Daily Archives: April 11th, 2011

Nightsiders

Nightsiders is the first anthology of the Twelve Planets series, a set of twelve collections being put out by Alisa Krasnostein at Twelfth Planet Press. Each of the collections will consist of four short stories. This one, by Sue Isle, features stories that all deal with the same place and similar issues: a near-future Perth, a city ruined by an almost complete lack of water, infrastructure damaged by bombs some time ago, and largely deserted in the Evacuation.

It should be said up front that I am friends with the editor, Alisa, although I do not know the author.

As a package, this is a nice little book. It’s 138 pages of narrative (with a short introduction from Marianne de Pierres), and given that’s split over four stories it’s the sort of book you can consume in one sitting or over several. I’m not a huge fan of the colour, but it is certainly appropriate given how much time is spent in the stories talking about the near-desert nature of Perth.

The first story is “The Painted Girl,” and follows Kyra and Nerina as they come into the city for the first time ever in Kyra’s experience; they’ve been wandering from place to place, never setting down roots. Kyra ends up with the Drainers, a name which is never fully explained, and learns something of the ways of this weird new place she’s been brought to. As an opening to the collection it works well, because the reader too is new to this near-future city, and has to come to grips with the lengths people go to to get and conserve water, the lack of basic amenities, and the fundamental changes which have happened in Perth, of all places.

The title “Nation of the Night” does not reflect the nature of the second story in the slightest. However, the story itself is fascinating, and I think the strongest of the collection. It deals with multiple issues with an elegance that makes reading the prose very easy indeed. Here, we follow the experiences of Ash – biologically female, psychologically male – as he heads East for surgery to resolve his conflicted nature. In Melbourne – described as intimately and recognisably for me, a Melbournian, as I am sure Perth is for natives of that place – Ash discovers that things over that way aren’t that much better, in many ways, than they are back home. The individuals Ash meets are vividly, if briefly, described, but it’s really the landscape and geography that stand out in this story; the changes wrought on a city that has taken in millions of refugees are as stark as those wrought on the city from whence all but a few thousand have fled. The story is not without problems – for all the talk of how difficult it will be for Ash to get to and from Melbourne, it feels quite easily achieved. However, as an investigation into gender identity, attitudes towards refugees, East/West relations in Australia, and the impact of climate change, this is a remarkable story.

Third comes “Paper Dragons,” which initially appeared in the ezine Shiny, also produced by Krasnostein. For all that I know entertainment has been a basic, perhaps essential, part of human civilisation since the earliest examples we have, I still found it slightly unbelievable that a community struggling as much as the Perth one appears to be would be able and willing to support a troupe of players who appear to do little else but rehearse and perform. Perhaps I’m too much of a pragmatist. I enjoyed the new characters introduced here, and the fact that Ash reappears in a different role, but I also didn’t really understand quite what the point overall was – of post-Evacuation teenagers staging an excerpt from a pre-Evac TV show, and its impact on the older people in the community. However, overall it allows yet more insight into how Perth society operates; the often brutally pragmatic choices that need to be made, and the suppression to some extent of ‘finer feelings’ that find at least a partial outlet in the theatre.

Finally, the collection closes with “The Schoolteacher’s Tale.” Here, a character referred to in other stories – Elizabeth Wakeling, teacher to generations of post-Evac Perth residents – gets a voice of her own. As a teacher myself, this story struck a chord with me, with its discussion of what learning would be necessary for generations growing up in a society like this. Elizabeth was delightfully curmudgeonly – as the oldest person in the area, and the only teacher, she’s entitled to it – but also pragmatic and willing to be flexible. Appropriately, as the collection opened with a confused young woman entering Perth, this story closes the collection with a determined old woman leaving it, with clear and specific plans in mind.

Across the four stories Isle portrays a striking, not-quite post-apocalyptic world that’s not quite believable, but not quite foreign enough to dismiss out of hand. The society she portrays in Perth is ethnically mixed, pragmatic, fiercely independent, and built on cunning. Most of those traits are ones that Western Australians would probably claim today, as well. I’m uncomfortable with the idea that the eastern seaboard would abandon the western so completely, but with Isle’s portrayal of Melbourne it becomes all too possible. Overall, Nightsiders is an intriguing collection, and it left me wondering whether Isle plans to return to the world in a novel – it certainly feels like it would be sustainable. And if this is the standard of the rest of the Twelve Planets series, I cannot wait for the next eleven.

Contact

I watched Contact many years ago – possibly even at the cinema – and I read the book, too. I don’t remember the book very clearly, although I do remember thinking it was better than the film (what a surprise). I had fond memories of the movie, so when we decided to watch it again recently, I was a little apprehensive that the Suck Fairy might have visited.

I still really enjoyed it. The opening sequence is still simply marvellous; I utterly adore the perspective given to our Little Blue Dot, of course very appropriate given it was written by Sagan.

Jodie Foster… didn’t do much for me. To be honest I’ve never really understood the hype about her. I’ve never seen any of her early roles, to my knowledge, so maybe I just don’t have the context. But here – well, she’s good, but I certainly don’t see it as a role that no other actress could possibly fill. That said I do really like her character. I love how strong Ellie is, how determined she is to get her science done, that she listens to the radio waves herself rather than leaving it all to the computers. I also really appreciated that there’s really only one character who doesn’t take her seriously as a scientist, and that’s David Drumlin, whom I have called all sorts of rude names because of his treatment of her. His arrogance and sexism are aspects of his characters; they’re not meant to be taken seriously, as reflecting the sensible world. (Also, Tom Skerrit is brilliant.)

The rest of the cast is mostly good. I love William Fichtner: for his cameo in The West Wing as the judge who gets to be Glenn Close’s foil and plays with Toby’s mind, his bit part in The Dark Knight – he’s wonderful. And he’s great as Kent; the being blind is interesting and not over-played, and for me just seemed part of the diversity of characters. Yes, it’s played on to get the “ooh he has super hearing” thing, but it doesn’t feel overdone. David Morse is good in his cameo as Ellie’s dad… and then there’s Matthew McConaughey.

I like Palmer, McConaughey’s character, in theory. I really really like that the religious issue is a fundamental one in the movie, even though I don’t entirely agree with how it was handled; and even though I find it irritating that Palmer, as apparently the President’s go-to man on religion, ignores one of the big moral precepts of Christianity that helps set Christians apart from others in society (that whole no-sex-before-marriage thing). But I think he’s interesting, and I think he provides an interesting contrast to Ellie: for all he’s equally intent, he’s more relaxed than her, and they have some great discussions about evidence and faith. The Palmer character and his interactions with Ellie does, however, provide one of the things which most grieved me about the movie. He admits that he screwed up her chances to do the thing she most wants to do in the entire world not simply for religious reasons (which, actually, I liked – having to make the decision between your lover and your feelings of faithfulness towards the spiritual majority of the world), but for selfish reasons? Seriously? And our heroine still likes him? Pfft.

As a movie, I think it still holds up. The tech etc don’t feel like they’ve dated much, society doesn’t feel like it’s changed that much, and the look of it is still contemporary. Overall I was relieved, and pleased. Contact is still very watchable.