In which Alisa recovers from the brainsplosion that is World Fantasy Convention, Alex finally reads THAT Margo Lanagan story, and Tansy travels in three kinds of time. You can get us from iTunes or at Galactic Suburbia.
The WFC Report
Fake Geek Girls Unite:
Mary Sue Coverage 1 2 3
The New Statesman
Peter M Ball Pledges His Allegiance to the Fake Geek Army
What Culture Have we Consumed?
Alisa: Dexter S6 and S7; Episodes 2; In Treatment S1; The Shield S1; Remember Why You Fear Me, Robert Shearman; Hair Side, Flesh Side, Helen Marshall
Alex: Singing my Sister Down, Margo Lanagan; some Kij Johnson, from At the Mouth of the River of Bees; One Little Room, KJ Parker; Holmes Sherlock, Eleanor Arnason
Tansy: The Diviners, Libba Bray; All New X-Men #1; Chicks Unravel Time edited by Deborah Stanish & LM Myles.
Don’t forget to send us nominations for the GS Award: for activism and/or communication that advances the feminist conversation in the field of speculative fiction in 2012.
Check out our sibling podcast, Galactic Chat – in the latest episode, Sean interviews Joe Abercrombie.
We are running away for summer! Back at the start of February!
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.
It’s rare that I read a book that actually makes me angry. Like, exclaim-out-loud angry.
It’s very rare that this happens with a history book.
This book had that impact on me.
The book bills itself as “A history of the suffragette movement and the ideas behind it,” which sounded perfect for me – I was convinced there was a rich 19th century tradition of ideas and activity in Britain for the women’s suffrage movement to spring out of so, naturally, I was dead keen to read about it. And, truly, the first few chapters do do that. Phillips goes right back to the very awesome Mary Wollstonecraft and her writing around the French Revolution, like A Vindication of the Rights of Women (suck it, Edmund Burke, you got ripped). She discusses women’s involvement in the campaigns against ‘vice’ and other social reforms, and all of that was quite interesting. Middle class, but perhaps that’s where the information is mostly to be found? And, yeh, a lot of this sort of campaigning required free time, which women in the working classes did not have because they were, you know, working. So I could move past that (a bit).
Anyway, well and good. Then she got up to the 20th century and the really focussed suffrage stuff, and then… well, there were gasps and strangled cried and the savage use of pencil to underline unbelievable passages. There may have been mutterings not entirely under the breath. It’s fair to say that my husband expressed concern a few times.
Now, I had just read a biography of Emmeline Pankhurst, so that didn’t help matters, because Phillip is really, really anti-Pankhursts – both Emmeline and Christabel (Sylvia seems to get a pass). She makes wild claims about them and provides quite vicious descriptions such that – I’m sorry – I had to go back and check that this was written by a woman. I can’t believe this was written by a woman. They are described as having “pathological self-importance and [the] urge to martyrdom” (p236); Christabel had “histrionics” and was “the queen of melodrama” (p240); their relationship is described as “unhealthily close and introverted” (p254). I just… what? Seriously? In a book that would quite like to be passing itself off as a readable but serious history?
And this is where another of my frustrations came in. Phillips does use a number of primary sources, and has some extensive quotes from them, which is awesome. Tick! However – and this is a really huge problem for me – there is little consideration of the perspective being brought by those sources, and whether they might be problematic. Peeps, this is the sort of thing I teach my students at high school to consider. Consider: Phillips quotes from Teresa Billington-Greig, whose book Phillips herself describes as “coruscating and merciless” (p246). Phillips draws on this book until p250, but nowhere at all does she consider whether Billington-Greig might be bitter after splitting from the WSPU (run by the Pankhursts), or that it might have been intended to discredit the WSPU in favour of the Women’s Freedom League, which she founded after the split. This is poor, poor historical work. I don’t care that she is apparently “wearing her scholarship lightly,” as a review from the Irish Sunday Independent described it; that’s shoddy scholarship.
And then… ah, then. The conclusion. One of the things she’d pointed out throughout the book is the double standard that women were both too inferior to vote, because they’re women, but also too good and pure to be sullied by politics. Nasty. Anyway, in the Epilogue she says this:
The same double standard persists to this day, with women claiming ‘equality’ and yet insisting, for example, that mothers have prior claim over fathers to their children after divorce; or that women must be economically independent of their husbands, unless they separate, in which case men must turn back into breadwinners; or that if a man is violent to a woman or child, he is an irredeemable savage, but if a woman is violent towards a man or a child, she must be suffering from an emotional problem. (p316)
It’s fair to say that I still have trouble believing that paragraph.
So. Yeh. I learnt a few things about the context of the suffrage movement, so that’s good. I was also reminded just how important it is to demand a consideration of why something was written in the first place.
ETA: ooookay… thanks to Niall Harrison on Twitter, I now have a better understanding of Melanie Phillips. He directed me to this post, and I will not read any more on her blog than that for fear of heart and/or brain malfunctions. Right then.
Truly you are one of the most brutal women in fiction. No – scratch that – you are one of the most brutal people in fiction.
The fact that you are a woman has an impact, I guess, because for all the Ripleys and River Tams, seeing women kick butt is still a bit exceptional. And of course, you don’t just kick butt. You actively seek out mercenary jobs that are likely to involve very large amounts of death and gore. You may not always relish inflicting pain, but neither do you beat yourself up about it. I think this is one of the things that makes you seem quite so brutal. Other violent actors tend to fall into two categories: the mindless thug, usually a lackey; or the somewhat tragic hero, forced to violence by circumstances.** You fit neither mould. By no means a thug, if not exactly burdened by overthinking situations, you’re such as heck no lackey. And while it might be difficult for you to change your circumstances now, with all your skills being tied up in your bel dame training, you both chose that life originally and are making no attempt to change things anyway. Quite to the contrary – you’re working as hard as you can, or can be bothered, to get back in with bel dames, so you can continue on with your violent lifestyle legitimately rather than taking shadow jobs. You are good at this job (as witnessed by the fact that you’re still alive, fourteen or so years after being kicked out of the bel dames and still pursuing the mercenary scene), so why not keep doing it while it keeps doing it?
A psychologist or psychiatrist would no doubt have a field day analysing and investigating you. Upbringing? One of a litter born to a woman who made her living, as far as I can tell, bearing children for Nasheen – men for the ongoing war with Chenja, women to keep society still running. Not a whole lot of familial love going on there I imagine, although you do seem to have felt some affection for your siblings at various points. Work history? Joined the bel dames to be trained as a government assassin. Jobs including finding boys who don’t want to go to the front and making them go; stopping people who are trying to do nasty, nasty things with biological weapons, sometimes involving the bodies of dead soldiers. Plus assassinations when they’re required. Oh, and the odd black job on the side… like carrying illegal bug tech in your womb… I mean, What the hell, lady?? Then you’re kicked out and you go on the market as a freelancer. Sure, why not.
Plus, your planet relies on bug tech. That’s surely enough to send anyone over the edge… although obviously you’re used to it, so the idea of bugs as medicine and bugs as furniture-producers and bug juice as fuel isn’t strange to you in the least. But it’s sure strange to me and it’s one of the more off-putting sides of your story. That and the lots of death as people try to kill you and you kill them back.
And it must be said that you’re not just brutal in your work, you’re also brutal in your relationships. You don’t really seem to believe in friendship. Perhaps it’s just too annoying and too much of a demand on your energy. Don’t get me wrong, I understand that you have good working relationships – your crew in Infidel, Suha and Eshe, are fine and seem generally committed to you, but let’s be honest here – they’re not exactly a top quality crew. A kid and an addict? What does that say about you? And what happened to your crew from God’s War? Yeh, maybe it’s best not to talk about that. Maybe a bit too raw still, since they’re all gone a long, long way away from you, for a variety of reasons but all at least partly because you are dangerous and unpleasant to be around.
So… why then do I keep reading? Why am I so excited that Rapture has been published so I can maybe get some closure? Hmm, perhaps that’s exactly the reason. Perhaps I’m hoping for some redemption for you, although what that would look like I don’t know and now that I write that, actually perhaps redemption would be a betrayal of everything you’ve stood for. You sure can’t be sent off to pasture, to grow bugs or something. I can’t imagine there will be marriage or a steady partnership in your future, and definitely no babies. Restoration to the bel dames perhaps? Going on a killing spree and killing all of the bel dames? Now that would be interesting. Maybe you could be responsible for stopping the war with Chenja! – although that would leave you totally at a loss. Maybe that would be appropriate.
Perhaps you will die. That would make a brutal sort of sense.
I keep reading your stories because for all you’re brutal, you’re also magnetic. Your brutality is part of that magnetism – and I might have done you a disservice in describing you as brutal all the time, because it’s not like you go around randomly kicking puppies or cuffing children or belting your crew. You only use violence where it’s necessary… if sometimes you’re a bit enthusiastic. But you are also a good boss, or try to be; you’re loyal, even if sometimes that comes across (sorry) a bit brutally – especially when it comes to being patriotic. And you’re unpredictable, which is an entertaining trait in a character (it can be damn terrifying in a real friend, though).
So… thanks. Thanks for keeping on trying even when it’s really hard. Thanks for keeping on. And thanks, Kameron Hurley, for this amazing character. I can’t imagine she was easy to write, and I imagine she was also pretty hard to sell to a publisher – bug tech! irredeemably tough chick! – so thanks, too, Night Shade Books. You rock.
*Nyx is a character created by Kameron Hurley, featured in God’s War, Infidel, and Rapture.
** Yes, this is a generalisation. It’s my letter, go away.
In which a new listener is born, Canada gets a Stella too, and we review a bunch of great stuff including Black Widow, Infidel, Swordspoint and Big Finish’s special releases. You can get us from iTunes or at Galactic Suburbia.
Baby Announcement: Daniel Wessely is born!
WFA winners announced
Canada is getting a Stella too – theirs is the Rosalind!
Galactic Chat – Rowena Cory Daniells
What Culture Have we Consumed?
Alex: Infidel, Kameron Hurley; The Deep (BBC series); Black Widow, Marjorie Liu; and books on women’s suffrage… (only on the day on which I post this!)
Tansy: Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth, Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner; Big Finish Specials: UNIT Dominion, Love and War by Jacqueline Rayner & Paul Cornell; Voyage to Venus; Dorian Gray
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!
Spoilers for the first two books, because it can’t be otherwise.
I actually don’t think I can write an adequate review of this book without massive spoilers in general – and really, how do you review the third in a series of five, and do justice to it and the characters and everything else? So why am I writing a review? – mostly because I just want to note having read it, and remind people that THEY SHOULD READ THE SERIES.
This series is monumental, and much as I want to rush through and devour the last two I think it is a good idea that I leave a little time between them. Without that space I would just fall into Gwyneth Jones’ world and be lost for a while. And I’m not sure that would be entirely healthy, because being like Fiorinda, Ax and Sage is not a healthy place to be. Fi is suffering in the aftermath of the death of Rufus O’Niall and the murky, difficult discovery/growth/development of her ?magical abilities (they’re definitely magical, but they’re also kinda maybe something else). Sage is in a weird place in the aftermath of Rufus’ death and his own experimentation with the Zen State, and is even more conflicted than Fi over the status of his relationship with the other two. And then there’s Ax, kinda caught between them and kinda leading them on, reluctant to use his political clout but desperate to change and improve things nonetheless.
This part of the epic is different from the others in being set in Mexico and America, which brings some large changes: for a start, the trio are popular but not idolised; feted but not mobbed. For another, the USA was not affected by the technological losses and massive shifts in attitude that impacted on the UK with Dissolution Summer and the internet viruses, so this feels a bit more familiar, a bit more ‘real life’. Which is actually a bit weird when you’re used to having the heroes in a recognisably other place. There are also more fractures between the central trio and their band, their merry band, of cohorts – understandable after a few years of high-stress, high-weird life.
Many things happen. There are tragedies, averted and not; there are adrenaline-laced adventures; there are still, reflective moments of contentment. Characters develop and some change a lot.
You have to read the first one, and then you’ll probably be hooked.
I read my first Star Wars book. AND I LIKED IT.
Set a few years after the events of The Return of the Jedi, Han and Leia are married and expecting twins, while Luke is trying to figure out how to be the best Jedi he can. All three – but especially Leia – are trying to figure out how you go from being rebels to being politicians and actually make a galactic empire work, which any revolutionary will tell you is damn hard work. The story here is partly about that, which could make for a rather dreary story of political machinations, but is largely driven by the fact that not everyone is happy with the overthrow of the Emperor, OH NO PRECIOUS THEY’RE NOT. Grand Admiral Thrawn is devoted to the idea that he is a fitting heir to the Emperor, and he’s got some spaceships and a bunch of soldiers and some rather tricksy plans to try and accomplish just that.
Look, it’s no Ursula le Guin or Gwyneth Jones. But it is, surprisingly to me, really quite enjoyable. I think Zahn captured Han and Luke’s personas and dialogue quirks quite nicely – Leia felt a bit ‘newer’, mostly because I think she actually got a bit more air time as a real human being here than she did in any of the films. So that’s nice. I did enjoy the interplay between Han and Leia as they continue to adjust to married life; Han is accepting and generally supportive of Leia’s political role, if frequently concerned that she’s pushing herself far too hard.
One of the more intriguing aspects of this as a novel is that it takes full advantage of being in third person, and carries on the tradition of the films, by showing the actions of the villains as well as the heroes (and various apparently chaotic-neutral characters) in rather surprising detail. So while the reader doesn’t know exactly all of Thrawn’s devious schemes, we get to read about his attempts to find and recruit his own Jedi dude; plus there’s Talon Karrde, who I’d never heard of before but kinda fills the slightly-dubious-businessman-cum-smuggler that Han no longer has, thanks to going completely straight, and many of whose machinations the reader is privy to.
I don’t have the sequels yet, but I do intend to read them. I’m not in a screaming hurry, but I am dead keen. I’ve heard these are the best of the expanded universe, but I admit that I’ll probably seek out more, at some stage. Trying to balance a desire for adventure with the requirement to be a serious politician is intriguing.
Did I mention that I think this counts as my first media tie-in novel? How exciting.
I didn’t really know what to expect when I picked this up. Someone had recommended it, so I was going in blind. I did read the introduction, which is an interesting look at the problems and possibilities of getting stories published and serialised and what that can mean for novels. It also gave me the tip that this could be, and has been, seen as a “Vietnam book.” Which of course influenced my reading of it, but not I think in a deleterious way; I think actually I appreciate it more for knowing its context (which should be no surprise, let’s be honest).
The focus of the story is William Mandela, an army conscript for a war against the first aliens humanity has come into contact with. He’s trained on various moons to fight an enemy whose capabilities, and indeed appearance, are completely unknown… and then does indeed fight said aliens, with less than convincing results. This fight is followed by what is, I think, one of the most important aspects of the entire novel: Mandela’s return to Earth.
Because this is not a story with faster than light travel (it does have wormhole travel), and the fight took place several light years away, while Mandela has aged months many, many years have passed at home. While in theory this is great for the pay which has been accumulating in his bank account, and also for years served, all of those problems you encounter when you’ve been away a few months and then go home? Compounded, multiplied, and then made even worse. I’m sure they’ve been written, but I’ve not come across another story that deals as convincingly with the time dilation problem as this one. Haldemann reflects on the personal consequences for the soldiers, as well as on how this would impact news coverage of the ‘war’ and other, broader, issues. It’s probably the aspect that will stick with me the longest, although it’s by no means the only interesting bit.
The story ends up following Mandela over more than a thousand years, which is remarkably ambitious in 250 pages. Haldemann is, thankfully, not foolish enough to imagine a static society over that period, and he imagines and experiments with various alternatives for Earth – which Mandela mostly just samples, since he generally can’t cope with being home and so ships out again. There are huge changes to Earth’s economy, to reflect an entire planet being on a war footing (and, of course, that getting co-opted…) – imagine a society whose currency is calculated in calories; there are changes to sexuality, in response to population issues (his theory on sexuality in the marines is an interesting one too – a corps that’s not equally gendered but where sex is expected to take place regularly and with multiple partners… I can’t figure out how this would have been regarded in the 1970s); and even different modes of consciousness. All of which is very clever and, again given how short it is, somewhat frustrating – in a book written today, I would bet this would actually be a trilogy, each distinct part of Mandela’s life covered in excruciating detail… ok maybe I prefer this version.
And call me a sap, but there’s also a rather wonderful, understated love story at the heart of Mandela’s adventures, and I’ll admit to getting a little teary at the end. WHATEVER.
The Vietnam connections? Oh yes. An unknown enemy and seriously unknown tactics; a country (actually in this case a planet) geared towards a war that most people at home don’t really understand; little comments about the propaganda and rhetoric used, as well as the first fight taking place on a jungle planet – it’s very clever, because Haldemann doesn’t shove it in your face but definitely draws rather pointed parallels. All of that said I think this is still a fairly relevant book, since there are still – and probably will be for a long time – these sorts of wars, on varying scales.
Plus, maybe one day we’ll have wormhole travel, and then we’ll have to figure out how to deal with the time dilation problems.
Note: some spoilers here. Not huge ones.
I’m loving my BBC iplayer subscription, because it turns out there’s a bunch of BBC science fiction that hasn’t been picked up by Australian tv. Outrageous! The series we’ve just finished is The Deep, a submarine adventure under the Arctic. Be warned: if you don’t want your characters to be hurt, don’t watch this. If you don’t like the uncertainty of Spooks then this is probably not the show for you. Just saying.
The series opens with a marine biologist (I think), Catherine, in a little sub around a thermal vent in the Arctic. And something goes wrong. Flick forward six months and the biologist’s husband Clem is about to go out on a new mission to the same area to continue her mission… but then they get politely hijacked and told they have to go looking into what happened to Catherine and her crew. Basically the rest of the story – there’s five episodes – follows the deep-sea, under-ice adventures of the Orpheus (hello, classical imagery). One spoiler I think it’s important to put up front is this: from the first episode, I found it impossible to tell whether this was going to turn into a version of The Abyss, with aliens or Atlanteans responsible for the mishaps. But no. Instead, this is very much a science fiction thriller, with the story firmly entrenched in human politics, human problems, and very real human ambition and greed.
The story: is tightly, and I thought largely well, written. There are a few sub-plots but they are all ultimately tied into the over-arching issue of survival, immediately and long-term. There are betrayals and tragedies, unexpected friendships and some really, really cool twists.
The characters: largely enjoyable, if not always likeable. Frances (Minnie Driver) is the captain, generally as autocratic as she needs to be but occasionally lets personal considerations get in the way. I do not think that this a reflection of her being a woman – and I thought long and hard about that – there are plenty of examples of men acting likewise, and she is certainly never decried within the show for being weak as a consequence of having boobs. James Nesbitt is Clem, the engineer on the Orpheus, who is a bit mad with grief at being a widower and definitely the most irrational of the lot; there are times where he acts really quite irresponsibly, making me uncomfortable. But he’s sympathetic as well as unpredictable, and probably one of my favourites. The other main character is Samson (Goran Visnjic), whose accent bothered me greatly because I could never place it. I could never quite figure out his exact role on the boat, either, since he seemed to take on medical roles, and be the driver of the mini-sub, as well as doing some biological research stuff. It’s possible I just missed which one was his primary occupation. Anyway, Samson was for me the hardest character to bond with – he’s got various personal conflicts, and seemed to vacillate personality-wise. Of the minor characters Tobias Menzies as Raymond, the salvage/insurance dude along for the ride to investigate what happened to Catherine et al, is most awesome. He’s really hard to pin down regarding motives and attitude – really cleverly written – and Menzies is brilliant.
I can really recommend this if you’re after 5 compulsive hours of submerged adventure. And I do mean compulsive; the end of episode three made me immediately need to watch episode four because it was such a cliff-hanger. It’s not a completely happy story, by any means, but it’s worth it.
I have always been a bit of a fan of Pankhurst. I can remember years back doing an assignment on her, which may have been at the very outset of my interest in feminism and is the reason why I am passionately devoted to the idea of women voting any time they can. So I was pretty happy to, finally, get around to reading this bio of a remarkable woman.
Purvis begins her account with a historiographical examination of the treatment Pankhurst has received over the last seventy years or so, which is illuminating – especially as it all really began with her daughter Sylvia’s account, which was rather bitter and very much tainted by the feud between the two, thanks both to family issues and a fundamental difference in opinion about politics (Sylvia moved/stayed quite far left and was heavily into socialist politics, Emmeline moved away from many of her socialist tendencies for various reasons). Many subsequent accounts have leaned too heavily (in Purvis’ view) on Sylvia’s story, while others have come from a decidedly ‘masculinist’ perspective and thus denigrated Emmeline’s achievements and intentions. Modern feminist historians have often been troubled by her at least partly because she moved towards a more conservative, imperial point of view during and after WW1, but Purvis is insistent that we take Emmeline on her own terms.
I really enjoyed this as a book and as a history. Purvis writes very engagingly and paints a captivating picture of an extraordinary time, an amazing woman, and the politics of the suffrage campaign especially. It appears to be a very well-researched history, with copious endnotes to back up her points that include reference to many, many letters to and from Emmeline and others in her circle, as well as newspaper accounts, court proceedings, diary entries and the like. It really makes me wish I could find The Suffragette, the WSPU’s newspaper, online somewhere. Someone get on that!
A potted bio of Emmeline’s life: interested in politics very early on, married at about 22 to the 40-something Richard Pankhurst, a lawyer who was a strong socialist and campaigner for women’s rights, among other things. She had five children, one of whom died very young, but/and she was always and still involved in campaigns and political work. Richard died when Emmeline was 40, leaving her with little money and four children to support – financial trouble continued to dog her until her death at 69. What she is most famous for, of course, is the setting up of the Women’s Social and Political Union, with her daughters but especially the eldest, Christabel – and that it eventually took the step into militancy in order to advance the cause of women’s suffrage. Window smashing, arson, destruction of paintings… all of these things were seen as much worse when committed by women. Purvis points out the success that various Irish politicians and agitators were having with similar tactics, and the fact that this got them an audience with English politicians and even the king. Not so much the women. The WSPU began in 1903; women gained limited suffrage in 1918, at the same time as men gained it with no property qualification (and women had to be 30, men 21). This was not, of course, the end of Emmeline’s life – she had started campaigning for women’s war work with WW1, and also expressing her concerns about sexual double standards and morality with the increase of VD. After the war she lectured around America and Canada on topics like public hygiene, avoiding VD, and the necessity of the British Empire. She died back in England not long after discovering Sylvia had had a son without getting married, pretty much destitute.
Just writing that down makes me exhausted. Emmeline comes across, in this book, as an amazingly energetic and passionate woman. She’s one of the reasons the Cat and Mouse Act was introduced: imprisoned suffragettes would hunger strike; be let out to recover; then get re-imprisoned. She went on hunger strike 13 times. She never wrote her speeches down but always spoke extempore; she travelled around Britain campaigning for and against political candidates, speaking at rallies, and trying to convince people about the necessity of women’s suffrage. She never wanted the vote just for its own sake; she was driven by the idea that women being able to vote would bring about the incredibly necessary changes to society that would prevent the exploitation of women, the horrors of poverty, and alleviate other social problems that she saw in her work as a Poor Law Guardian and on an education board. She worked as a registrar for births and deaths and was always shocked and saddened by teen girls coming to register the birth – and sometimes death – of their illegitimate children, often the result of incest.
This was not a woman driven by a desire to be a man, as so much of the anti-suffrage press claimed; she did not regard herself as better than men but as deserving of equal citizenship. Not least because working women had to pay taxes but could not influence how they were spent, and because she abhorred double standards and thought women’s influence could help solve many problems. (She was quite the optimist.) People at the time, and even her daughter Sylvia, often seemed to think that the cause had become almost more important than the object. It’s not hard to see how this could happen, to be honest, when you’re fighting for something that frequently gets you attacked – verbally, physically – and condemned by large sections of society. I’m personally torn on the notion of militancy, but I’m not torn on what I think of this woman. She’s a hero. I wish I’d known she has a statue near Westminster when we were in London, because I would absolutely have gone on pilgrimage.
This is highly recommended as a way of understanding the English suffrage movement – the militant side at least, because yes Millicent Fawcett and other ‘constitutional’ suffragettes are largely ignored, except as they interacted with Emmeline – as well as how late Victorian/Edwardian England society functioned. Plus, this is a woman who deserves to get as much recognition as possible. She devoted her life, her health, and even – arguably – her family and friendships to public service.