Monthly Archives: November, 2011

Tony the Toy Box Monster

… yeh, pretty happy with this one, too. This monster involved my first experience of turning a heel, to create feet, so that was… interesting… they’re not that pretty, but they work. Mostly.

The funniest bit? I have sold him! To a friend, to give to a kid who was having a monster party…

Galactic Suburbia 47!

In which we bid farewell to the queen of dragons, squee about 48 years of Doctor Who, dissect the negative associations with “girly” fandoms such as Twilight, and find some new favourites in our reading pile. We can be downloaded from iTunes or got at Galactic Suburbia


RIP Anne McCaffrey (also some tributes)

48th anniversary of Doctor Who!

A website devoted to The Weird and created by Luis Rodrigues. The project is the brainchild of editing-writing team Ann & Jeff VanderMeer.
Critiquing the Bigotry of Twilight-haters, not the same thing as defending Twilight

Call for contributions/suggestions for our GS Award.

What Culture Have we Consumed?
Alisa: Once Upon a Time; The Courier’s New Bicycle, Kim Westwood
AlexThe Steel Remains, Richard Morgan; Blue Remembered Earth, Alastair Reynolds; The Glass Gear, in Valente’s Omikuji Project; also watched Thor.
Tansy: All Men of Genius, Lev A.C. Rosen; God’s War, Kameron Hurley. Comics: Marvel 1602 by Neil Gaiman (abandoned); Batgirl the Greatest Stories Ever Told

Please send feedback to us at, follow us on Twitter at @galacticsuburbs, check out Galactic Suburbia Podcast on Facebook and don’t forget to leave a review on iTunes if you love us!

The Steel Remains, and my attention is captured

I’ve been a big fan of Richard Morgan’s science fiction for a while now. When I heard about this (new in 2008), I was interested… and then I stopped being interested. It sounded too much like stock-standard fantasy: the down-and-out swordsman, the half-breed magician, and some barbarian. Really didn’t grab me.

I ought to have known better. I ought to have trusted Morgan’s sensibilities. I ought to have remembered what this man did with Takeshi Kovacs over the space of three novels, and realised that no way was this going to be some boring sword-n-sorcery weak-ass adventure.

I got the sequel, The Cold Commands, to review, and I figured if I was going to do it justice I should read the first book. So I sent my trusty sidekick to the library for it, and I opened it… and, of course, I fell right into this crazy world of ambiguous history and complicated characters.

There are three points of view presented turn-about, chapter by chapter, right up to the end where things finally come together. The down-and-out swordsman is Ringil, scion of an impressive family who are mortified by his homosexuality, while they ought to be bursting with pride because of his role in the recently-ended world-consuming war. The half-breed is Archeth, half-human and half-Kiriath, a race who have recently abandoned this world and taken most of their pretty technological toys with them; she too is homosexual, which adds (in the eyes of those around her) to her exotic, possibly dangerous nature and their disapproval. And finally there’s Egar, once mercenary for the sprawling and decadent Yhelteth Empire, now back home herding buffalo and sleeping with buxom young women of the tribe.

That paragraph highlights just some of the wonderful complexity and narrative twists Morgan places before the reader. It feels like one of those ten-years-later sequels, with its references to the war against the Scaled Folk (dragons, people, dragons; and Egar is known as Dragonbane) in which humanity was aided by the non-human Kiriath, with their technological mastery; now the Kiriath have left the human world, the alliance of disparate human empires and city-states is falling apart, and – of course – the veterans of that war are having to cope with a world that doesn’t necessarily appreciate their sacrifice or understand how they have changed. But it’s not – unless there have been short stories set in this world that I don’t know about, which is possible, this is a reader’s first introduction to it. It’s nice to be brought into a world that’s a complicated, messy place with seriously complicated history. It doesn’t always make sense, especially the somewhat complicated political situation, but Morgan writes with such finesse that I was quite confident it would all come together in the end. And it does… except for the bits that clearly pave the way for a sequel. And I can forgive that. Mostly.

So: the characters. Ringil is making ends meet in a village near his glorious last stand in the war against the dragons, getting pennies for telling stories, until his mother turns up to beg a favour in the form of tracking down a cousin who has been sold into slavery. This, naturally, turns out to be much harder than it sounds; in the first place it means going home and facing his father. And next, it brings him face to face (um… so to speak…) with something out of mythology. Archeth’s life is at the whim of the Yhelteth Emperor, Jhiral, being the left-behind Kiriath half-breed that she is. She goes where he wills if she knows what is good for her, which sees her in this case going to a harbour town where there has been a seriously weird sort-of invasion: sort of because someone/thing clearly came ashore and destroyed much of the city, but then… they went away. Archeth is very suspicious. The third protagonist, Egar, is on the face of it far less complicated than the other two. How complicated can herding buffalo be? … and then he insults the tribe’s shaman, and things go from bearable to fairly bad. With some supernatural prompting. (Seeing a pattern here?)

The plot barrels along at a brisk clip, moving neatly between characters and places, and the characters are captivating from the opening pages. Aside from those two aspects, the really intriguing part for me was the hint that perhaps this isn’t a straight-forward fantasy world at all. There are definite science fictional overtones, starting with the Kiriath and their obvious technological superiority, which is only regarded as sorcery by the clearly backward and superstitious; Archeth and others who fought with them are well aware that it is technology, created by creatures with superior ability, but not magic. Then there are the hints and allusions from various apparently-supernatural characters about other worlds, and travelling between worlds, and what that actually means. Consequently, I’m pretty wild to read the sequel, to see what Morgan does next.

Dear self: trust Richard Morgan. He knows what he’s doing.

Yellow Blue Tibia: a review

I received this book to review for ASif! Published by Orion, 2009.

This novel is billed as an autobiography, “Konstantin Skvorecky’s memoir of the alien invasion of 1986.” Skvorecky had an established reputation as a science fiction writer in the USSR in the mid-1940s, when he and a number of other SF authors were called together by Stalin to write the story of a new enemy for the USSR, on the assumption that the defeat of capitalist America was nigh. Their task was to invent an alien nemesis that Stalin and the Communist Party could use as a focus for the hatred and fighting spirit of the people of the USSR. As quickly as this was all put together, though, it was shelved.

Skip forward to the mid-1980s, and Skvorecky is an old man, near-alcoholic and bitter. His writing career has largely been a bust, as has his personal life. All of a sudden, however, Powers That Be are taking notice of him once again – including some people whom he has not seen since those frantic weeks in the 1940s, creating Stalin’s new enemy. His (mis)adventures take him to Chernobyl, lead him to meet an intriguing American woman who is an ambassador for Scientology, and bring him into conflict with the KGB. All of this within the possible context of an actual alien invasion.

The above premise sounds delightfully intriguing. Even if these adventures were happening to an ordinary person, I would be anticipating at least an entertaining adventure, possibly with some discussion about the functioning of the USSR at this time. Add in the fact that the narrator is a science fiction author and Roberts appears to have all sorts of possibilities in front of him, of exploring how a science fiction mentality can influence perceptions of the world, or at least jokes about turning everything that happens to the character into a story.

Sadly, Roberts in no way lived up to my hopes. The opening section, with the SF writers comparing notes and striving to out-do each other in Stalin’s eyes, is a wonderful look at Stalin’s influence and the way that writers (sometimes) interact with each other. That’s 26 pages of 323. From there… Skvorecky was a soulless narrator, for whom I had little sympathy or time, not even a “I wonder what will happen to him next” car-crash fascination, largely thanks to the stilted dialogue. This problem may in part be attributed to wanting to sound like it has been translated from Russian, but that’s not enough of a reason to make me forgive it. More than that, Skvorecky is unpleasantly arrogant and boring. Events happen to him, and he is pushed around by them – which didn’t have to make him unappealing (just look at Arthur Dent), but added to dull dialogue and an overall frustrating plot, it just didn’t work .

Aliens being responsible for the Chernobyl disaster, as part of their invasion plans, and all sorts of possibly-crazy people – including a KGB officer – running around believing that there is an alien invasion underway: this has lots of potential for madcap adventure. It did not eventuate. It was not fast-paced enough to sustain my interest when the characters were unappealing; the diversions away from plot were not interesting discussions of life or politics or the writerly craft, which would also have mitigated the lack of pace, but were instead mostly boring discussions between characters about little of consequence.

This is not a book I can honestly recommend to anyone.

No more Blake’s

In case anyone other than Tansy and Terri care, I’ve decided to give the rest of Blake’s 7 a miss. The new Travis really doesn’t do it for me, and I was finding it all a bit slow going. I have read the Wikipedia entry for the series overview (sorry Tansy), and I’m impressed by some of the later ideas the writers introduced and how ambiguous they appear to have kept the tone of the show. It’s not quite enough to get me to watch it, though.

Galactic Suburbia 46 – bemusedly belated

Howie needs a Hat

This was meant to post last week!! I don’t know how it got stuck in drafts!!

In which we celebrate the World Fantasy Awards, take on the Kickstarter phenomenon and why people like to support authors/artists directly, Alex is betrayed by Isobelle Carmody, Alisa still can’t finish Tansy’s novel, and we indulge in a feedback frenzy. You can download us from Galactic Suburbia or get us from iTunes.


World Fantasy Awards!

Realms of Fantasy sinks for the third time

Graham Joyce calls BFS Extraordinary General meeting December 9th

Authors kickstarting their own projects:
Matt Forbeck – 12 novels in 12 months.
Laura Anne Gilman’s novella
CE Murphy’s novella
(mentions also of self publishing projects of Tracy & Laura Hickman, and Liz Williams)
Catherynne Valente’s Omikuji project looking for subscribers in order to keep the project going.
And Tobias Buckell talks about how just because you’re self publishing doesn’t mean you have to be a …

What Culture Have we Consumed?

Alisa: Power and Majesty by Tansy Rayner Roberts, The Courier’s New Bicycle by Kim Westwood

Alex: the Stone Key and The Sending, Isobelle Carmody; I Shall Wear Midnight, Terry Pratchett; end of Life on Mars S2; This is Not a Game, Walter Jon Williams; Distress, Greg Egan

Tansy: Ally Condie, Matched; Lisa Goldstein, The Uncertain Places; Gail Simone, Secret Six: Six Degrees of Devastation; Geek Tragedy, Nev Fountain

Feedback: well overdue!

Please send feedback to us at, follow us on Twitter at @galacticsuburbs, check out Galactic Suburbia Podcast on Facebook and don’t forget to leave a review on iTunes if you love us!

New monster

… not too scary for a one year old, right? Right? 

This is not a blog post

(Well, of course it is; but every chapter is entitled “This is not a…” and the trick is to figure out whether that’s the truth, or a lie, or a clue, or all three.)


This is not science fiction.


Well, it might have been when it was published – in 2008 – but I’m fairly sure that the requisite technology actually exists in the real world, now, to make everything (except maybe for the twist, but I’m not sure) actually work.


Dagmar Shaw’s job is writing ARGs – massively multi-player games where players access information etc on the web, but sometimes partake in real-world and real-time events, too. It’s all about puzzle-solving and cross-referencing with other players to figure out what the next clue is and how the game’s story is going to unfold. When things go wrong for Dagmar, she finds herself tapping into this Group Mind, and the possibilities inherent in having several tens of thousands of people – bored people with access to the wonders of the internet – willing to work for you are demonstrated.


It’s not the sort of game I can imagine myself being involved in, but I absolutely understand the appeal. One of the neat narrative tricks Williams uses is including message forum threads, so that the players’ points of view become part of the narrative; they’re nice little vignettes. I know that there have been some attempts, usually connected with marketing (which this is too), to have real-world/web crossovers, but I understand they’ve not always been that successful. Williams suggests one way of making it successful: better writing, and better narrative.


I like Dagmar. I read the sequel to this (Deep State) first, which is something that I almost never do, and while the idea of this sort of game is intriguing and I wanted to see how it started, it was Dagmar that was the clincher. It’s not that she is that unique or anything, she’s just an engaging and absorbing character. Which is really nice.


Overall this is a highly entertaining, fast-paced, well-detailed and appropriately twisty story. It’s probably not the sort of book to read twice, because of the twists and turns, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.


The Sending: Obernewtyn book 6

This review contains spoilers for the previous five books.

It’s important to say at the outset that this is not the book I thought it was.

This is not the final book of the Obernewtyn Chronicles.


I knew that Carmody had wanted to split the last book in half, to properly tell Elspeth’s story; I thought that meant books 5 and 6. No. It meant books 6 and 7 – number 7 being The Red Queen, due out next year. I realised that this book could not be the final one with around 100 pages (of 750) to go. Having just inhaled the other five in preparation for a grand finale, it’s fair to say that I was a little peeved when I came to that realisation. I will try not to let this frustration colour my review….

Let’s recap where we left Elspeth and the Misfits in 2008, with the last book (The Stone Key). Dragon, heir to the Red Queen, is missing, as is Miryum the coercer-knight with the body of her would-be suitor Straaka.The farseeker Matthew is still a slave in the Red Lands. The rebels have destroyed the Council and set up a democracy in its place, with many of them being elected in their cities; the Misfits are slowly, slowly being accepted by society. The Herder Faction has been routed from Herder Isle (sorry, Norseland) thanks to Elspeth. Elspeth has broken Ariel’s hold over Rushton, so there’s no more agonising over he loves me/he loves me not. Sador is basically friends with the Land, and they’ve agreed to send ships to the Red Land to help stop Salamander and the slave trade. Anything else? Maruman is as cranky as ever and oh, Elspeth is only a little closer to having all the necessary keys for stopping a second holocaust from happening.

Elspeth’s quest as Seeker has dominated the plot of the last couple of books; her attempts to find the keys and signs Cassandra left behind have been the motivating force behind most of her actions. Either that, or instructions from the futuretellers, which themselves generally move her quest forward too. The pattern seems set to continue here, with Elsepth having raced home at the end of book 5 on instructions from the oldOnes. Then, for the first half of the book, she finds that she must hurry up and wait as Seeker, while fulfilling her function as Guildmistress and master of Obernewtyn in Rushton’s absence. Important things are happening around her: politically, there are moves to ensure Obernewtyn’s place in the Land is confirmed; people come and go, unexpectedly or not; relationships are formed and changed and, in some cases, severed. But the Seeker’s quest seems a bit stalled, because although the ships are getting ready to go to the Red Lands, where Elspeth and futuretellers have seen Elspeth and Dragon together, Elspeth does not have all of the necessary keys to stop Sentinel from awakening. Plus, Dragon is still missing. Which is a problem.

The first half is light on big action scenes. Some of the most interesting action continues to happen in Elspeth’s dreams, where she learns yet more about the Beforetimers, Cassandra and Hannah (although I was disappointed to see that the publishers have altered the formatting, such that the dreams are no longer in smaller type; this was a marvellous way of making such an experience obviously different from the waking world). That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy the first half, because Carmody is by and large a skilful writer who makes it very easy to convince one’s self to ‘just read one more chapter’ (although her love scenes are a bit perfunctory). And as I mentioned, there are important things happening – it’s just that most of them in the personal arena, which the Obernewtyn Chronicles really focus on the most. While there have been major battles and a revolution in the preceding books, Carmody has shown herself to be far more interested in people: how they react to falling in love, losing a loved one, meeting foreigners, having prejudices challenged, or running a small community. Or, indeed, being told that you are the only hope for the world in the face of a second holocaust (no pressure). I do think that this volume could have been trimmed down, because there was a lot of repetition of Elspeth bemoaning her fate and going over and over the things she has learnt and still must find out. I understand that that’s probably quite realistic – humans, as Maruman is fond of saying, do constantly gnaw at things, usually unhelpfully. It just got a little boring.

The second half changes things, although I can’t explain how or why without spoiling things terribly. Just take my word for it. There’s a bit more action, a few revelations and a couple of resolutions, as well as a whole new raft of problems to deal with. Unsurprisingly. There is some character development, although Elspeth’s development as a human has stalled somewhat. She doesn’t seem to change much any more, especially in comparison with the first three books. Perhaps that’s an unfair comparison, given she was in her late teens then and there were major upheavals in her life to force change – but I certainly didn’t stop changing when I got to my twenties. Perhaps this too is a result of her quest having not quite stalled, but certainly slowed down.

I have been and remain determined to see Elspeth’s quest to the end, but it would be harder to continue reading if the world’s history were not so enthralling. It’s a post-nuclear holocaust world, and I love that, unlike a book such as John Wyndham’s Chrysalids, mind powers are not a result of mutation caused by that holocaust. Carmody keeps revealing more and more of the Beforetime, the end of which is some time – possibly centuries – into our own future. (It’s depressing to think that there might still be a need for a balance of terror at that point.) The hints that Carmody gives about cryogenics, and gene storage, and computers, are really cleverly done. I seriously hope there is resolution of Cassandra’s story, and Hannah’s, as well as Elspeth’s, in Red Queen. The world itself – or at least ‘the Land’, where Elspeth lives – is perhaps a little hampered by having initially been developed by Carmody as a teen; I don’t find it that rich or compelling. The lands of Sador and the Red Lands, introduced later in the series, are certainly more foreign and interesting. (I presume I am not the only one who spends half their time trying to figure out where in our world these places correspond to.)

This is not a stand-alone book, so do not pick it up if you’re curious about Carmody’s work. If you have been on this journey with Elspeth for a while now and are desperate to see just how Carmody is going to tie all of those threads together, then of course you have to read it… but, I would suggest, wait for the last book to be published.