The Selected Works of TS Spivet
I came to this book really expecting it to be speculative fiction. I don’t know why; I’ve been meaning to read it for years and all that time, I was quite convinced that it had a fantasy element to it. And I guess it sort of does, in that it’s an entirely unlikely story, but it’s not the out-and-out fantasy, or even the Charles de Lint-ish fantasy, that I was expecting. I really liked it though, and I thoroughly enjoyed the marginalia – in fact it’s this element that really makes it stand out.
TS Spivet is twelve years old. He’s also a cartographic genius, and obsessor. He maps everything: from the way the water moves across his parents’ property, to the motion vectors of a man on a bucking bronco. His artistic skill extends to drawing insects and animals and probably anything else that captures his interest. But it’s maps he loves the most.
Life is already difficult for TS as the story opens. His parents are being difficult, which is nothing unusual really; his father appears disappointed in him for not being more like his outdoors-y brother, his mother is obsessed with insects, and… well, that would be a spoiler. It’s just not all sunshine and joy. And then the Smithsonian calls, asking him to come and visit them because of his amazing drawings that have made their way to that hallowed institution. So TS takes off, across the entire US, to get to the Smithsonian where he feels he might be appreciated and where he can do some good.
(This is where I was expecting some fantastic element. I think I was hoping for something like in Libba Bray’s Going Bovine. It didn’t happen. It’s still a good story though.)
TS is an… interesting… character. I hadn’t expected to be quite so enthralled by a twelve year old character, and the reality is that he doesn’t act like one. He’s an innocent, in his expectations of people and his trusting nature, which is occasionally abused by adults who are just trying to get their own way. But at the same time he has, and develops, a canny sense of the world.
I enjoyed the story as a whole, of TS’ journey – and I have no idea about the places in America he travels through, but I hope Larsen has captured something of their true spirit, because it certainly feels that way. However, probably my absolute favourite part was reading about TS reading his mother’s journal about one of her husband’s ancestors, Emma Osterville. A woman like TS in many ways, precocious and fascinated by the natural world, who becomes a geologist. In fact I was so taken in by this story, and it had just enough plausible elements, that I did indeed google her… only to discover that she is as much Larsen’s creation as TS. Oh, so sad.
Aside from the somewhat-fey TS, the element that really sets this book apart is its physical nature. Many of the pages look like this, with marginalia and arrows added in – usually just on the sides but sometimes top and bottom too. They elaborate on various points of TS’ life and family; they include a number of his maps and other drawings; and generally provide a commentary that would otherwise be difficult to include but without which this would not be nearly so rich. Think Terry Pratchett’s footnotes, but more visual.
I can definitely recommend this to readers of young-adult fiction. While it isn’t fantasy, it does have that vibe about it; it will also appeal to those who dislike fantasy, and want more ‘mainstream’ literature. The prose is easy to read, elegant, and occasionally poetic; the illustrations add a great depth and joy.
Galactic Suburbia 56
In which Alex falls by the wayside and Alisa & Tansy soldier on to talk about awards, Connie Willis, Tina Fey and Chicks Digging Comics. And more comics. You can get us from iTunes or Galactic Suburbia.
Yes indeed, I came over all sick and blergh so I had to sneak away. I was very sad!
The Galactic Suburbia Award has landed.
Manfire: the latest exploration of genderbending comics protest through artwork
Ditmar nominations open (wiki with things eligible; how to nominate)
Cool comment about understanding Aussie fiction awards from outside our country.
Aurealis Awards nominees: press release
Brit Mandelo new Strange Horizons fiction editor
Pinterest for Galactic Suburbia! Thanks, Celia
Swancon Program is out – Perth SF convention this Easter.
Tansy’s Creature Court books now available on the Kindle internationally! Should be available on other platforms too – ibooks etc. If you see them for sale somewhere in your country please let us know. Fly, my pretties, fly!
What Culture Have we Consumed?
Alisa: All About Emily, Connie Willis; Bossypants, Tina Fey; Hunger Games Movie
Tansy: Astonishing X-Men, Joss Whedon & John Cassaday; Saucer Country by Paul Cornell, Chicks Dig Comics, edited by Lynne M Thomas & Sigrid Ellis.
We’ll be giving away a copy of Beyond Binary, edited by Brit Mandelo (and featuring a Tansy story). Tweet us with the name of your favourite queer/genderqueer/QLTBG character in SF or fantasy to be in the draw!
Please send feedback to us at firstname.lastname@example.org, 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!
It’s Showtime (a review)
Disclaimer: I am friends with the publisher of this book, Alisa Krasnostein.
I’m not a big fan of horror, so I am not the ideal reader for this collection which, although not overwhelmingly scary, uses horror tropes to tell its stories. Nonetheless, it is a quite readable quartet.
The first story, “Stalemate,” is probably the scariest, and that’s because it is the most mundane. Which is saying something, because three out of four of these stories are defined by being set in domestic settings (by which I mean only non-exotic, like another planet or a medieval castle). It’s a suburban kitchen, with a mum and her grown-up daughter, arguing over all the tired old things that parents and grown-up kids argue over, with the added bitterness that Mum is there to help the daughter while she is sick. Of course, it turns out that things aren’t quite as mundane as they seem – and this revelation makes things all the more awful because of the very setting, and the consequences. It’s terrible.
My favourite story is “Thrall,” because it does the most clever things with the horror ideas it’s working with. It’s the story that is least obviously ‘domestic’, involving as it does a Hungarian castle; but even then, it opens in a dingy suburban cafe, and the castle is a tourist trap. Dragomir is a vampire, returned to Hungary to get a bit of rest. He has called a thrall to him – a woman whose ancestors pledged their allegiance to him many centuries before – to help him get ready. The narrative is fairly simple and straightforward. What really makes the story intriguing though is people’s reactions to Dragomir, and his reactions to them. Harris has gone with a much more ‘realistic’ vampire, in that he is very much a man of his times – his original times. He is shorter than the average 21st century man. He despises much of the modern world. And, in return, much of it despises him, too.
“The Truth about Brains” makes the reader into zombie territory, and the heady days of summer in the suburbs. Again the characters revolve around the family, this time an older sister impatient with her brother who, as the story opens, has kind-of sort-of accidentally been turned into a zombie. The narrative backtracks to explain how that happened, and then explores the consequences for the sister, the brother, and the other people involved. I think I found this the least convincing of the stories, mostly because the characters didn’t work for me. It could also be that I just don’t like zombie stories.
The last story is the longest, and relates to Harris’ novel The Opposite of Life, which I’ve not read. “Showtime” involves Gary – a not-that-happy-with-it vampire – and his friend Lissa, a librarian, heading to the Melbourne Show, location of rides, craft, wood-chopping exhibitions… and a haunted house. Harris does well to bring those unfamiliar with this version of Melbourne up to speed, with crafty hints at Gary and Lissa’s shared past of dealing with less-than-friendly vampires, and how this friendship manages to exist at all. It captures some of Gary’s angst and rue at not being alive, and suggests an interesting take on the implications of being undead (sunlight isn’t deadly but more like a beta-blocker; he has no adrenaline so rollercoasters are pointless). However, in the end the story fell a bit flat for me, and I think that was partly because I wasn’t as invested as I could have been in the lives of Gary and his vampire brethren existing (as it were) in the shadows of Melbourne.
Overall, this is generally an interesting look at how horror tropes can be used in familiar settings, and it’s certainly a neat addition to the Twelve Planets series.
Galactic Suburbia 55 (belated)
In which we honour the memory of Paul Haines by giving ourselves nightmares, and catch up (mostly) on several months of feedback about how Galactic Suburbia is singlehandedly keeping the bookselling business alive. You can get us from iTunes or download us from Galactic Suburbia.
Paul Haines in memoriam.
Death notice and information about memorial service
We discuss posts by Dirk Flinthart and Ben Peek.
If anyone does a round up of memorial posts about Paul, please let us know & we’ll add the link. In the mean time, check out this post about his complete bibliography and how to get hold of his work.
Ladybusiness on coverage of women on SF/F blogs
New Galactic Chat: Claire Corbett
What Culture Have we Consumed?
Alisa: Wives, Paul Haines; The Warrior’s Apprentice, Lois Mcmaster Bujold; Power and Majesty, Tansy Rayner Roberts), Locus Round Table featuring Nalo Hopkinson and Karen Lord
Alex: Solaris Rising (ed Ian Whates); Reign of Beasts (Tansy Rayner Roberts); Pure (Julianna Bagott)
Tansy: Madigan Mine, Kirstyn McDermott, The Opposite of Life by Narrelle M Harris
Please send feedback to us at email@example.com, 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!
Pure, by Julianna Baggot
The cover is as difficult to look at IRL as it is here. I like it, it’s clever, but I do wonder whether it will be detrimental to the cause.
This is unashamedly a dystopia – an post-apocalyptic one even – set in the not-too-distant future. Pressia lives with her grandfather in the ruins of (I think) America, where day to day life is a struggle: for food, for shelter, and not unnaturally for any sort of meaning to life. Not only has infrastructure been destroyed and food contaminated, but the people themselves have been intimately changed by the probably-nuclear destruction a decade or so before. Pressia was holding a doll at the time of the detonations; along with scars and other injuries, its head is now her hand. And she could be said to have got off lightly: consider those who were walking a dog. Or holding another person.
This is the truly breathtaking, and the truly frightening, part of Baggott’s worldbuilding. Her conception of how people might learn to cope with surprising, disfiguring and debilitating changes to their bodies is clever and largely sympathetic. Of course, it’s not like there isn’t precedence for this, since people in our world do exactly the same. There are some people that she imagines as pretty awful, but being part of a ‘Groupie’ – an amalgam of multiple people – would likely send anyone mad, so it’s not surprising that they would be vicious. I was especially fascinated by the Dusts, people who have melded with the ground in some way; it’s a horrifying thought and Baggott fortunately does not overuse them, keeping them instead for relevant moments in the story. The question of how these melds could possibly function is only lightly touched on in the story, but I didn’t find that detrimental; it’s a bizarre concept but it’s become such a normal one for Pressia and the others that I, at least, got swept along by that acceptance.
Pressia’s point of view is countered by that of Partridge, who lives inside the Dome: a place of refuge which protected some lucky people from the detonations, and where they continue to live without fear – of the environment anyway. These are the ‘Pure’, because they are still pure human beings, unlike those on the outside. The different reactions of people on the outside looking at the Dome, and vice versa, is nicely captured by Baggott: the variation of adoration to hatred seems quite plausible. It’s not an original idea, and reminded me particularly of some of Sara Genge’s stories from a few years ago (“Shoes to Run,” especially, if memory serves (which it may not)), because of its depiction of the people outside wondering about the people inside. Anyway, Partridge may have a life of food and education but of course not everything is hunky dory. His family life especially is a mess, for a variety of reasons, and he is growing restless – something living in a Dome can’t really cope with. Interestingly, there’s not really one major crisis that makes Partridge finally act, but a series of small ones, like pebbles leading to an avalanche. And an avalanche there is, and Partridge ends up outside the Dome.
Pure could be split roughly into thirds: the first third, worldbuilding and characters; the second, bickering and a few new characters; the last third (actually a bit less) crazy crazy action. I really enjoyed the first part, because the world is intriguing and horrifying and different (at least outside the Dome) and Baggott realises the daily routine stuff quite nicely. I wasn’t especially fond of either Pressia or Partridge, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying their adventures and interactions with others. The second third, however, definitely dragged. There is some action, and some fascinating new characters such as El Capitan, who even gets his own point-of-view chapters. However in general it felt like a lot of to-ing and fro-ing that didn’t advance the story sufficiently for the space it was given. There are some interesting character moments, especially for Pressia, regarding temptation and the easy way out, but they weren’t sufficiently capitalised on. Finally, the last 100 or so pages (of 434) rushed by seemingly at light speed, as revelations were made and discoveries unveiled and yet more characters came on the scene to have a Really Big Impact. While this was an improvement over the middle, it left me with a rather unpleasant sense of confusion, and of being rushed.
I definitely enjoyed this novel, almost exclusively for the worldbuilding; however I don’t think I will be rushing out to buy the sequel, should it be published (this is the first of a ‘projected’ trilogy).
Solaris Rising: an anthology
I will admit that I am enough of a pathetic die-hard fan that I got this anthology off the back of its inclusion of an Alastair Reynolds story; others in the contents page also grabbed my attention, of course, so it wasn’t a completely ridiculous buy. Since saying farewell to Last Short Story I have got interested in reading anthologies again – well, actually, I was never very interested in anthologies before LSS introduced them to me, and then a few years of that burnt me out. Anyway, I was dead keen about giving this one a go.
Unsurprisingly, but unfortunately, it’s quite a mixed bag. Let me go through the stories. (The short version: there are some good, and a couple of very good, stories; plus a whack of indifferent ones.)
Ian McDonald’s “A Smart Well-Mannered Uprising of the Dead” is a delightful take on how social media might interact with local culture in order to impact on the political arena. With the events of the last 18 months this isn’t a radical notion at all, but McDonald here imagines a company offering virtual space for the dead – spirit-houses created by the bereaved for the recently departed. And what’s a virtual space like that without forums, and interaction? It’s really just the next step for the departed themselves to take part in those discussions, and to be commenting on contemporary affairs. I really enjoyed the style of this story as well as the content, although it was a bit confusing to begin with; it jumps from posts written by the dead, to interviews with the website’s creator, to discussions between the relatives of the talking dead. And gradually a picture builds up of what is going on in this country (which I think is never named, but seems to neighbour Mali), and the impact of the dead speaking out. It’s a really great opening to the anthology.
On a completely different wavelength is “The Incredible Exploding Man,” by Dave Hutchinson. Rather than jumping around points of view, as with the McDonald, this story jumps around chronologically but centres on one main event: an accident at a Collider somewhere in the US, and its effects on the people in the room. There’s no black hole as some of the more hysterical media suggested when the LHC was turned on at CERN, but a more subtle impact on the physiology and very existence of the people. It’s fast-paced and features some nicely differentiated characters to bring out some of the ramifications of the event.
Paul di Filippo’s contribution, “Sweet Spots,” is similar to the McDonald in that it involves an individual having an impact on society, but different because it has nothing to do with social media: instead, here an adolescent boy discovers that he can see how to influence events by a word, a nudge, an appropriately directed foot… and of course, there are ramifications, some unforeseen. The story harks to some superhero ideas of great responsibility with great power, and it is interesting to watch Arp (the protagonist) come to certain conclusions himself. I can’t say I particularly liked Arp; he was too genuine an adolescent for that! But again it’s a well-paced story with a clever premise.
With Stephen Baxter’s “Rock Day,” the anthology goes rather melancholy, being about a boy and his dog and a world that is not quite right. Baxter draws out the boy’s curiosity and confusion gently and sympathetically, and although the scenario of the ‘Rock Day’ discussed seems too farfetched (I know, crazy thing to say about a science fiction anthology), the consequences fit all too well into a science fictional universe. All of the stories to this point have been recognisably set on Earth. Stephen Palmer takes us away from that – if not spatially then certainly temporally. “Eluna” imagines a society with what at first looks like a radically different way of doing things, which on closer inspection may not be as different as readers might like. It’s about individuality and curiosity, innovation and tradition and sacrifice. And machines.
Adam Roberts begins his story with a disaster, which might be seen as a bold move. But pretty much all of “Shall I Tell you the Problem with Time Travel?” is concerned with disasters of one sort or another, usually of the fairly significant variety, and it does indeed suggest a potential problem with time travel, which I can’t possibly even allude to here without spoiling what is quite nicely revealed as it progresses. Going forwards and then backwards in time as the story unfolds, this is a very enjoyable if quite horrifying little story about one of science fiction’s more beloved tropes. And taking as his inspiration the revolutionary Che Guevara, Lavie Tidhar imagines a world in which that soldier-cum-poet-cum-politician did not die when he did. There’s only one science fictional element to “The Lives and Deaths of Che Guevara,” and although it’s a crucial one the story could be read as a commentary on the politics of the last forty years or so just as much as science fiction. It ranges across numerous countries and contexts, using interviews and magazine excerpts to break up the plot, and is a quirky and entertaining piece.
Steve Rasnic Tem, in “At Play in the Fields,” offers one of the few stories involving non-human characters. He wonders what it would be like to wake up one day and discover that the world has not only been discovered by aliens, but that it’s also a whole lot later – in years – than when you went to sleep. This is a story about a man and an alien, but also about a man coming to terms with these sorts of profound changes through the mundane objects around him. It’s a quite tactile story, and one to make the reader wonder which of the objects around them might survive long into the future – and what this will say about us as individuals and as a culture. On the other hand, “Yestermorrow” by Richard Salter is concerned with time rather than objects; specifically, what it would be like to always wake up not knowing which part of your life today is, because you are living quite literally from day to day – one day waking up as a baby, the next at forty, but you don’t take that knowledge with you. Which of course means you know when, calendrically speaking, you will die. Certainly presents some interesting problems for the police.
Jaine Fenn’s story is one of exploration that initially seems like it could almost be straight out of Star Trek or StarGate SG1 – a gate to another world, can’t get back through, whatever will we do?! However it is saved from falling into tired tropes thanks to engaging characters and a nicely intriguing twist that suggests some rather interesting things about those characters. In style, it mixes up transmission reports with conventional third-person narrative.
There’s a suggestion of postcolonial ideas about “Eternity’s Children,” from Keith Brooke and Eric Brown. A world that is both a long-term killer of human visitors and the long-term ensurer of their longevity is visited by a representative of the company responsible for it; naturally things do not progress in a straightforward manner. It would have been possible for this story to follow the old idea of white-man-seduced-by-exotic-place, but I think it mostly avoids that by the awareness of the main character, Loftus, of what he is about, and his willingness to think beyond his task.
The penultimate story of the anthology is actually the one I read first and may or may not be the main reason I bought the anthology… “For the Ages,” by Alastair Reynolds, is a wonderful far-future story about the big things – the entirety of cosmology and leaving a message for the ages – and the small things – messy human relationships and just how messy they can get. The characters are finely drawn and utterly believable, the task preposterous and glorious and utterly fitting for the hubris of the human race. It’s easily my favourite story of the entire set.
In “The Best Science Fiction of the Year Three,” Ken Mcleod combines lack of interesting plot (editor searching for stories, French government launches a curious balloon) with lacklustre characters, resulting in a story that utterly fails to compel. The next story was also a disappointment, because although there is a potentially intriguing idea in “The One That Got Away” – ocean creatures are washing up onto the beach in vast quantities, and something might be found within their bodies – Tricia Sullivan does not provide enough political or historical background to explain what is being searched for or why. That could be forgiven if the characters were compelling enough that their quest was an end in itself, but sadly this is not the case.
Looking at a broken father-son relationship, Jack Skillingstead’s “Steel Lake” has both Too Much and Too Little: too much sentimentality, and too much wrong with the father for him to be at all approachable or sympathetic; too little overall point, either in plot or characterisation. Being overly sentimental also characterises “Mooncakes,” a collaboration between Mike Resnick and Laurie Tom. I like stories about spaceships heading out into the unknown and how people cope with the stress of leaving family, but this one left me cold. The ‘all cultures are precious’ line (which I agree with already) was hammered out without a care for subtlety – too much telling, not enough showing – and the family relationship depicted was boring and predictable.
Ian Watson’s “How We Came Back from Mars (A Story that Cannot be Told)” is (maybe) an alien contact story, with a team of explorer (maybe) on Mars managing to get back to Earth a whole lot faster than expected, who then have to deal with the ramifications of people not believing their story, made particularly problematic by the place they arrive back at. It’s an interesting enough premise, but the story tries too hard to be conspiratorial and suggestive without having the atmosphere or characters to pull it off. Sadly, Pat Cadigan’s “You Never Know” also failed to grab me – sad because I usually love Cadigan’s work, and because it means I disliked two out of the three works by women (the third, by Jaine Fenn, is discussed above). The atmosphere – a secondhand shop – and premise – the shop assistant and his experience with a new security system – are approachable and familiar-seeming. The denouement, however, left me confused and grasping for understanding, and not in a positive way.
Sadly, the last story of the anthology definitely falls into the ‘indifferent’ camp. When a writer writes about a writer, it’s hard for me at least not to wonder about the level of congruency going on. For Peter Hamilton’s sake, I hope there is no congruence between the writer in “Return of the Mutant Worms” and himself, because the thought of having an editor bring up an unpublished 21-year-old story and offer to publish it must be nightmarish to many successful authors. Anyway, this is ultimately a smug and unsatisfying little story that does little good for the memory of the anthology as a whole.
One last thing to mention: I found the author notes preceding each story generally a bit tawdry. They seemed to be trying for a mix of bibliography + interesting factoid, and did not often hit the right note; there was too much effort at sounding quirky for it to be genuinely appealing.
A cowl of a time
I started this scarf on 6 January. Around mid January I realised that I had made a serious error, in misunderstanding what it meant to ‘knit the knits and purl the purls’ – never having complied with such instructions before. My mum arrived for the tennis, and she rather bluntly told me to unravel and start again. this is 100 stitches across, and I was up to maybe row 30? I was not very happy.
Anyway, I kept going. And going. And going. I went through three balls of wool (it’s mixed with soybean silk, just FYI); I learnt to cable, and I learnt to be patient.
Well. A bit patient, anyway. I finished the thing, that’s pretty impressive.
Today I finished it, which meant three-needle bind off. That involved picking up 100 stitches from the cast-on end, and then binding the last row off with those stitches. It took me the entirety of ep3 of Sherlock (sans ads, largely) PLUS an episode of Doctor Who (the daft adipose one, if you’re interested; I only like it because of Donna). So, now, it is DONE. And I even turned it into a cowl, with a Mobius twist, just like the directions said.