Monthly Archives: February, 2012

Galactic Suburbia 54

In which we keep it short (truly) through restraint and perseverance, despite setting Tansy off on a tangent about Lego and lots of crunchy gender bias stuff to chew through. Um, yes, we might have misnumbered somewhere along the way. This really is 54, apparently. You can get us from iTunes or Galactic Suburbia. Also, yes we already know we made a mistake in talking about what Genevieve Valentine has won. Oops.


Nebula shortlist

Stoker shortlist

Paul Cornell on Panel Parity

Elizabeth L Huede on National Year of (Gender Biased) Reading

Tansy’s thing: new feminist Doctor Who blog Doctor Her

Can princesses play with Lego? (Lego friends petition at

What Culture Have we Consumed?

Alisa: Vorkosigan – Shards of Honor, Barrayar by Lois McMaster Bujold
Alex: The Islanders, Christopher Priest
Tansy: After the Apocalypse, by Maureen McHugh (collection)

Feedback episode coming too!

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 Islanders: a review

Some advice on reading The Islanders, by Christopher Priest.

1. Read the introduction.

No, really. Even if you’re an “I never read the introduction” kinda person, read this introduction. It’s part of the story, and without it you are likely to be terrible confused, because…

2. Don’t think this is a novel.

At least, not in the conventional, linear (or even non-linear) plot sense. Things happen, but not in any sort of chronological order. This is, as the introduction suggests, more of a gazette: an introduction to a few dozen of the islands which make up the Dream Archipelago. It’s a mixture of straight Lonely Planet-style description and suggestions for tourists, along with police investigations, letters, wills, and a couple of short story narratives that appear to have snuck in under the radar.

3. You don’t have to have read the short story “The Dream Archipelago.”

I haven’t.

4. Pay close attention to the names of characters.

Seriously. Really close attention. Because while there is not exactly a narrative as such, there are several recurring characters who build up around themselves quite the biography as they visit and interact with different islands; and one fairly substantial murder mystery, which also keeps getting mentioned in relation to different people and different islands. If you don’t keep track of names you won’t experience the maddening joy of getting another jigsaw piece that may or may not fit into one of the several puzzles you have on the go.

5. Be prepared for a lot of wind.

Breezes, zephyrs, howling gales; humid, dry, grit- or snow-filled; wind plays a really significant part in many of the descriptions of the islands. They all have their own names, often different ones from island to island.

6. Accept that each island has its own language (or several).

And before you dismiss this as ridiculous, remember that it is estimated that Papua New Guinea – a country of just some 462, 840km2 – has “over 850 indigenous languages” (I’m not afraid to use Wikipedia when it’s expedient and unlikely to be controversial). So why shouldn’t separate islands have different languages and cultures?

7. Take nothing for granted.

Not even time and space. The Dream Archipelago isn’t a dream – there’s no waking up – but there are definitely hints that time, especially, is something that might just happen to other people. Just go with it. Enjoy the maddeningly slippery way in which Priest suggests new information that may or may not fit in with other information given earlier in the gazette.

8. People who should avoid this book include:

Those who are easily confused by occasional and slight reference to probably important characters; people just turn up when they are relevant to the island under discussion. They might have been born there, died there, visited there, made art there, been arrested there. And it might only be one sentence in the island’s entry.

Readers who really prefer a linear plot; because as mentioned above, there isn’t one. There was a murder once, on the island Cheoner, whose investigation and subsequent surrounding mystery provides the only thing close to a plot you’ll find; there are references to the people involved in the entries for maybe another six or seven islands, spread out over the course of the whole book. There are also biographical notes for four or five main characters also spread throughout the book, and they are sometimes contradictory but always interesting.

People who get seasick just by reading about the ocean: there are islands. There is island hopping. Some important things happen at sea.

The extremely insect-averse, because the thryme – a really, really nasty critter – has basically a whole entry about itself, and it keeps getting mentioned throughout.

9. People who may enjoy this book include:

Those who enjoy discussions about what actually constitutes art. Does boring a tunnel through a mountain count? Is there a point in creating art that no one, not even the artist, will ever see?

Readers who enjoy a good puzzle; because the whole book is a puzzle. Putting the pieces together about (for example) Dryd Bathurst’s life is a great deal of (sometimes conflicting) fun.

People who like islands. There are islands.

The seeker of innovation. I wouldn’t want to read book after book constructed in this manner, but it was certainly enthralling and intriguing to read this one.

10. Read this book.

Unless you’re completely and irreparably put off by the notion of the non-linear/possibly non-present plot, read this book. It’s a delight to read, the prose is enjoyable and varied from island to island, the ideas are stimulating, and the people as engaging and different as excellent pen-sketches can be. Read this book.

A Fisherman of the Inland Sea

Quite a disparate set of stories in this collection from Le Guin, and actually not what I had vaguely anticipated, which was stories connected to the Earthsea set – and why I thought that I have no idea.


One of the interesting parts about this collection is that it opens with an introduction by Le Guin herself, discussing her attitudes towards some of the stories and I think responding to some criticism from people when they originally appeared in magazines and the like. It also includes a robust defence of science fiction in terms of character (SF has them), ideas, and not always being heavy on the science (Egan, she didn’t know about you). In talking about technology, she has one of my now-favourite put-downs, regarding someone who said that Native Americans had no technology: “As we know, kiln-fired pottery is a naturally occurring substance, baskets ripen in the summer, and Machu Picchu just grew there.” She also rather defiantly claims BEAUTY as an aspect of science fictional writing, to which I say HELL YES.

Anyway. Again. The stories are a mixed bunch. The first, “The First Contact with the Gorgonids” is a weird one set in outback NT, with an unhappily married woman as the central character and (deliberately, I think) wince-worthy descriptions of Aborigines. “Newton’s Sleep” is about people who have managed to get themselves into orbit in a habitat to get away from the world, which is going to hell in a handcart; they’re mostly quite ordinary, although by necessity all skilled. Ike – Isaac – is a fairly unlikeable character, although I sympathised, especially when things appear to be going wrong. The third story is just odd, and not in an engaging way – “The Ascent of the North Face” does not refer to a mountain (nor an actual face).

“The Rock that Changed Things” is a story that I more easily associate with Le Guin’s style of writing. Based in an entirely non-human society, where there is a very strict hierarchy to the point of almost being separate species, the nurobls spend their time making sure that the obls can live lives in serenity without messy things like tidying or cleaning. They also help fix the rock patterns that are part of the very reason for being of many obls… and then one nurobls notices the colour of a particular pebble. This is a really delightful story. “The Kerastion” is not delightful, because it is more on the heart-wrenching side; it’s also less of a story and more of a vignette into a world where profession is caste and determines every single interaction.

The final three stories are all Hainish stories, like The Left Hand of Darkness and Rocannon’s World and so many others. In “The Shobies’ Story,” a crew is setting out to test the effects of fast-as-light travel on sentient beings. As Le Guin herself notes in her introduction, as well as playing with such physical ideas it’s also playing with metaphysical ideas, and the notion of creating reality through storytelling. So, too, is “Dancing to Ganam,” also looking at testing the new fast-as-light ‘drive’ (the Cetians are constantly reproving people for describing it as a drive). In this case, Commander Dalzul has decided that a small crew who are closer together than the Shobies might have a better chance at not having their realities warped. As well as looking at how we tell stories about our lives, I think there’s also a post/colonial message here, about the stories and political ideas etc that people bring with them when observing foreign cultures. And finally, there’s the paradoxical, sweet-bittersweet “Another Story,” whence comes the title of the collection: Hideo’s mother used to tell him the story of the fisherman of the Inland Sea, who went with a sea-princess and returned after one night to discover generations have passed. Hideo goes on to become a great physicist, and tries out fast-as-light travel…. This is definitely my favourite of the stories in this collection, and I love it dearly. It’s also set on O, a planet I’m sure I’ve read another short story about, perhaps in The Birthday of the World; here people have marriages involving four people, two men and two women, based around when they are born. It’s a fascinating view of society.

This has been part of my desire to read All The Le Guin, and it was overall a very satisfying one.

Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions

By Edwin A. Abbott (originally pseudonymously as “A. Square”)

This is not what I expected! I don’t honestly know WHAT I expected, but it wasn’t this. For a start, it is way older than I had thought – 1884! And for another, there is almost no plot. It’s sort of a memoir, sort of a philosophical treatise, about Flatland: a land that exists in only two dimensions. Our interlocutor is a Square – in Flatland’s hierarchy, solidly middle class (Isosceles Triangles are working class, the most-sided Polygons the highest class. Women are Straight Lines). The first chunk is Square explaining how life and society can function in just two dimensions, with a great discussion about how you can tell the difference between triangles and polygons either thanks to their voices (a method only for the lower classes), feeling (slightly more respectable) or sigh (only for the upper classes because it takes years to perfect). After all of that he comes to the point (heh), which is experience of meeting a Solid – a Sphere – who informs him that there is <i>another dimension</i>, and proceeds to prove it. Sadly, this is heresy in Flatland…


This little book – 82 pages! – operates on many levels. On one, it’s an amusing intellectual conceit, to consider how life would be different in two dimensions (there’s also brief discussion of Lineland and Points). Thanks to this, it’s also an intellectual challenge, because as Square himself says to Sphere: if you’re telling me there’s another dimension that I can’t perceive but need to accept basically on faith, is there then a fourth…? Quite apart from the mathematical side, this is a biting satire of Victorian society and manner, in the way that undesirable elements amongst the lower (Isosceles) triangles are described and in how manners and attitudes of exalted Polygons are portrayed.


The question of the women is one I haven’t quite worked out for myself. If I can accept that Abbott is being satirical about the lower classes then I am hoping that he is being satirical about the women, too, because they really don’t come off very well. They are Straight Lines, therefore no angles, therefore… no brains? They’re certainly treated as emotional not rational, to the point of there being basically two languages – how men speak to themselves and how they speak to their wives. I suspect he may indeed be ironic, because in the introduction to the 1884 edition (reprinted here) “Square” responds to some alleged criticism from Spaceland, about being a woman-hater, in which he admits that he is similar to our Historians, to whom until recently “the destinies of Women and of the masses of mankind have seldom been deemed worthy of mention and never of careful consideration.”


An amusing book, and a quick read.


Galactic Suburbia 52

In which we pop the cork on the champagne bottle to welcome in the beginning of the 9 month science fiction awards season – hooray! You can get us from iTunes or stream from Galactic Suburbia.


Responses to the Galactic Suburbia Award.

Crawford nominees and winner: Genevieve Valentine’s Mechanique.

BSFA nominees

SF Translation Awards Fundraiser – donate and win awesome books

The Kitschies: yes really, rum and tentacles.

LOCUS Recommended Reading List! [and Poll]

Young Australian of the Year who founded Robogals: Marita Cheng

Women of SF in their own words, reviewed by Brit Mandelo

Diana Peterfreund: following up on Brave New Love [and how the internet often fails to pick up the pieces after a controversy has died down]

Women Writing Horror (it’s new, who knew?)
[and the other Guardian article patronising genre readers, taken apart by Smart Bitches Trashy Books]

10 Great SF books for “girls”

Creature Court trilogy giveaway – we’ll be drawing it next episode, email us to tell us about one book you read because of us & you’ll enter the draw to win all three books by Tansy

Creature Court Spoilerific Blog Post – only for those who have read Creature Court Book Three, Reign of Beasts, by Tansy Rayner Roberts

What Culture Have we Consumed?

Alisa: Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby; The Last Little Blue Envelope by Maureen Johnson

Alex: Clockwork Rocket, Greg Egan; A Fisherman of the Inland Sea, Ursula le Guin; The Business of Death, Trent Jamieson; Skyrim
Tansy: Bad Power by Deborah Biancotti; Batgirl: the Lesson; Redwood & Wildfire by Andrea Hairston; Blake’s 7: The Turing Test [Big Finish], Doctor Who: Foe From the Future [Big Finish]

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!