The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia
I have loved Ursula le Guin for a long time; I think we read A Wizard of Earthsea for school, and when I discovered there were sequels – many years later – I was very happy indeed. But it wasn’t until many years after that that I discovered she had written a lot of serious, awesome, adult work too. It took me ages to get to The Left Hand of Darkness, which now rates as one of the best SF books ever for me, and I have slowly been getting to her others. Happily, The Dispossessed is the February book for the Women of SF Book Club – a perfect opportunity.
A spoiler-filled, and whimsical, discussion
The conceit of calling this post ‘spoilery’ makes me laugh, since the plot itself is so simple – and there’s really nothing to spoil. A man goes from one planet to another; learns some stuff; gets involved in some political stuff; goes home. Has flashbacks about meeting his partner and about his evil boss. That is, Shevek – a highly-regarded physicist – leaves his planet Anarres and goes to its sister-planet Urras to further his research. Anarres was colonised 170 years before by people fleeing Urras, determined to set a society with no property or ownership (a philosophy called Odonianism). In alternating chapters we get his experiences on Urras – learning what it is to be ‘propertarian’ and then getting involved in the beginnings of a revolution – and then his life to that point on Anarres, involving a stick-in-the-mud physicist, meeting his partner Takver, and Shevek coming to terms with his own attitude towards Odonianism. I was a bit sad that it ended with Shevek landing back on Anarres, though; I would have liked to see the reaction to his return. I guess leaving it ambiguous is part of the point.
I would not be surprised to find that a lot of people find this a very boring book, because the plot is indeed quite slow, and straightforward, and really almost nothing happens. But the point, of course, is that this is not a plot-driven book; while the plot itself is actually interesting and I enjoyed it, it’s there – I think – to enable the character-driven and politics-driven book.
I loved the past/future back and forth of the chapters. To see where Shevek ends up, while also seeing how he got there, is a fascinating narrative trick. It almost denies causality, in some way, which ties in very neatly with Shevek’s own thoughts and dealings with time and temporality: we know he got together with Takver before he meets her, we know he becomes an immensely important physicist before he becomes one. On p162 of my copy, he suggests that “The way to see how beautiful life is, is from the vantage point of death.” Although Shevek isn’t dead at the start of the book, I think we best appreciate his experiences on Uras by looking from the vantage point of Antarres… and vice versa.
Shevek is not entirely likeable, but almost always admirable – with one horrendous exception, where he possibly rapes Vea (I think it’s unclear whether he does or not). Interestingly, the fact that all we know of Vea’s behaviour is from Shevek’s point of view – coloured by his naivety – made me quite surprised when it appeared that Vea was not, actually, interested in ‘copulation’ there and then. Anyway, he has those outsider/loner characteristics that so often seem necessary for making an interesting character, even if ultimately he ends up appearing like the most ‘inside’ Odonian politics. Most of the other characters are mere sketches – even his partner Takver. This is not to say that they are caricatures or stereotypes; more, perhaps, that being entirely fleshed out is unnecessary for the story to take place.
Undoubtedly some readers will see this book as overly polemical. But tying it all in with the science, and some intense personal relationships, tempers the politics in my mind; and besides, when it’s as well-written as this, and as critical, passionate, and searing as this, polemical definitely has its place. I love that this was written in 1975 and it’s a critique – almost a damnation – of both capitalism (called propertarianism) and perhaps the ultimate expression of communism (Odonianism). USSR-type communism comes in for a brief condemnation, too, via a discussion Shevek has with the physicist from Thu, Chifoilisk. At times, both Anarres and Urras appear to be fine places to live: Urras is very familiar, while Anarres comes across as so worthy – or maybe that’s just me and my left-leaning sensibilities (it will be very interesting to see how the American readers in the book club respond…). Then on the other hand, Urras is so stifling, its attitudes towards women so 1950s-esque – and the government’s response to a mass, peaceful, demonstration is so extreme – that I shudder to think Australia could be like that. In turn, Anarres feels so poor, and has its own brand of stifling and unpleasant, that neither appears as a utopia; hence the subtitle given to the book, I guess. I think I would still opt for Anarres, given the opportunity to pick – despite le Guin warning that it too is imperfect, in its application of Odo’s philosophy.
Odonianism as a philosophy
I need to think more about what le Guin is suggesting here, I think. It has aspects of Marxism, especially of its Leninist interpretation; the ‘free love’ aspect (copulation brings no lasting attachment necessarily, has no moral component, sex is not dirty) was advocated to some extent by the Russian Alexandra Kollontai (a Bolshevik) and is also familiar from Brave New World…. Attempting to rid humans of all feelings of ownerships feels like a hopeless task to me, but it’s interesting to see how le Guin imagines it might be undertaken; her point that language itself would have to change is brilliant. On that note, the idea of making the word for work also the word for play is quite revolutionary and truly intriguing. It would have an enormous impact on people’s attitudes.
I haven’t done physics in a very long time. I am sure that a physicist reading this could get frustrated by the vagueness of le Guin’s science if they wanted to, and no doubt pick holes in her ideas of simultaneity etc if they really wanted to. For me, it was techy enough that it gave Shevek and his friends the semblance of true science, without totally losing me. More interestingly, though, as a whole, is the fact that she ties the ideas of physics into ideas of morality and responsibility. How utterly awesome and mind-boggling. Too often ‘pure’ science is seen, and even sees itself, as devoid of political or moral connection. I don’t agree with that, and I’ve never seen it argued so well and passionately in fiction before.
What it made me think
Well, a lot of things, really. The sympathy I feel for Marxism is of course tempered by my knowledge of the USSR, China, etc. But Anarres shows a different way of how things could be. While things are not shown as perfect, by any means, and that the philosophy can be bent, there is still a feeling that it could work – with the will and intention of people who truly hold to Odonian philosophy, working in genuine solidarity. On a more personal level, the idea of working with time, rather than against it, was more provocative than almost anything else, given that I am already a sympathiser of the political ideas.
I got it from the library. I think I need to own it now. It ought to sit next to Naomi Klein’s No Logo.
Some spoilers for Death Most Definite. (By Trent Jamieson)
When we left the somewhat hapless Steve at the end of Death Most Definite, he had just managed – through no intention of his own – to become Australia’s Regional Manager of Mortmax. Essentially, he became Australia’s Death. He had also discovered that the Stirrers – that ancient foe of the Psychopomps (employees of Mortmax, responsible for ensuring souls get to the Underworld) – are awaiting the imminent arrival of their god, meaning that they are ‘stirring’, or breaking through into our world via the recently deceased, with increasing frequency. To help him cope with this, he’s changed several people into Pomps, most of them Black Sheep – those with family connections to the Death business but who had themselves not chosen it. Oh, and he’d also brought back to life the woman with whom he’d fallen in love when she was already dead, and turned her (back) into a Pomp, too.
It’s not really a surprise that Managing Death opens with Steve having a nightmare.
The first few chapters deal largely with Steve being his normal whingy, drinking-too-much self, despite his greatly enlarged powers and the fact that he now actually gets to hold Lissa without fear of sending her to Hell. Through him we get to meet a few new characters – my personal favourite being Aunt Neti, an eight-armed and totally intimidating character who helps guard Hell, usually with a batch of scones served on some awfully nice bone china (heh). Also newly introduced, and getting a significant amount of page-time, is Suzanne, the Regional Manager for America. She’s a fairly standard cutthroat business/vixen type, but she gets some pretty good lines. I think her 2IC (or Ankou, in Jamieson’s terminology), Cerbo, is more interesting, although he gets less space to himself. There are also a number of characters from the first book who reappear, of course, including Lissa, who sadly doesn’t get quite as much of an increased role as I had hoped. While she is important, and is never just a damsel in distress or bed-warmer, I was disappointed by the short shrift I think she got particularly towards the end. Steve’s cousin Tim, now his Ankou, has a fairly significant role, and we also get more Wal. Ah, Wal: the fat cherub tattoo Steve got when drunk one night, who pops off his arm and bad-mouths Steve whenever he’s in Hell. Even more than the fact the story is set in Brisbane, Wal is a sign that this is a very Australian book. That, and a burnt-sausage Christmas lunch.
The plot of Managing Death, on the face of it, is simple. It revolves around Steve (well, Tim) having to organise the Death Moot – a get-together for all the Regional Managers – and Steve trying to convince them that the approaching Stirrer god is a problem they all need to deal with. Along the way there are also business issues that must be resolved: particularly how to recruit more Pomps so that they don’t get overworked (can you imagine trying to write that job advertisement? Or answering it?). Jamieson complicates matters with someone attempting to kill Steve. Although there are several lulls where little seems to actually happen – Steve is a bit too whiny and introspective in this novel for my tastes – it is nonetheless exceptionally page-turn-y. Something always seems to be going wrong.
Overall, I enjoyed the book. The characters are generally likeable or disagreeable, depending on their relationship with Our Hero; they have just enough depth so as to not be completely transparent. The plot largely kept my interest, although I do think Jamieson wrapped everything up a bit too quickly towards the end, and there was one particular solution to a problem that I thought came from far too far out of left-field to be entirely comfortable with. It’s definitely a “Book Two”: Jamieson does a fairly good previously-in-Death-Works wrap-up, but nonetheless I don’t think it would work well without having read Death Most Definite. Similarly, although some problems are tidied up, there are numerous issues left hanging to be resolved (I hope!) in the third book, The Business of Death, which I believe is due in 2011. Despite niggling issues with the book, I am definitely looking forward to the third book. Call me sadistic, but I am looking forward to just what Jamieson does to Steve next. And given the original way in which he has dealt with the idea of Death and the Underworld, I expect that the ultimate resolution will also be appropriately original.
And they have a plan: BSG rewatch 1.6-8
(I made the mistake of googling Gaius Baltar to find an image, and am now slightly scarred by the cosplay pics I found of Baltar and Six…)
We get a bit of Helo on Caprica, but mostly it’s about a Cylon (the not-actually-a-PR-agent one) getting aboard Galactica and blowing himself up, and then the ensuing investigation and trial. The deck gang get into a tizz trying to protect the Chief, because he was off having forbidden nooky with Boomer at the time. I don’t remember whether I picked up on it last time, but of course it turns out that the bomber stole the explosives from Galactica itself, and almost certainly got to them via the hatch combing that Boomer left open. Given her previous experience of unwittingly planting explosives, this is clearly meant to indicate that Boomer’s Cylon-self has once again come to the fore. Ultimately, one of Tyrol’s gang cops the fall for him and winds up in the brig. Tyrol has a meltdown over this, tells Boomer it’s all over and tries to get Adama to change the sentence. Adama gives him a bit of a lecture on leadership and refuses, mostly because he needs Tyrol to keep the Raptors and Vipers running which is… in some ways a terribly weak excuse for allowing a travesty of justice to continue. I can understand why he did it, and perhaps allow that the circumstances might warrant it, but being in such a situation where justice takes a backseat is a harsh harsh thing.
Much of the episode is taken up with Sgt Hadrian interviewing people and then bringing them before the tribunal. I love Hadrian. She’s a total hard-ass, and I’m amazed to discover that she’s only in two eps – this, and Act of Contrition. I had it in my mind that she was there far more often, as Master of Arms! Sad that I don’t have more of her to look forward to. Anyway, she asks right off the bat that the inquiry not be subject to the commander’s oversight, and to his credit Adama barely blinks before granting it. Of course, when he himself gets dragged before it, things are a little different and he reacts very poorly. The viewer is, I think, put in quite a difficult position: do we side with Adama, that cuddly yet prickly military man we all love, because we know the truth about Boomer and Tyrol and we know Hadrian is barking up the wrong tree? Or do we side with Hadrian, who after all is running a very thorough, sensible inquiry, and the questions she is asking are important, and the Commander really shouldn’t be negating an independent tribunal anyway? Deep stuff. I love it.
1.7: Six Degree of Separation
Again we get a bit of Helo/Caprica-Boomer action, and this time they actually get it on!, the episode is really all about Baltar getting accused of being a Cylon-collaborator and destroying the defence mainframe on Caprica. This is a marvellously intricate piece of plotting for several reasons: he was, of course, responsible for that, just not in the way he’s accused; and the woman accusing him, Shelly, is none other than another Number Six, and therefore a Cylon. This viewer, at least, got a bit carried away and dizzy with all the delicious irony. It’s a great episode: Tricia Helfer gets a slightly different role, although she’s still a bit of a sex-goddess trying to seduce Adama – which naturally doesn’t work; we get to see Baltar totally melt down again, which is usually entertaining; and we get a wonderfully snarky conversation between Roslin and Baltar showing Roslin’s true feelings for the creepy little scientist.
This episode also really starts the ball rolling on one of the things I find most interesting about the whole show: the religious aspects. Now Baltar has had something of a conversion to Cylon monotheism before this, but even at that time it felt pretty forced. There has been some mention, but no real discussion, of the Lords of Kobol – the pantheon of the humans. Here, admittedly when he’s facing the death penalty, Baltar appears to undergo a genuine (at least for him) conversion to the Cylon God. There has been endless discussion about the religious nature of BSG, and I’m not going to get into the aspects of Mormonism that are or aren’t in here, because I’m not conversant enough in it to add anything relevant. But I find it fascinating and somewhat refreshing to watch a show where religion isn’t just for the savages and the backward; it’s a genuine part of the whole society – even if most of the characters seem functionally agnostic, perhaps like much of Western society. And that the Cylons have developed (had revealed to them??) monotheism is deeply intriguing, and Six’s devotion in particular likewise. There are things which are deeply problematic, of course, from Baltar’s conversion right up to the apparent idea that monotheism and pantheism are completely unable to coexist. Still, it adds a depth and philosophical nature to the show that I think helps make it some of the best TV of the last decade.
1.8 Flesh and Bone
Again with the little bit of Helo and Caprica-Boomer at the start, but really their narrative seems to be included just so we don’t forget about that little bit of human/Cylon action goin’ down. The focus in this episode is back to Starbuck, hooray! and her interrogation of Leoben, which gets particularly… um, heated… when he declares that he’s planted an atomic bomb somewhere in the fleet. This is a hard-hitting episode that really starts to ask the hard questions about the humanity, or sentience, or life-y-ness in general of the human-looking Cylons and what that means about how you can treat them. Because Starbuck has absolutely no compunctions about brutally torturing Leoben, and presumably neither do the guards; and while Roslin appears scandalised by this and attempts to communicate with him, she ultimately – and totally callously – has him sent out the airlock. I found the torture section quite hard to watch, which I guess it was meant to be, and of course it brings up the whole ‘how far to save lots of people’ argument. And on top of all of that you get Leoben messing with Starbuck’s mind, suggesting he knows a whole lot about her and making comments about her background that for the viewer put Starbuck in quite a different, and quite a wounded, light. It’s a masterful episode for one that – to a much greater extent than any other yet – largely takes place in just one room.
It’s a really, really good episode. Tough, and hard to watch, but good.
And now, something I meant to do at the start but forgot, and a blatant rip-off (I guess we could pretend it’s an homage) of Tansy’s Xena stats. Because it’s such an amusing idea.
- Starbuck in the brig: 1
- Baltar in the brig: 1
- Women Baltar shows interest in (not including Six): 2
- Women Baltar actually gets to sleep with: 0
- Baltar religious conversions: 2
- Different sexy dresses worn by Caprica-Six: 2
- Apollo sides with President against Dad: 2
- Number of Cylons viewers know about: 4
- Number of Cylons humans know about: 2
- Roslin has a vision: 1
- People deliberately thrown out the airlock: 1
- Ships lost: 1
Australia Day podcast
In what is starting to look suspiciously like a trend, Tansy and I joined Jonathan for an Australia Day podcast yesterday, in between various other engagements. We were sad not to have other eminent Australian podcasters join us, but when you’ve got three hours between east and west as well as things like sleeping in and bbqing… well. It just gets hard to organise. Anyway, we valiantly carried on, discussing what it’s like to be an Australian specfic author, whether there is an Australian ‘tone’, and what we’re looking forward to on the Aussie scene in the coming year. You can listen to it here or, I think, get it from iTunes by going to Jonathan’s regular podcast, Notes from Coode St.
(It should be noted that Jonathan calls his post “The Sounds of Now,” and he threatened to put a little Gangajang at the start of the podcast. I was trying to figure out some INXS or Wolfmother-appropriate title, but… nah.)
Danton: making it big in the revolutionary world
I read biographies far less often than someone of my historical bent would be supposed to. I often expect them to be dry – I’m not sure why – and I often prefer books on the minutiae of history, the stuff that often gets overlooked. That said, I have a soft spot for Alison Weir’s biographies – I’ve read most of her Tudor stuff, and I really liked her book on Isabella (“She-Wolf of France”).
One of my all-time favourites is a biography of John Dee, best known as an astrologer, alchemist and magician, but actually responsible for some pretty awesome science too. Against that is the fact that I have biographies of Dirk Bogarde (I am a big fan of the Doctor movies), Gandhi, Elizabeth I… and the Pythons autobiography… all sitting on my unread/true shelf (it’s a long story). I’d like to read more bios, they just don’t move up in the ‘must read’ queue.
This problem is exacerbated, for me, when it comes to reading of modern, controversial characters. Dee was controversial, and Isabella certainly was (and when I can get my hands on a good revisionist bio of King John, I am going to be all over it), but even I concede that arguing about them is slightly academic, although always with modern repercussions. I would desperately like to read a good biography of Trotsky – and Lenin, I guess, too – but who the heck am I going to trust? A popularist like Alison Weir? I don’t think so, sunshine. A historian of whose politics I know nothing? Problematic. I would love to read one written by Peter McPhee – God bless his Marxist soul – but I don’t think that’s going to happen.
And so we come to the fact that I have finally finished The Giant of the French Revolution. Danton: A Life, by David Lawday.
When I first started reading about the French Revolution I quickly decided that Danton was the man for me; Marat is too much a rabble rouser – although dying in the bath is sooo Greek tragedy – while Robespierre, with his insistence on continuing to wear ancien regime costume, clearly had gumption but his whole Republic-of-Virtue-or-die made me a bit uncomfortable. There are things about Danton that make me uncomfortable too, but… he’s so much larger than life, he had such energy, and he instructed his executioner to make sure to show his head to the crowd once it was off, because it was worth looking at. Plus, Gerard Depardieu plays him in a movie, and he was perfect.
So, the book. Lawday admits at the start that this is a slightly romanticised history, because Danton committed almost nothing to paper. There are no footnotes, although there are references at the back giving some indication of where ideas and quotes came from. And it is a bit romantic: Lawday sometimes lets himself go on flights of descriptive fancy about the streets of Paris and the countryside around Arcis, Danton’s birthplace; and he gets a bit smoochy over Danton and his wife Gabrielle’s relationship. The other romantic aspect, and the thing that annoyed me the most, was that Lawday’s vision of Danton as a hero apparently demanded that there be a genuine fiction-like villain for him to play against. Robespierre, the man probably responsible for Danton’s death, is the obvious candidate here, and Lawday goes out of his way to malign and belittle him as unmanly and insipid, in contrast to the testosterone-fuelled Danton. But what really, really got my back up was that Lawday also featured Manon Roland, wife of Danton’s fellow elected official Jean-Marie Roland. It seems clear that Mme Roland and Danton did not get along. Lawday, though, plays this up in sexualised and demeaning ways that were occasionally outright offensive. Having recently read Liberty, about the contribution of women to the Revolution – including Roland – this got my goat even more than it might have.
Sigh. Anyway, aside from that demonisation, I did really enjoy Danton. Lawday gives a good running explanation of the Revolution such that I didn’t get lost trying to figure out what else was going on at the time, and he does well at portraying Danton as intimately involved in most of the important events. Some of this may be exaggeration, but not all of it. It’s largely well written, although I’m not sure that I agree with The Economist that it’s “beautifully told”. It’s eminently readable, anyway, and captures the energy and urgency of the Revolution. I think this would be exceptionally good way in to the Revolution for someone with little knowledge of the events, but with a curiosity about people who shape events.
In other news, I am still struggling through Citizens. That is, in theory I am still reading it, but it’s at the top of my bookcase at the moment, not being read.
I have long been enamoured of Turkey. Actually, strictly speaking I have long been enamoured of the idea of Turkey: the decadence, the luxury, the it’s very different there. Over the last number of years I have come to the realisation that this idea, or dream, of the country is a very European one, and a very colonial one in many regards – it’s a view of “the East” that has existed in “the West” at least since the Romans had their snooty ideas about Egypt and Persia. Despite being well aware of its source, and feeling uncomfortable about that, there is still an allure in those incredibly not-politically-correct views. And that’s the point, of course: the allure comes from the (alleged) exotic nature of somewhere very ‘different’ (from Western Europe), and difference is always attractive. (The point, too, was that by identifying certain things like decadence as traits from over there, the viewer could take the prim moral stance and still enjoy it. But I digress….)
I got to thinking about these sorts of things in reading The Dervish House because it is set in near-future Istanbul: a city in many ways very similar to those of Western Europe, America, and Australia that I am familiar with, but with enough differences – real differences – that it retains an aura of the exotic. The story could, with some changes of course, be set in any city really. But setting it in Istanbul allows McDonald to do many things, not least of which is imbuing his setting with a deep sense of history that the relatively new cities of America and Australia just don’t have. Istanbul is very much a character in this novel; the complexity of the city itself – geographically, historically – is deeply important to the plot and the characters. There is even a character whose main interest in life is mapping the social history of the city, an idea I find very attractive.
The Dervish House is a simultaneously dense and frantic novel. In 472 pages McDonald covers five days in the life of the city, from the point of view of six main characters. An old Greek man, a young Turkish invalid, a successful businesswoman, an ambitious businesswoman, a no-hoper and a stockmarket player: with this cast, McDonald creates a vibrant city. Some of their stories interweave with one another, at one point or another, while others appear tangential; all combine to give a rich, rich view of the near future. Their plots are wonderfully varied: there’s romance, there’s adventure, there’s corporate espionage and shady deals and antiquarian detective work; religious fanaticism, world-weariness, wild success and disappointments. At times the writing is so dense that I had a little trouble following it, but the sheer beauty of it – along with the compelling sense that I needed to know what was going to happen – meant that wasn’t too much of a hassle.
One of the things that fascinated me about this book is that reading it as an SF reader, it’s clearly SF; there are enough references to nanotechnology and other futuristic things to ensure that. However, the date isn’t made clear until about two-thirds of the way through the book, and the technology isn’t really central, so it ought to have broader mainstream appeal, too.
BSG: I still won’t watch the opening credits
You know, where they do the “on this episode” flashes? Doesn’t matter that I’ve seen it all before; I still Will. Not. Watch. I hide my eyes and everything. Also, it annoys me a lot that they included that on the DVD versions.
1.3: Bastille Day
I don’t think I realised what the title of this episode was when I first watched it. It’s incredibly resonant, of course, and for me at the moment even more so – I’m teaching the French Rev this year, again, and I’ve been furiously reading books about it. Bastille Day, for those vague on the details, is popularly seen as the ‘official’ beginning of the French Revolution: a crowd of people in Paris stormed the Bastille, a prison regarded as a symbol of the king’s oppression in the middle of Paris. The irony, of course, is that when they got in there were only about 7 inmates – and none of them were in for political reasons. (If you follow Schama, it’s also indicative of the violence that escalated basically until Napoleon took control). Here, of course, although there are 1500 prisoners who have presumably committed a variety of crimes, the focus is entirely on one: Tom Zarek. (And when I discovered that he was Apollo in the original series, my mind nearly exploded.) Freedom fighter or terrorist, Zarek manages to capture (our) Apollo and friends when they come to ask the prisoners to do hard labour to get water for the fleet. And what he demands is elections across the fleet. The very fact that it was called Bastille Day is indicative, I think, of where the sympathies of the show’s creators lie; most people regard the day as a good thing in the progression towards democracy. And so, when this possibly evil man is demanding exactly the sorts of things that reasonable people have been demanding in Sudan, Zimbabwe and Burma the last few years… well. The writers are not making this an easy show to watch.
Also, I love the ending, where Apollo has to face up to his father and the President and announce he has committed them to elections. It’s exactly like a kid being hauled up before his parents.
1.4: Act of Contrition
It’s all about Starbuck. She may get a bit annoying in places, over four seasons, but this show is just all about Starbuck here.
To start the episode with a flash of Starbuck falling through atmosphere is very clever – the fact that they don’t make it clear whether this is a flashback, or a dream, or what adds significantly to the tension. The further flashbacks to her with Zac, and then her first meeting with the Commanders – when we the viewers already know what she did and how guilty she feels – are superb and very effective. I really appreciate how conflicted they make Starbuck; it’s not overdone, and it doesn’t come out in every single action, but it’s clearly always there. As it would be. It also tells you something about the show that in the fourth episode they have one of the main characters possibly die. No punches pulled.
This episode also has Roslin chatting to the fleet doctor about her breast cancer. I’m still not entirely sure what I make of that particular plot point. Of course it leads to the whole ‘dying leader’ thing, and it has a slight side discussion of ‘alternative’ vs mainstream medicine, plus the whole ‘how to deal with terminal illness’ thing. It also makes her more vulnerable and human, which I like; it matches, I guess, with Adama’s grief over Zac.
So this one finishes as a cliffhanger; Starbuck has fallen on to the planet, oh nooo!! We had only planned to watch two episodes… but we couldn’t just LEAVE her there.
1.5: You Can’t go Home Again
Ah, the rescue of Starbuck. Which is awesome because she rescues herself; that’s my girl. I love, love, love that the Cylon raider is a genuine cyborg, and I am willing to overlook all of the issues of how Starbuck learns to control the thing for the very fact that she does, and it’s so very awesome.
The other fascinating aspect is how Starbuck’s absence affects both Adama men – they can’t handle it. Roslin suggests it’s because she’s their last connection to Zac; I think it’s also guilt, especially from Adama Sr, that he drove her to the point of having to be (more) rash. And for Apollo… yes well, we know where that particular relationship goes (if you’ve seen it that is. If you haven’t, why are you reading this?). Roslin also highlights the military vs civilian issue that is going to continue plaguing the fleet: the military (well, Adama) making decisions that affect everyone, but aren’t necessarily the right ones to make for everyone.
Finally, it totally freaks me out that they smoke onboard a spaceship. WTH??
The 24th episode of Galactic Suburbia
In which we flit over the first shortlist of the year and some charitable links, sweep though a fortnight of culture consumed, and then leap with both feet into the pet subject of Inside Indie Press. You can download or stream us from Galactic Suburbia, or get us from iTunes.
BSFA Awards Shortlists
QLD Flood fundraisers for writers & readers: After the Rain; Authors for Queensland auction; QWC appeal launches Saturday, on Twitter at @writersonrafts
What Culture Have we Consumed?
Tansy: no books for me, shockingly! More Big Finish audio plays.
Alex: Agatha H and the Airship City, Phil and Kaja Foglio; Transformation Space, Marianne de Pierres; Dust, Elizabeth Bear; two stories from James Tiptree’s Her Smoke Rose Up Forever (spoilery discussion); The Name of the Wind, Patrick Rothfuss. Also begun a rewatch of BSG…
Alisa: No Ordinary Family; Dexter season 5
(diversion on the subject of Whether Alisa Should Watch Doctor Who)
Pet Subject: Inside Indie Press
Big news in TPP space is the closure of Speakeasy.
Is there an obvious point at which a project becomes a non-viable project?
How do you know that you’re ditching a project just because the stories don’t fit your particular idea/viewpoint?
The older books are harder to use as examples because lots of things about them were learning.
Horn – first to break even BUT I got caught on the selling to bookstores so i ended up having to sell 80% of the print run after review and buzz copies (1/4 of the print run) to break even.
Pay scales, writing contracts, competing with the US indies…
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The Name of the Wind
I really thought I was a bit over epic fantasy trilogies. I mean, I haven’t consciously started one in a very long time. Partly that’s because they’re black holes sucking time and energy into them, partly it’s because I am wary of starting trilogies at all – especially when the rest haven’t been written yet and I haven’t got a sense of whether the quality holds up – and partly, I’ve realised, my tastes have been veering towards science fiction, and especially hard SF and space opera, much more consistently in the last few years. No idea why, just have.
Consequently, when a friend started raving about Patrick Rothfuss and The Name of the Wind at me, I had no idea what she was talking about. And none of the above occurred to me, either, because it wasn’t until a few weeks after she had put a copy in my hands and promised me late nights reading that I discovered the darn thing was a first book, and that the others are as-yet unpublished. I started feeling annoyed… and then realised that I had forced Holly Black’s White Cat into her hands, so we’re kinda even in that its sequels are also unpublished. But I figure I still have a bit of leeway since Name is about a quarter the size of White Cat.
Anyway. I read it. And it’s the sort of book that if someone described it baldly, I would probably roll my eyes and say that I was largely over big fat magical quests in faux medieval settings with some mysterious baddy in the offing.
It is one of the longer books I’ve read in a while, at 662. While it was sometimes a bit of a slog, the fact that it has exceptionally short chapters – there are 92, plus a prologue and epilogue – meant that it was easier to keep ploughing through. And honestly, it was worth it. I liked the conceit that it was a man telling a story to a chronicler, and that there were occasional breaks from the main story back to the scene of the storytelling; it helped keep it grounded, and it also meant that you knew Kvothe was going to get through the obstacles put in his way. It’s an interesting way of doing it, letting the reader know that the protag is definitely going to go and be amazing, because that’s why he’s telling the story in the first place. There’s none of that “ooh, surprise! The farm boy with uncommon wit is really a magician!”
Kvothe? He’s a pretty good main character. He has lots of advantages – uncommon wit, fast reflexes, an exceptional memory – but disadvantages too – his upbringing, his temper, and a whole lot of bad luck. I had rather hoped, when the story opened with an adult man, that we would be skipping all of that apprenticeship stuff. It was not to be, and I’ll allow that I was – surprisingly – riveted by his childhood and his time at the University (that’s not a spoiler; it’s obvious pretty early on that that must happen). And, as I’m sure was the intention, I am now beside myself with wonder about what happens to Kvothe when he leaves the University, how he gets the name Kingkiller, and why he’s now an innkeeper.
The other characters pale in comparison with Kvothe; they don’t get as much time, of course, and they just can’t be as interesting. Even the woman in his life – who is one of the more interesting love-interests I’ve come across in a while, I’ll admit, and I’m wild with curiosity about her background, and if we don’t find out more about her I’ll do a Misery on Rothfuss – didn’t keep me as interested as Kvothe. They’re not boring, though, and many of them are nicely quirky; one of my favourites is Auri, a wild girl Kvothe befriends. And of course Abenthy, his first teacher, is awesome.
The worldbuilding is quite detailed; not that original, in some aspects, but nicely realised and crafted. I really liked the notion of going to University to study what others perceive as magic (and not in a Pratchett-style University, either); and I liked the sense of historical depth Rothfuss implies, too, without going into long, drawn-out, pompous epics told over the campfire or dug out as a revelation from a dusty tome.
And the plot? Again, on the face of it not overwhelmingly original. A young boy with a tragic past seeks to make his way in the world; a poor young man struggles in a world driven by money; a boy experiences a mystery as a child and strives to understand it as he grows up. Oh, and there’s a girl. But saying it like that does not, of course, do it justice. While the story might in places follow a well-worn path, there’s a reason for that: that path leads to fascinating places. And, to continue the metaphor, the scenery on this particular version of the path is marvellous and well worth making the journey. Even most of the bit-characters are interesting in their own rights, and the writing is delightful enough to lure the reader on.
I enjoyed this book way more than I had anticipated.
BSG 1.1 and 1.2
I considered trying to have interesting titles for all of my posts, but… that’s a lotta titles.
I discovered on watching this just how much of the detail I have forgotten, which is quite pleasant actually – it makes rewatching it seem more worthwhile. In this episode – officially the first of the series – the Galactica and its ragtag band of civvie ships has made 287 ftl jumps, every 33 minutes, only just escaping the Cylons each time. They’re all on the ragged edge, and you just know something is going to happen. We also flash to Helo, on Caprica, and get a fair bit of Baltar being lovey-dovey and insane with Six.
Of course, forgetting details also means that you have to go through the agony of (re)discovering horrible things, like…
The Olympic Carrier. It wasn’t until Dee announces with surprise that the Carrier was back with the fleet, after being left behind on the last jump, that I remembered what happened. And oh boy, that’s unpleasant. Yet again we have the President and the Commander having to make dreadful, heart-wrenching decisions. (And as we find out in the next ep, it’s Apollo that seems to suffer most from doing it).
The crew after 100+ hours sans sleep is a fascinating study in character. Tigh just bulls on through, Starbuck gets wilder, Adama gets grittier, and everyone else does ragged and near-crazy exceptionally well.
And finally, we get Helo on Caprica, getting ‘rescued’ by a Sharon. Doesn’t that just put the cat amongst the pigeons, so to speak? Especially when she kills a Six in order to do so….
The thing I’ve paid closer attention to on this watch, aside from the plot, is the character relationships. The one I really noticed this time is that between the Chief and Callie: at this time, he’s involved with Boomer, but eventually of course these two get hitched. It’s interesting to see them at this point, where it’s very much a master/apprentice relationship. And, of course, Apollo and Adama continue to be a fascinating study in parent/child attitudes. I love them more this time than last.
Oops. Boomer wakes up and discovers she doesn’t know where she’s been or what she’s done. And then there’s an explosion – oh no! – and lots and lots of water is lost. Then we go water hunting. We also get back to Helo and Boomer on Caprica.
Put like that, it sounds like a boring episode – and for the second in the series that seems quite weird. But it sets the scene: aside from battling Cylons, the point of the show really is the day to day minutiae, the little things that make it possible for not-quite-50,000 people to survive in space while being hunted down. And water is, of course, utterly essential to that survival. So I like that after the adrenaline rush of 33, we get an episode focussed on something no less vital, but way less sexy.
This episode makes me realise I am not a huge fan of Boomer. I think this is partly because I don’t really rate the actress, Grace Park, that highly, and also because I find this iteration of her a bit too whingy; curiously I think Athena – the one who is currently with Helo – is more interesting. On one level this makes no sense, while on another it’s a great tribute to the writers of the show in differentiating members of the same Cylon model.
We get more lovely moments of Roslin/Adama here: they bond over books, they have misunderstandings that at least this time are resolved quite gracefully, and in their individual interactions with Apollo they demonstrate fascinatingly different takes on leadership. Adama says ‘suck it up and take it like a man’; Roslin says in private, at least, learn from your mistakes and be honest with yourself.
Finally, we get more of Six banging on (heh heh) at Baltar about religion, which really started in 33. There are things here about monotheism vs polytheism, and attitudes towards God/the gods, that I still haven’t got my head around. Hopefully I’ll be able to do so over the course of the series.