Monthly Archives: September, 2013

Galactic Suburbia 89

Eurosong_2012_1In which we recommend books to buy as presents, books we love, books we made, and basically BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS. You can get us from iTunes or at Galactic Suburbia.

Alisa’s picks: 2012; Trucksong; A Trifle Dead; Rosaleen Love’s Twelve Planets collection; the entire Twelve Planets suite (get them while they look the same! especially Love & Romanpunk)

Alex’s picks: Temeraire by Naomi Novik; Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman; Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal; Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin; House of Suns by Alistair Reynolds

Tansy’s picks:
Glitter and Mayhem; Chicks Unravel Time; The Wife in Space; The Worst Witch books by Jill Murphy; Creature Court trilogy (Power and Majesty)

Culture Consumed:

Alex: Reap the Wild Wind, Julie Czerneda; Ocean at the End of the Lane, Neil Gaiman

Tansy: Flying Higher eds by Michael Damian Thomas & Shira Lipkin [download free from Smashwords], Doctor Who: Prisoners of Time 1-4, Supurbia by Grace Randolph, Elizabeth Sladen the Autobiography, The She-Hulk Diaries by Marta Acosta

Glamour in Glass, Mary Robinette Kowal

BLATANT PLUG: Songs For Europe, two short plays about Eurovision & war by John Richards of Splendid Chaps & Lee Zachariah of the Bazura Project on this week only as part of the Melbourne Fringe.

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!

Reap the Wild Wind


I read this thanks to a recommendation from Helen Merrick, who I seem to recall being a massive Czerneda fan. I understand that this is a prequel series, written after the world in question becomes part of a wider galactic network. Not having read the later books, I can’t say how an already-fan would respond; but I imagine there are some awesome moments of filling-in-gaps. Because it is indeed a wonderful novel, and I do fully intend to go and find the rest of the trilogy, and probably the later series as well.

Told mostly from the adolescent (unChosen, in the parlance of her people) Aryl’s point of view, this is a story of a world that – as far as Aryl is concerned – is entirely static, as it should be. One of the characters comments on Aryl and her people living in an eternal ‘now’ – and although that’s not entirely fair, because their lives do revolve around the season of harvest, it does make sense because their knowledge of history and their expectations for the future are exceptionally limited. But this is not, overall, a bad thing: Aryl’s family and friends live full, rich and generally rewarding lives. Without interference – and of course you know there’s going to be interference – the Yena live.

Aryl lives on Cersi, a world that is home to three different sentient species. Aryl is of the Om’ray, human-types who live in Clans in disparate parts of the world and who rarely interact with each other except when one of the boys leaves on Passage, drawn by a woman who has become sexually mature (there’s some mental communication stuff which makes this basically make sense). The Oud and the Tikitik are not humaniform, and they are more technologically advanced than the Om’ray – they swap the Om’ray for some things in exchange for technology. The Agreement is meant to guarantee stability (if not stagnation) between the three. But then things change – strangers come. And strangers are not accommodated within the Agreement, which sets off all sorts of problems between the species, and within them as well.

There’s a lot of things going on within this book. Biological sexuality is not something that develops in Om’ray but seems to basically be on or off, which is intriguing and means that sexual tension isn’t really an issue (well, it is at one point, but it doesn’t overwhelm the whole story); issues of difference, and allowances for degrees of difference, are central to the Om’ray story and whether Aryl can be truly part of her Clan. In sweeping terms this is both a coming-of-age story, for Aryl, and also a first-contact story – and that part I think is done very well done, because it’s neither entirely positive nor entirely negative. Part of the story is told from the perspective of a boy from a different Clan, and this allows Czerneda to show the different perspectives of the Om’ray themselves, within their general similarities.

I think this counts as science fiction, because the strangers are aliens and there are issues of technology etc. It includes elements of fantasy, too, which I think work nicely within the story as a whole.

Reap the Wild Wind is well-paced, with an intriguing world and winsome POV characters. Very enjoyable.

You can get Reap the Wild Wind from Fishpond.

Essays, jellyfish, and the multiverse

A while back a colleague introduced me to Arts and Letters. This is a wonderful site that collects essays from around the web, most of them free to read, and – in my case – delivers them to my blog feed for idle consumption. There are a lot that come through that I just don’t care much about, but that’s ok; it’s easy enough to swipe them away as read. But sometimes there are some absolute joys in the mix. Some essays and some reviews that I know I would never have come across otherwise.

Tim Flannery’s “They’re taking over!” about jellyfish, for example. I remember reading a while back that Japan was having serious jellyfish issues, to the point where chefs were making serious attempts at turning them into delicacies so that the population could try and eat their way through them… or something… Anyway, this essay is actually a review of Stung! On Jellyfish Blooms and the Future of the Oceanby Lisa-ann Gershwin – a review that outlines most of Gershwin’s points, interacts with them seriously, adds other observations, and basically makes the book part of an ongoing discussion. Which is of course what it is. It’s a great essay, although it’s a terrifying topic. Having grown up in the tropics of Australia, it took me quite a while to get over my suspicion of the ocean because, as Flannery points out, the box jelly fish is the most venomous creature on earth. Only idiots (aka tourists) go swimming in the ocean in Darwin. Meanwhile, jellyfish are taking over the oceans, and there is nothing humanity can do about it. The things are basically immortal. The apocalypse comes not from zombies but from jellyfish.

Over at Aeon, Andrew Crumey explores the idea of the multiverse through both physics and literature, showing how the former has sometimes followed the latter in positing and explaining the idea of multiple, parallel, divergent universes. Someone who references Borges and Feynman, Baudelaire and Everett in the same 2,600 words was pretty much always going to be writing an interesting essay, and that is indeed the case. The idea of the multiverse is a confronting one for a Christian, but that’s fine; it’s not like I’m not used to that. I enjoyed how Crumey meandered around ancient Greek and Roman philosophy through to 19th century literature, and tied together 20th and 21st century physics. Not being as au fait with the physics as I might like (nor, honestly, the philosophy), I can’t say whether it’s entirely trustworthy in the connections it draws – and I refuse to read the comments, because I just bet they range from ‘multiverse?? You loony!’ through to other unsavoury comments (but hey, at least it wasn’t written by a woman pretending like she understood the science, right?) – but as a keen general reader, it was certainly absorbing and persuasive.

Galactic Suburbia 88: Hugos

chrome_rollerIn which, Hugos. Get us at Galactic Suburbia or iTunes.

Tansy, Alisa and Alex gather only minutes after the Hugo ceremony to discuss the results! Because, HELLO: Tansy won one!!

Hugo winners
The Stats, Statbadgers!
Tansy’s Hugo Post

Culture Consumed:

Alex: The Adventures of Alyx, Joanna Russ; BSG rewatch yet again; The Memcordist, Lavie Tidhar; Firebugs, Nina Kiriki Hoffman

Alisa: KickAss 2; Enchanted Glass, Diana Wynne Jones; Ugly, Robert Hoge

Tansy: Fringe Season 1, Dorian Gray Season 2, Ugly, Robert Hoge

Plugs: Splendid Chaps Nine/Women, featuring Tansy: September 15

Glitter & Mayhem released and partying, glitter skate style.

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!

Adventures of Alyx

No, I did not misspell my own name (although someone at work did yesterday…) – Joanna Russ called her character Alyx, and I have finally read the collection of four short stories + one novella about said adventurer.


The thing you have to know about Alyx is that although the name stays the same, and some aspects of the character remain the same, trying to establish an internal chronology for these stories is likely to bust your brain. It doesn’t work, and it doesn’t have to work. Maybe it’s the same woman, maybe she’s a time traveller, maybe the name lends certain characteristics (like Julias in Tansy Rayner Roberts’ Love and Romanpunk) … or maybe Russ is playing, and it actually doesn’t matter. Although once you accept that it doesn’t necessarily work, making connections is a lot of fun.

These stories are different genre, with different approaches to narrative – what makes a narrative – so don’t go in expecting a cohesive whole. Of course, it is a whole in that Russ is doing confronting things with her female character: making her the lead, and not making romance important, and exploring reactions to women. That’s still a bold thing to do, and my edition of these stories was published in 1983; they originally came out between 1967 and 1970. I really wish I was alive to experience Russ As She Happened. And it makes me wonder who, if anyone, fills a similar niche today – and whether I am completely missing their stuff, for whatever reason.

I feel like a barbarian myself to admit that I did not love the first two stories. In fact, it took me ages to get through this slim volume because I was so not in love with the first one, and then the second, that I was worried I wouldn’t enjoy the rest. I persevered though, partly from an admittedly perverse desire to be able to say that I had read it, and partly because I knew that the stories changed up so I was hoping that I would come across stories more to my taste later on. And I did. Some of what comes below is my analysis of my own reactions to the stories, rather than a pure review. This might be dismissed as navel gazing; for me, it’s a way of working out how I work with Joanna Russ, such a powerful influence over what I’m interested in.

“Bluestocking” begins in a very self-deprecating way – “This is the tale of a voyage that is on interest only as it concerns the doings of one small, gray-eyed woman.” Not a great start? It gets subversive within moments, though, suggesting that the first man was created from the sixth finger of the left hand of the first woman… but our lady, Alyx, has all six fingers. Alyx is a pickpocket; she gets hired to look after a spoiled young woman. Then there are adventures, of a sort. There’s travelling, and bickering, and a sword fight. It is also supremely brief. I’m not sure whether it was that aspect that most didn’t work for me, but it certainly contributed – I found this story quite frustrating, with all its lacunae and its teasing and… something. “I Thought she was Afeard till she stroked by Beard” worked similarly on me. In this case, Alyx escapes an unhappy marriage; gets on board a ship and has a complex relationship with the captain; and is frustrated by the place of women in the world. I think it’s clever, but for mine there’s just not enough.

I should say at this point that there is more going on here than ‘just’ a narrative, especially in narrative connections; I know Russ is addressing Fritz Lieber, and others. I haven’t read any Lieber. Perhaps this is a fault in me, and the stories would be greatly improved with that background knowledge. But I know Terry Pratchett riffs off Lieber too, and I enjoy those stories; I know Mieville and Reynolds are riffing off others, but I still enjoy theirs too. So… perhaps it’s ok that I don’t enjoy all of Russ’ work? Maybe?

“The Barbarian” is a story that Gary Wolfe, in his essay in On Joanna Russ (… I think?? eep maybe I’m wrong…) suggests is the switch for Alyx between fantasy and SF, which is an intriguing way of seeing it. Here Alyx is again a crim-for-hire, but she doesn’t like what she’s hired to do and things go downhill from there. For me as a reader, though, things started going up. This story appealed more, although I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s a simpler story but with more flesh, more detail?

Then – next – oh, delight: “Picnic on Paradise.” This was originally published alone, as a novel; I guess it’s a novella, by today’s standards? 90 pages in my little pocketbook edition. Alyx, a Trans-Temporal Agent brought from the ancient Mediterranean world to both the future and a different planet. She’s being used to guide a disparate group of tourists across a war-ravaged planet, to keep them safe in the most horrific of circumstances: no access to their technology. There’s an incredibly profound moment at the start,  where one of the women asks why Alyx is “covered up” – wearing clothes. So Alyx takes off her shift, therefore mimicking those around her, which group promptly have apoplexy. Alyx is confused, naturally; one of them says that she is wearing her history, which they are not used to. This goes a long way to demonstrating some of the rather large differences between Alyx and her charges. The story is a straightforward one of flight, and fighting for survival: getting lost, getting hungry, literally fighting (nature, each other, etc). It’s Russ, and having read We Who Are About To… I wasn’t surprised that things do not go according to plan, in a drastic way. One of the remarkable aspects is, of course, that the leader is a woman. Making the hard decisions, being contemptuous, fighting – being well-rounded. The tourists are a motley bunch: nuns, macho men, wannabe robots, high-society ladies. They too have their chance to be well-rounded, to interact especially with Alyx but also each other. This isn’t a fun story but it’s a great story, an intriguing one, and one I am so pleased to have read.

The final story in the set is a difficult one in terms of “Alyx canon,” the idea of which I rather suggest Russ would either have rolled her eyes or laughed at. Because Alyx probably isn’t in it. Her descendants might be, but if you read this by itself you wouldn’t have a clue about her. It’s also frustrating me because I know I have read it – “The Second Inquisition” – before, but I don’t know where. Some anthology, some time. Anyway… this too is science fiction, focussed on a young girl whose family is hosting a very odd stranger, who leads the girl in all sorts of directions: physically, introducing her to other, even more strange people; intellectually, introducing her to books and ideas she has never encountered; and culturally, challenging a whole bunch of assumptions within the family and society more broadly. There’s also questions about reality and imagination going on here that I think I missed the first time through. Intriguingly I think this gets a little close to the ‘galactic suburbia’ stories that Russ dismissed, since the focus is very much a suburban home with the occasional break-in of the science fictional. At any rate it certainly makes a challenging and difficult-in-a-good-way conclusion to the collection, because it doesn’t fit neatly into Alyx’s adventures. Which is as it should be, because Alyx – as a woman and as a character – doesn’t fit anywhere comfortably either.  And she wouldn’t want to.