glad I got it, but that’s not a surprise, since I’m a Reynolds tragic…

A Galactic Suburbia special

And I forgot to mention…

The Galactic Suburbia Spoilerific Book Club!

Consider yourself warned.  This is an incredibly spoilery discussion of LIAR by Justine Larbalestier.  It’s not a little bit spoilery.  It’s a LOT spoilery.  And if you don’t believe us that this is the kind of book that you really truly don’t want to be spoiled for, consider the facts:
1) We invented the Galactic Spoilerific Book Club purely to discuss this book
2) We actually feel a bit uncomfortable even mentioning how much you don’t want to be spoiled for this book, because that in itself might mess with your reading experience
3) You trust us, right?
If on the other hand you have read LIAR by Justine Larbalestier, come on by and listen to us flap our hands as we try to articulate just what’s going on in this book.

Also, stretching back into the mists of time before Galactic Suburbia existed (hard to imagine, I know) check out Alex, Alisa and Tansy podcasting back in 2008 with our friend Kathryn, on the (then) entire bibliography of works by Justine.  Yes, it’s a Larbalestpalooza!

Galactic Suburbia becomes an adult

I , like you, have to just accept that these show notes are accurate, as I was absent for the recording of this, the 18th episode of Galactic Suburbia! However, Tansy and Alisa have never given me reason to doubt them… yet…. The podcast can be got from iTunes, or streamed/downloaded from here, which is where I’m heading after uploading this post.

Episode 18: Special Horror Edition

In which we discuss translated awards, constructive feminist discourse on the internet, make a special Swancon announcement, and dissect our complex relationship with the horror genre.

Geffen Awards (Israel)

Torque Control discussion on women & the Clarke & the dire state of women in British SF, with list of all British releases of SF or SFnal books by women in 2010.
— inspired by interview with Tricia Sullivan.

Torque Control announces they will be blogging about 2010 British SF releases by women in December and ask for readers to join them.  Also call for contributions of top 10 female authored SF books in the last decade for a theoretical “future classics’ list.

Super Special Swancon Announcement!

What have we been reading/listening to?
TANSY: The Wiscon Chronicles IV edited by Sylvia Kelso; Azu Manga Daioh by Kiyohiko Azuma; Asimovs & F&SF, Salon Futura
ALISA: secret projects & another Book I Am Not Reading

Pet Subject: while Alex is away, let’s talk about HORROR
– we’re both pretty selective about the horror/dark fiction we read.  What does it have to do to catch our eye?
– favourite horror/dark writers
– where do we draw the line on what we like/can appreciate in horror?
– does our feminism get in the way of reading/enjoying horror fiction?

Please send feedback to us at, follow us on Twitter at @galacticsuburbs and on Facebook! and don’t forget to leave a review on iTunes!

All’s well that ends…

Enchanter’s End Game: Book 5 of the Belgariad

David Eddings


Oh, the end.

Reading the last book in a series is a funny experience. I know someone who will often not watch the last episode or season of a show, or will not read the last book, because she doesn’t want it to end. I Could Not Do That. I need closure. I need to know how it all ends, how the strings are going to be tied together, how the characters could possibly, possibly get out of the bind they’re in. And, sometimes, I need the happy-ever-after, too. I’m that kind of girl.


Oh, completely agree! Not knowing how it ends, ESPECIALLY when you’ve invested in a lengthy series, is horrible! (I’m looking at you Melanie Rawn and Robert Jordan (with respect)). The happy-ever-after is nice, but not always warranted, as long as the resolution makes sense in terms of the character, world-building and plot that’s gone before – why yes, I’m still bitter about a certain Australian big fat fantasy quartet that ended in the most stupid manner imaginable… Fortunately, we don’t have that problem here.


The final book of the Belgariad begins with Garion, Belgarath and Silk’s fairly tedious journey through Gar og Nadrak, on the way to what we have finally discovered is the whole point of the series: a showdown between Garion and Torak. One of the things that really appeals to me about this whole series is on the first page of the story: Garion admits, to himself at least, that he is afraid of this confrontation. I think this really struck a chord with the teenaged me, having perhaps watched a bit too much He-Man, Transformers, and similar, where no one is ever afraid. Garion is quite convinced that he is going to die – and yet he keeps on going. He is dubious about everything he’s discovered about his heritage, from being a sorcerer through to being a king, but he never really considers giving up. This sort of grim determination has become something of a staple in YA, and I think that’s a really great thing – but I still like it here, too.


It’s one of the real high points – demonstrating that it’s okay to be scared, and real courage means you keep going anyway. That’s a massive message, but it’s not preached at us, which makes it even more appealing.


As an aside, I’m really glad that Eddings wrote both Belgarath and Polgara, to fill in some gaps. In the first few pages here we meet that random gold prospector in the mountains, and there’s a tantalising glimpse at both Belgarath and Polgara’s back story. I always really wanted to know more about Polgara being OWNED by someone, and the winter spent by the two of them with the prospector also sounded like it could be a good story. I’m still not entirely convinced by that Nadrak custom, but the prospector’s story was indeed worth it. I also really like the little vignette with Garion talking to the wolves – the idea that wolves have exquisite manners is very appealing – and again, Belgarath in particular gives a bit more about wolfish society.


Makes you wonder when they decided to write those prequels really – the old prospector’s not the only one whose story is explored in the two novels that tell the stories that came before – Vordai’s tale was another, and it makes me think about how much the Eddings team structured to set that up. It can’t have been on the cards from the beginning, because there are continuity errors between Belgarath, Polgara and the Belgariad and the Mallorean, but either they’re really good at making use of little tidbits dropped in along the journey, or they started planning that early on in the book writing.


The only really interesting thing, for me, about the journey through Nadrak country – not being particularly keen on fur or gold mining – is our introduction to Vella, who gets much more of a part in The Mallorean. Her interaction with both her owner and her potential buyer demonstrate a really interesting take on how gender relations can function. It’s never explained, at least not sufficiently, why the custom is for men to own women; it’s also not explained at what ages ownership starts, and all those other messy legalistic things. However, the fact that ownership does not give automatic rights over a woman’s body, that she is well within her rights to defend herself with violence, and that a woman can dance incredibly provocatively and still be reasonably sure that no man will attempt to even grope her … well. That’s a mighty interesting idea. Problematic, in a number of ways, but mighty interesting.

Oh, I guess the other mildly fascinating part of Nadrak is its king, the absolutely revolting King Drosta. Debauched, alcoholic, and more than willing to be a two-faced traitor, he is really quite remarkable as a study in what monarchy can lead to. He’s still totally disgusting.


It’s funny on the reread, how small a part some of those characters actually play, because we know so much more about them from later books. Vella is great, but I remembered her being more present, because I’m confusing things from the Mallorean!


From Nadrak our heroes pass through the land of the Morindim, making a rather interesting differentiation between magic and demon-summoning, and then finally we get back to the great big army that Ce’Nedra has gathered – with a side-trip through Cherek, to see Barak’s wife make the Cherek queen finally grow a spine, which is quite entertaining. So is Ran Borune finally being proud of his wayward child, rather than just doting.


Hmmm. Interesting statement “…to see Barak’s wife make the Cherek queen finally grow a spine…” Seems to me, on reflection, that a lot of the great actions by the female characters are orchestrated by someone else (often also female). Is that weird? I mean, I always knew Belgarath and Polgara were pulling the strings of most of the plot, but then there’s the way Islena is pushed around by Merel, and how Adara gently manipulates Ce’Nedra, and more and more examples. Is it a bad thing, or just an example of how women working together achieve more than they would alone? 🙂


Sadly, for much of the time Ce’Nedra’s army is just moving across the Algar plain, and then winching those enormous Cherek warships up the ridiculous escarpment that separates Algaria from the Angaraks. It is actually a fascinating study in medieval-ish warfare: the amount of time it takes to manoeuvre everything and everyone in to position, and then the battle takes basically no time. And I love, love, love that Eddings brought King Fulrach of Sendaria along, made him to be in charge of the supply train, and then actually thought about the practical necessities of an army the size of this one. Feeding one’s soldiers is, of course, of prime importance – but a lot of fantasy writers, when they set up big battle set-pieces, imagine that you can feed hordes on what they can scavenge. When that means stealing from family-sized farms, I think your army is going to get might hungry, and then mighty rebellious, awfully quickly. Anyway – Fulrach comes in to his own, in this section, and it’s a marvellous sight to see. However, I’m no tactician, but surely the idea of having basically every Western king along for the ride – in a land with no electronic communication – is a plan of utmost folly? Yes, the queens are at home, and most of them are able to run the kingdom as efficiently as their husbands, but they’re presuming their populace is happy enough that they won’t take the opportunity to try something like rebellion. That’s a lot of trust. I suppose the number of men they’ve taken away for their own army means there are fewer at home to do the rabble-rousing.


I think the role of the gods plays a big part in how all the kings can bugger off to war. The Western nations all seem pretty secure in their monarchies (barring a bit of dissent sowed by the bear priests), and it’s set up to be their heritage, so the people accept it? Also, I’m no historian, but didn’t the kings of old used to lead their armies in their conquests? I’m thinking of King Richard (ahem, mainly because of Robin Hood stories!) and Alexander the Great here, because my history is rubbish!


Finally there’s fighting, although most of it is off-stage, which is just fine by me. Instead the reader is privy to intelligence as it comes in, and to the after-effects of the fighting: the death, and the injuries, and the bits that often seem to get ignored. And finally someone – Polgara, as it happens – voices what often annoys and saddens me about medieval battles, because it just seems so pointless: setting everything on fire. (Obviously I hate the killing and maiming too, but at least if you insist on fighting those things seem to have a point.) There’s a seriously awesome sorcerous battle at the same time as the fight between the West and the East (since that’s what it comes down to, OH THE SYMBOLISM), lots more fighting – some exquisite set-pieces that reveal rather interesting facets of character, and then OH LOOK how convenient Ce’Nedra, Polgara, and Durnik get kidnapped. SO CONVENIENT. But hey, this way we get to meet ’Zakath, and I love ’Zakath. So urbane, so crazy-violent-mad.


Oh yeah, ’Zakath is awesome! I have so many favourite characters in these books J Am so pleased we get so much ’Zakath in the second series.


Finally, the end genuinely approacheth. We meet Zedar at LAST, and Garion comes face to face with the once-impossibly beautiful god Torak. And then Durnik dies. Quiet Durnik, consistently useful, shrewdly insightful, over-awed by his companions and totally in love with Polgara: he dies. And if you’re anything like me, you’ve forgotten the name that a couple of people have given him over the course of 4.75 books, and it is just heartbreaking. Of course, then Belgarath does something impossibly horrible to Zedar, and the bloodthirsty wench that I am is as pleased as all get out that he gets his come-uppance.


I REMEMBERED what all those people had named Durnik and I STILL teared up! It’s a great scene, terribly sad because of Polgara and Garion’s reactions I think – Durnik’s such a stable part of Garion’s life (one of the very few, if not the ONLY, fixed point for him!), that this hits him right at the core. And poor Polgara.


And finally, finally, Garion and Torak meet. If I was disappointed by Belgarath vs Ctuchik, and Belgarath vs Zedar seemed totally one-sided, this particular battle is quite a good one. I especially like that it really started with Torak trying to win Garion over, promising to be his father; and then he once again tries to seduce Polgara (EW), but of course it all comes back down to violence. It is pathetic, in the true sense of the word, that all Torak wants (it seems) is love and acceptance – but he can’t go about getting it in the normal way. Eddings does really interesting things with his gods, I think, and making Torak so very tortured allows the possibility that he’s not as completely irredeemable as the rest of the books would suggest. But, of course, he’s still the bad guy, and as a result he dies.


Reading this again, I really felt sorry for Torak. And while I know that he’s not even portrayed all that well in the prequels, it gives you one of those, “Oh, if only someone had helped him see the light when he was young…” moments! Silly, I know, but that’s the reaction I had this time around!


It’s a cataclysmic finale, and in some ways anything after it is always going to be a let-down. But, just like I love the end of The Lord of the Rings because it shows everything going back to normal, I do quite like the end of this book, and the series. Most importantly, of course, we are reminded that Durnik is The Man with Two Lives, and it’s all okay in the end. He and Polgara get together (at LAST), and – skipping right to the end – she doesn’t even have to give up her magic. I was pretty unimpressed that the gods would make her do that, originally; now I actually find it kind of funny, to imagine Polgara going through those weeks and months without trying magic, only to discover it was there all along. Is that mean of me? I have always wondered, though: if you can hear a fellow sorcerer doing magic, why hadn’t Garion or Polgara heard Durnik practising? Surely his first few attempts would have sounded like all the bells on the island.


Maybe Belgarath muffled the sound – or mucked about with his own noisiness while Durnik was practising, or, or … heh, maybe we just have to accept this part as one of those little mistakes we find when we revisit our darlings. I always thought it was funny though – her reaction when she finds out she’s been all selfless for no reason is actually rather restrained really!


Garion and Ce’Nedra get married. Yeah yeah. Like that wasn’t always going to be perfect.

And, of course, there’s teasing hint from Polgara that maybe the story isn’t finished yet – that the Mrin Codex doesn’t finish with Garion’s battle, so maybe there’s still something left to do. OH REALLY?? How convenient! An opening for a further series of books!


Such a cynical thought! But for all its faults, and the Mallorean has definite faults (the main one, for me, being that it’s actually the entire plot of the Belgariad retold with some different characters!), I’m really glad we got the second series, because I love all these characters! I think that’s why the reread, despite the issues we’ve talked about as we’ve gone along (hey, the Suck Fairy came to visit in the years since we read it last!), was so easy to do – we love the characters, and they still deliver on their awesome.


All up, I was pleased at having done this re-read. I still enjoyed the characters that I enjoyed the first two times around – especially Polgara and Silk – although their mannerisms did get a little tiresome after a while. There’s only so many times Silk can turn white at Relg going through stone, and say exactly the same thing each time. I was certainly more aware of the problems inherent in this story than I was originally, especially in the men vs women stakes – and so often they did seem to be a confrontation. That Ce’Nedra would threaten tears at Garion so frequently was quite off-putting, but then – she is only sixteen, so perhaps allowances can be made. Although not many. Actually, I was struck this time by just how many strong women there actually are, and strong in different ways: Polgara, Porenn the Drasnian queen, Vella, the Dryad queen, Vordai in the swamp, Barak’s wife Merel … it’s actually quite a good list.

A number of people have tried to convince me that re-reading The Mallorean is A Very Bad Idea. I’m not convinced. I won’t be doing it immediately, but perhaps in the medium-term future….


Oh, I reckon we go visit Sparhawk first!

This reread has been great fun – it’s been ages since I’ve gone back to any old favourites (simply too many new books to read to go back to the oldies, although the old darlings still get pride of place on my bookshelves!), so I was glad to have to make time to get through these again. It’s such a comfort read, but it also helps me to see where I’m at with my reading now, and examine my baseline for my current favourites, which is interesting in itself! Maybe I’ll put some Anne McCaffrey or Raymond Feist back on my To Be Read shelf and see if the experience is the same!

Tor double

Twelfth Planet Press has started doing some novella doubles, which I really like. It’s a clever idea, not least since the idea of just buying a novella – or a novelette – sometimes feels like a bit of a waste of time, depending on how much it is and who the author is. But with two novella, back to back, you feel like you’re getting a better deal.

TPP is not original in this idea, of course, and does not claim to be. Ace Books did doubles years ago and, I discovered recently, so did Tor. I discovered this because, in browsing Better World Books I found a double of Joanna Russ (whose work I’ve been meaning to read more of) with James Tiptree Jr (ditto)! How awesome is that! And, of course, the idea of the great feminist critic and author matched with Tiptree, the revelation of whom as Alice Sheldon totally rocked the sf world and who is now remembered through an award honouring gender exploration and disruption – well, it’s just perfect. It would only have been made more awesome if the double had been published before Tiptree was revealed as Sheldon, but alas that was not the case.

Tiptree’s story is “Houston, Houston, Do You Read?” (glaringly announced as a Hugo and Nebula Award Winner on the front). I could tell you what story it really reminded me of, but then I’d totally spoil it for you. At any rate, three astronauts are on a solar mission and when they come back around to the Earth side, things are… different. Houston doesn’t answer, but someone else does. This story does what my favourite stories do: with an awesome sf story, its focus is on the people – their reactions, their attitudes, their problems. The astronauts are appropriately different from one another such that a range of reactions can be explored, but they don’t feel like ciphers; Tiptree deftly sets them up as individuals. I believe this story first came out when Tiptree’s true identity was unknown; all I can say is, Seriously? Did people think that he was an awesome feminist man? Or did they just not see the feminism?

Russ’ story is totally different. Called “Souls” (and glaringly announced as a Hugo Winner), I was quite dubious about it, reading the cover quote: “The Vikings thought the pickings would be easy – but the Abbess was more than she seemed!” Urgh; tacky. Anyway, I was interested to see where Russ could take a medieval-ish story, and hey – I’m a bit of sucker for Vikings stories, usually to see how bad they are. This one is told from the point of view of a young boy who follows the Abbess, Radegunde around, and who is consequently on hand when a bunch of Vikings come marauding. I had hoped that the story was going to be set on Lindisfarne, having been there last year, but it wasn’t identified as such. Again, I shan’t give away any of the story; suffice it to say that it was definitely worth reading. Again, it’s a fascinating study of humanity, and the variety of reactions that people can have in difficult situations. For me, one of the really interesting aspects was the religion. I’m guessing Russ is an atheist, and she said some things that made me a trifle uncomfortable, but said some really insightful things at the same time – about Christianity in general, and about its status in the historical context. (I also really, really liked that the narrator was hoping that the Vikings would have horns on their helmets, and then notes that Vikings never actually did that.)

This double? Totally worth it. And there a number of others listed in the cover… I wonder how book stores categorise these: under which author?