Monthly Archives: May, 2014

The Spy Who Loved Me

This review is part of Project Bond, wherein over the course of 2014 we watch all of the James Bond movies in production order.

Summary: in which Russia’s best agent is a woman, someone is stealing submarines, cars turn into submarines and Bond visits Egypt. All to a very groovy 70s version of the Bond theme.

images-6Alex: well, it turns out that James was right. There are a lot of Bonds I haven’t seen! … most of the Moores, in fact. And you know what? I am not sad about that fact. Because if I had, indeed, seen these movies before, then I would now have sat through them at least twice each, and I’m just not going to live that long.

I’ve figured out how to make a decent Roger Moore Bond. Take this plot, make Christopher Lee play Stromberg, and Jane Seymour Triple X. Ta dah!

Back in From Russia with Love, we were introduced to the idea of a Russian agent being female. The prologue here opens with the Russians deciding to put their best agent onto the case of a submarine going missing – then cutting to a bedroom scene – and it turning out that Triple X is actually the woman. Surprise fake out! Amusingly, this is then replicated with the British doing the same thing and, of course, cutting to Bond also in bed. He then escapes from dastardly Russians via a parachute with a Union Jack on it…

The credits feature an astonishing number of nude women in silhouette. And Carly Simone, whose “Nobody does it better” has grown on me a lot since I’ve stopped automatically associating a real estate agent with it.

images-3We meet the man responsible for the disappearing subs very quickly, and the fact that he’s ruthless immediately: he kills his lover for apparently giving away secrets, and for I think the third time? is a villain with a penchant for sharks. He, too, continues the villain-as-deformed theme, although less obviously than some: his thumb and forefinger webbing is very pronounced. I guess this is meant to account for his love of the life aquatic? Or something anyway. Writing that I realise that other villains have a thing with water – Dr No, and the guy in Thunderball I think? Stromberg gets the coolest looking lair to this point, although it’s spoiled by the narcissism of calling it Atlantis. Stromberg’s villainy is further amplified by, of course, his henchmen. Let’s just glory in the fabulousness that is Jaws for a moment:

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Yup, fine specimen of a henchman. To my everlasting joy, the film managed to combine both Stromberg’s love of sharks and Jaws’ ability and willingness to bite anything and everything by featuring a fight between a great white and the metal mouth himself. You know who wins already.

There is actually a plot here, and I think it’s a better one than the previous two – so surely that’s a good sign, right? The first was rock bottom, the second clawed its way out of despair, this one is almost conceivably bearable? Almost? Bond and Triple X (who is named at some point, I know, but I missed it and anyway the code name works) end up in Egypt chasing down the owner of a microfilm with details about the sub-thief. Bond turns out to rock pseudo-Tuareg gear and to speak Arabic, as well as having an old Cambridge chum who sets him up for the night in a totally Lawrence of Arabia tent and a member of his harem. Then, getting back to the point, Bond continues searching and manages to get a third woman killed by a bullet intended for him. There’s some killing, some arguing, and then Bond and Triple X find themselves having to work together when Jaws makes off with the microfilm.

To James’ eye-rolling, I must stop here a moment and squeal about how awesome it was to see Bond on location in Egypt, having been there myself. I’m astonished they let them film in Karnak, but I guess the 70s was a different time. The most hilarious bit, though, is when they’re at the Sound and Light show at Gaza… because the voice-over from 1977 is exactly the same one that I heard in 2013. Exactly.

Bond and Triple X fight Jaws at Karnak; there’s a hilarious moment where Triple X can’t get their escape van into gear, because everyone knows that women can’t drive, especially not manuals! Ha ha! And then neatly reverses into Jaws. Bond notes “You did save my life;” she tartly replies with “Everybody makes mistakes.” And then they walk in the desert, because the van breaks down, and they seriously, no jokes, do so to the strains of the Lawrence of Arabia theme. My eyes rolled so hard it hurt.

And then Triple X and Bond discover they have to work together. Gee, thank bosses. Off to Sardinia they go, via a train trip featuring Jaws in Triple X’s wardrobe (Bond electrocutes him, she falls into Bond’s arms afterwards) and the discovery that Stromberg is capturing nuclear missiles in order to blow up both the USSR and the USA so that he can start the world anew… apparently under water or something? Isn’t this all sounding very familiar, a la Blofeld? I guess there are only so many supervillain prime motivating factors to go around, and wealth is not Stromberg’s concern at this point. Anyway, Bond foils the plot, making the nukes blow up the subs instead… which still means that there were two nuclear explosions in the middle of two oceans, but apparently we don’t care about that. Triple X is taken by Stromberg back to Atlantis and forced to wear an outrageous dress; Bond rescues her and they get away in a bachelor pad escape pod, complete with Dom Perignon 52:images-5

I really liked Triple X most of the time. She has a lovely line in snark, is well aware of what Bond is about, and is mostly allowed to be competent. Blowing sleeping powder in Bond’s face when he gets amorous? Priceless. Apparently getting over her dead lover very quickly is less so. Vowing to kill Bond after the mission, when she discovers he killed her lover, was awesome – I love her professionalism in agreeing to finish the mission before killing him. And she didn’t blow their cover as his ‘wife’ even when Bond tells her “don’t be a bother” when being shown around Atlantis. Reneging on that vow to kill him – without even trying! – was disappointing. I would have liked her to put up more of a fight.

Bond continues to be a snob and ludicrously knowledgable. He poses as a marine biologist, he knows Arabic, he gets a detonator out of a nuclear bomb, and he can reprogram computers.

James:

Underwater car … one of the coolest Bond cars yet? Another lukewarm film otherwise.  The opening ski chase is classic bond and Triple X is a nice evolution for Bond as a franchise but there was still more cheese than a 1970s fondu set.  Great music.

2 Martinis

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Musketeers

I love The Three Musketeers in the same way I love Sherlock Holmes. Via their later interpretations.

I’ve read Dumas… a long time ago… probably when I was too young to really enjoy it. And after I’d seen the movie, and loved it.

images-3Hmm. Let’s be honest. After I watched Kiefer Sutherland and some others and loved Kiefer Sutherland. The others were ok too.

ANYway, I love the idea of the Musketeers, and I adore reinterpretations. Thus, readers: Musketeer Space! Tansy is doing a gender-swapped space opera version and I am very much looking forward to reading it. She’s also experimenting with Patreon to see whether people want to support her in the endeavour, and is offering all sorts of incentives. Like promising to review Musketeer-related stuff. The first such is a review of the 2011 Musketeer movie involving airships and other steampunkery, which I tragically never got around to watching. Until today.

images-2There are many, many amusing aspects to this movie.

Number 1: I’ve thought of Luke Evans as the new Orlando Bloom for a while now, so to see them in the same movie is hilarious.

imagesNumber 2: as Tansy points out, Orlando Bloom is doing his best to channel 1970s Elvis hair.

Number 3: Mads Mikkelsen chewing the scenery.

Like the Sutherland version, D’Artagnan is the most wet and boring of all the characters. I just don’t get him, and I eye-roll so hard at the thought of Chris O’Donnell that don’t even get me started.

I mostly agree with Tansy’s review, especially the desire to see Milady and the lads conduct heist after heist after heist. I do disagree with her about the Cardinal – remembering that I am no connoisseur of the original, I don’t think he was dull; understated, perhaps, instead of underplayed. Tim Curry was an archetypal villain in the Sutherland version and I can’t help but feel that this one was doing his best to differentiate himself. I thought it worked ok. I also disagree with her assessment of Constance’s speech about a lady in waiting not being as important as a musketeer – my understanding of this section is that she was suggesting she was in less danger partly because she was a woman, but mostly because her position as a lady in waiting offered protection. It is possible I misheard some of this exchange because the knitting was distracting me….

I am most saddened that, after a delightfully swoony prologue read by Matthew MacFadyen, he really just phoned in this performance. Not a jot on Kiefer.

I do not think this has a lot of rewatchability, so I am amused and impressed that Tansy sat through it a second time. It was genuinely enjoyable, and there may have been shrieks of laughter especially over the airship’s steampunk machine guns, but it is not a cinematic masterpiece.

Also thanks to Tansy, I now have “All for Love” stuck in my head. And I’m starting to fear that the Suck Fairy may have visited my beloved 1993 (gasp! 1993?!?) version…

A Pursuit of Miracles

I’ve had this book sitting on my shelf I think since AussieCon 4, in 2010. Oops. And I don’t think I realised it was a set of short stories, otherwise I probably would have read it earlier. Yup. Oops. Still – another book off the TBR pile!

So. George Turner. I’ve never read anything by Turner before. I’ve heard his name a bit, from those who were active in Australian SF in the 1980s, but… that’s not me. So now I get to actually have an opinion! And that opinion is… he’s not bad. Not my new favourite author, and perhaps the shorts aren’t his best work – hopefully someone will tell me? – but these are solidly intriguing, sometimes deeply engrossing, stories. The introduction has it right, too: many of his protagonists are quite aggressive, which gives the entire collection a certain pugnacious feel.

“A Pursuit of Miracles” is ostensibly about the experimental pursuit of telepathy. However this is really just am excuse to meditate on what might happen in and with a society that believes itself to be living in the Age of Miracles – that this might give scientists leeway to do what they like, such as experimenting on humans and calling them not humans. The discussion about how dreadful telepathy or telempathy would be is indeed insightful.

“Not in front of the children” is hilarious as a rumination on generational divide. The question about whether people would actually want to associate with previous generations if they were all alive at the same time is, again, insightful, and Turner is really very funny in suggesting how the generations would distinguish themselves. I can’t help bit wonder if Turner had grandchildren when he wrote this.

“Feedback” is the story I am most indifferent towards. A discussion of solipsism is not my thing, and the use of the term “Abo woman” stung.

No wait, “Shut the door when you go out.” This one I really didn’t care for.

“On the Nursery Floor” is the most intriguing from the point of view of form – a series of interviews with occasional journalistic interventions. The idea is one of investigating the consequence of meddling with intelligence. This is a more severe version of Brian Caswell’s Cage of Butterflies, and very clever.

“In a Petrie Dish Upstairs” is, of the stories that seem at least vaguely plausible (I exclude “Feedback” and “Shut the door”), the least sensible. The idea that three generations – fewer, in fact – would be enough to change a society separated by distance if not entirely psychologically is unlikely. Obviously it’s a thought experiment to some degree, but that timing aspect got to me. The other bits, though – how women might be considered, the politics, the concept of Ethics, the change in language – were clever enough to make it worth reading.

“Generation Gap” is silly.

The final story uses a few different narrators – including an astonishing but, on reflection, entirely believable reversal – to tell a story that, in close up, is about the destruction of a family and one boy’s bid not to slide into ignominy. On a larger scale, this is a terrifying view of the implications of climate change on society, and it’s very, very ugly. A fine conclusion to the collection.

Dinosaur

 

 

 

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So there’s this. I started knitting it months ago… ran out of the blue, but I always planned on giving it particoloured limbs anyway… but I stopped, and lost momentum. Knitted some other things. Finally, I realised the birthday is fast approaching that this is intended for, so that spurred me on. Didn’t take long to finish it off. photo 2

Galactic Suburbia is 100!

Alisa, Alex and Tansy invite all our listeners to join us as we celebrate our 100th episode of Galactic Suburbia in time-honoured tradition, with cake! We can be found over at iTunes or at Galactic Suburbia.

Alisa is eating Golden Gaytime cheesecake. Tansy is eating orange sour cream cake. Alex combined them both to create chocolate orange cheesecake! Let us know what kind of cake you ate while listening to the podcast! If you’d like to enter our cake logo contest, please send a picture of your Galactic Suburbia themed cake to us by email or Twitter by the 27th May!

NEWS

The Norma Shortlist includes some Twelfth Planet Press books!

Alisa recently announced the Kaleidoscope TOC, and may be launching Rosaleen Love’s book Secret Lives of Books at Continuum.

Hugo Packet – Orbit UK not including the novels.

Tansy news: upcoming Tor.com reread column & web serial

The Galactic Suburbia scrapbook available soon for download.

Listen to the episode for giveaway codes. Free books!

Limited editions second print run for Love & Romanpunk by Tansy Rayner Roberts. Let Alisa know now if you want one of these – she’s printing them for London.

What Culture Have we Consumed?

Alex: Hav, Jan Morris; Graceling, Kristin Cashore; so much Fringe. And Orphan Black. No more Comixology for me.

Tansy: Captain America: Winter Soldier; Gravity; Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, Saga 3

Alisa: OMG I AM IN EDITING/PROOFING ARMAGEDDON – Kaleidoscope almost ready to drop and Secret Lives of Books! And …. Tea and Jeopardy

Galactic Suburbia highlights.

We love you all, thanks for listening to us!

Please send feedback to us at galacticsuburbia@gmail.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!

The Man with the Golden Gun

This review is part of Project Bond, wherein over the course of 2014 we watch all of the James Bond movies in production order.

images4Summary: in which Bond meets his assassin-y match and there’s something about solar power? Also, Bond seems surprisingly disinterested in teh ladeez. With bonus Christopher Lee!images

Alex: another Bond that I’d never seen before! So that was exciting! … which was something, at least, since this is another film that took us two sittings. Partly that was tiredness on our part, but partly that was because this film so soooo slooooow. Better than Live and Let Die, but slow nonetheless. Probably the most exciting part of the entire film was thinking, “hey, Scaramanga looks familiar. He actually looks a bit like Christopher Lee!” And then realising omg it IS Christopher Lee!!

I’m being slightly unfair, I guess. Let me start then with ways in which this film shows its cleverness. I had always thought that the theme song for this, sung by Lulu (does that make it the most pop song of the lot? does she beat Madonna and A-ha?), was an amusing conflation of the villain with Bond. Turns out that all of the lines are actually applicable to Scaramanga, right down to the “Love is required/ Whenever he’s hired / It comes just before the ki-ill.” But the entire film is actually intent on making the similarities between Scaramanga and Bond quite clear. Scaramanga himself draws the parallel – “Ours is the loneliest profession” – noting somewhat tartly that the main difference is that he makes good money from it, as opposed to Bond. Bond of course defends himself by saying he only kills on HM’s government’s orders, but that’s after quite a strong assertion of kinship from Scaramanga, and I must say Bond comes off as less than convincing. So I do really like that the film is problematising Bond’s position as ‘licensed to kill’.

images2Let’s talk about Scaramanga, since we already are. He’s shown in the prologue and immediately established as evil, because he’s physically different from the norm: he has “a superfluous papilla or mammary gland,” as Bond – that supercilious snob – so pretentiously puts it (he means a third nipple). He also has a servant named Nick Nack, a cordon bleu-trained chef who happens to be a dwarf.  Again, this clearly places Scaramanga in the villain category for the Bond universe, because who else would tolerate a ‘freak’? This sort of ableism and Othering is really, really wearing. Anyway, from a narrative perspective Scaramanga and his servant are intriguing. Nick Nack allows an assassin – whom he’s paid – into Scaramanga’s inner sanctum. The assassin and Scaramanga proceed to play hide and seek, with Nick Nack sadistically commenting from behind the scenes. Turns out, this is a game they play – Nick Nack will inherit everything if Scaramanga is killed. So Scaramanga is fearless and rates his own abilities, but is also very keen to keep honing his skills. And he’s obsessed with his beautiful hand-crafted golden gun.

Backtrack: to plot. Bond takes on the task of chasing Scaramanga down when a golden bullet with ‘007’ inscribed on it arrives at HQ. Scaramanga turns out to be connected in some way to Bond’s earlier assignment, tracking down a solar energy scientist, who appears to have gone rogue and maybe defected to the Chinese? This was unclear to me. There’s also a Thai businessman, Hai Fat, somehow connected to everything; his appearance really confused me because I thought Bond went from Macau to mainland China, but it turned out that he went to Thailand. Hai Fat ends up dead, Bond and Scaramanga fight – partly over who’s a better assassin, partly over who is better – the one who makes money or the one with ‘morals’ – and partly over Scaramanga having access to solar power that will not only power lots of batteries but can also (natch) be turned into a laaaaaserrrr. Um, the end. Oh, except for Bond zipping Nick Nack into a suitcase, because that’s always hilarious.

imagesThere are three women in this film, and they have far less significant roles than in the last couple of films. They’re even more boring than Solitaire, who at least got reasonable airtime. There’s Goodnight (yes, seriously), an MI6 agent that Bond’s slept with previously. At one point she gets feisty, declaring “Killing a few hours as one of your passing fancies isn’t quite my scene” – but it’s ruined by the incredibly thick layer of Vaseline on the lens, and that she ends up in his bed very soon thereafter (“My hard-to-get act didn’t last very long” – I kid you not, that’s what she says). This in turn is ruined when Ms Anders walks in. She’s Scaramanga’s latest lover, who is actually responsible for the 007 bullet. She initially seems to be awesome – Bond surprises her in the shower, but she gets out all cool and calm with a gun in hand, demanding her robe – but goes all to pieces quickly. Mind you, this is after Bond has been very rough with her, so maybe I’m being too harsh. When Anders walks in, Bond puts Goodnight in the cupboard… then when Anders leaves, Bond apologises with “next time.” Goodnight is further shown to be incompetent when she leans on a master override switch that will destroy Scaramanga’s base, with her and Bond still left inside – Bond gets very cranky, as if she did it deliberately. The other woman in the film? A bellydancer, from whom Bond plucks a bellybutton charm with his mouth. Yes, really.

Racially… well, again we at least have non-Anglos being played by non-Anglos. I really enjoyed Soon-Tek Oh, playing a Chinese agent in Macau and Thailand (even if Oh is Korean…) – he was great, even if they did give him some cringe-worthy stereotyped moments like he and his nieces being ace karate experts. He’s a good sidekick and hurrah! doesn’t die. Richard Loo, playing Hai Fat, does die but he’s a villain and is done in by his ally, and what do you expect anyway? I don’t think there’s anything mean said about him for not being white, which is at least a bare minimum. Oh, and as befits Bond the Great White Messiah, he’s quite good at fighting karate experts – he ignores the expectations of respect, and kicks his opponent while he’s bowing. images3

The very weirdest thing about this entire movie is the inclusion of JW, the absolutely appalling, tobacco-chewing/spitting, nigh-unintelligible good ol’ southern boy sheriff from Live and Let Die. How is it even possible that he was popular enough as a character to be worth imagining as someone who would take a trip to Thailand? So that he could see Bond and end up ‘helping’ him? Every scene he was in made me want to throw something at the screen.

James: slightly less awful1 weak Martini.

Graceling

Reading this was like eating M&Ms. Stopping was very hard. I began it one evening at 8pm. I finally forced myself to go to bed at 10pm. I had read about 200 pages. The prose is just that easy to read.

Unknown-1This secondary world of Cashore’s isn’t a place where magic happens. It is, though, a place where some people are born Graced: they have a skill, or a thing, that they are superbly, unbeatably, good at. You might be a Graced chef, or a Graced archer; be Graced with mind-reading, some sort of prescience, or being able to eat rocks. I was about to write that I would like to be Graced with memory, but then I remembered the books I’ve read where characters never forget anything and I realise that would be appalling. Perhaps I would like to be Graced with pastry-making. Or with patience. Perhaps pattern recognition.

Anyway, you can tell someone is Graced before they act because they have eyes of different colours. Sometimes this happens as soon as the baby is born; sometimes it takes months, even years, for the eye-colour to settle in. In most parts of the Seven Kingdoms, those who are Graced are automatically feared, and become the property of the King. When you are already the king’s niece and your Grace is fighting… well, Katsa was screwed from the moment she threw her first punch as an under-ten. She’s been fighting for, and being a one-person bully gang in aid of, her uncle for a long time now. But she’s starting to try working around and under the king – helping out people where she can – and this has to come to a head at some point.

The story is a quest for knowledge and for self-identity. Katsa’s age is unclear – she’s certainly late teens if not 20s – and it’s not quite a coming-of-age; she’s cynical and knows about the world already. But while embarking on a quest to help a friend discover the truth about a family member, she definitely learns more about herself and how to be in the world. This search for identity is a current through the whole story, but it’s not overwhelmingly dominant; there are some reflective moments, but there are a lot of moments of action too, for readers like me who usually prefer that sort of story. And the actual quest means that Cashore gets to introduce us to bits of the Seven Kingdoms, which is always fun. I enjoyed the developing friendship between Katsa and Po, I liked the secondary characters, I liked that there were a few plot twists and that while it’s not a light and breezy story, it’s also not grim and gloomy (I have no problem with either, I just like that this one was at the lighter end).

There are a few failings. The ten-year-old is unbelievable enough that I thought she was going to end up being Graced with something that made her wiser than her years. Some of the secondary characters, especially Katsa’s cousin, could have withstood a bit more character development. Over on Goodreads I briefly saw two complaints. One is that it’s an enjoyable book except for the “raging feminist agenda.” I am bewildered by this. Is it a raging feminist agenda to have a supremely competent female lead, to suggest a woman can be a monarch, to not have a female character desperate to get married, to allow characters sex before marriage, to have female characters who don’t care that much about clothes? If so, AWESOME I WANT MORE. Me, I just see that as, y’know, reflecting the real world. The other complaint is about the romance – spoiler! There is one! (If you didn’t know that, you could read the cover quote which claims it has “a knee-weakening romance that easily rivals that of Twilight” … Thanks, LA Times. I have nothing to say.) That reviewer, I think, has an interesting point to make which is that (SLIGHT SPOILER HERE) Katsa’s refusal to consider marrying Po means that what they have isn’t really love, because love is meant to be sacrificial. She is NOT saying they ought to just get married – at least as far as I understand it (here, read it yourself – it’s the one written by Miss Clark). However, while I see her point, I think I disagree. I think Katsa is willing to be with Po forever, and that especially at this point it’s not not-love for her to be keeping her options open, and being wary. Or maybe I’m just too dewy-eyed.

There are two other books in the not-quite-series, but I don’t think I will hurry to get either. While I loved this book, it’s the writing and the characters that I adored. I’m not so fussed about other people in the world and their carryings-on.

(Another books from the stash of unread books, busted!)

You can get Graceling from Fishpond.

Hav

UnknownI have never, in my life, read a book two times in a row. Until I read Hav. This was possible because Hav is not a novel in the ordinary sense. It’s a travel memoir to a fictional place that could easily exist; it’s a meditation on East meeting West, on history and culture and modernity; it’s about being a stranger in somewhere simultaneously familiar and alien. And it has some of the most wonderful prose I’ve come across. 

This section from Hav illuminates many of the aspects that make the book so wonderful.

[The boats] often use their sails, and when one comes into the harbour on a southern wind, canvas bulging, flag streaming, keeling gloriously with a slap-slap of waves on its prow and its bare brown-torsoed Greeks exuberantly laughing and shouting to each other, it is as though young navigators have found their way to Hav out of the bright heroic past. (p66)

This. It’s beautiful, for a start. It suggests that conjunction of somewhere existing both in the present and, somehow, in the past that makes Hav so intriguing. And it’s quoted back at its author in the second part of the book, as an indication of her own understanding of Hav.

(We’re all about the meta.)  

Two thirds of the book was written and published in the 1980s. According to Ursula le Guin, who wrote the introduction, it led to people going to their travel agents looking to book a ticket to Hav because it was so convincing. Now, it really is convincing, but at the same time there are aspects that make it quite clear that Hav is a fiction. Like the fact that you’ve never seen it on a map, maybe? I was confused by that until I look Jan Morris up, and discovered that she has written many actual travel books (under that name and as James Morris). So I concede that perhaps if you knew her earlier work, you could be forgiven for some confusion if not quite that much. Anyway, the last third was written in the early 21st century, and sees Morris going back to Hav after the Intervention – which was just starting as she left last time. And this allows Morris to explore a whole other aspect of culture and development.

“Last Letters from Hav” are entries written between March and August, with Morris arriving in Hav at the start and being bustled out as trouble brews at the end. In between, she does what any travel writer does: she stays in interesting places, she visits the important and not-so-important places in the city, she talks to people, she reminisces about what other people have said about the place. I’ve been having a great deal of difficulty writing this review because the books is absolutely busting at the scenes with themes, with commentary, with historical (a)musings. There’s multiculturalism and colonialism and identity – the losing and finding and historical nature of and doubt around. There’s appropriation on a massive scale – see previous note – and getting on with the business of life. There’s ordinary mystery and profound mystery, religion and politics and architecture and this book had me in RAPTURES. Can you tell?

Hav is a city-state in a world that really doesn’t have them any more. It’s got an uneasy relationship with Turkey, its only (?) land neighbour, but a seemingly thriving one with certain Arab nations and perhaps the Chinese. It’s basically meant to be somewhere like the Dardanelles – although the geography isn’t quite right – because it’s a big deal that this was where Achilles and his Myrmidons came ashore. And the Spartans too, apparently. And, later, Arab merchants, and Venetian merchants, and it’s one of very few venerable Chinese merchant settlements outside of Asia. See how Morris twists history and makes it just believable? There really were moments where I could believe this was real. Because her discussion of history is modern, too: the Brits wanted to colonise it; Hav was shared by France, Italy and Germany under a League of Nations mandate; Hitler might have visited, and Hemingway did. Morris talks to people who are flotsam from this era; and also to a man claiming to be the 125th Caliph. Also a casino manager, members of the ‘troglodyte’ race who live in the nearby mountains, the local philosophers, and some bureaucrats. She visits odd monuments, the Conveyor Bridge (I admit I had to ask someone whether that was actually possible, because I was teetering on the edge of What Do I Believe?), and the Electric Ferry. I don’t believe that this book could have been written by anyone other than an established travel writer, because her eye and ear for (even imaginary) detail is breathtaking.

The second section is much shorter and deals with only a week or so, some two decades later when Morris is invited back to Hav after the Intervention. “Hav of the Myrmidons” does all of the same things as “Last Letters,” with additional meditation on the nature of change and tourism and the impossibility of an outsider ever really understanding the internal workings of a foreign city. There’s also the inevitable nature of change, and the sinister side of globalisation with imported labour and native populations made to relocate – which, intriguingly, is given a possibly positive spin. Morris’ books is either revered or believed to be banned in Hav, depending on who she speaks to (it’s one of the bureaucrats who reveres it that quotes the passage above at her, as part of the reason for why she was asked back). But things have changed. Most of the glorious many-centuries-in-one-place nature of former Hav is gone, replaced with new and forbidding and disorienting architecture. Like the massive Myrmidon tower, surmounted by an M – but no one really knows who or what the Myrmidons are, or meant to be, in this context. Some things of old Hav have been retained, but sanitised, bent to a new understanding of the world. Tourists are allowed, but only in a defined space – which leads to another bit I wanted to quote, because I think it’s an indication of a travel writer’s despair:

“The thing is… one feels so safe here. The security’s really marvellous, it’s all so clean and friendly, and, well, everything we’re used to really. We’ve met several old friends here, and just feel comfortable in this environment. We shall certainly be coming again, won’t we darling?” “Oh, a hundred percent. I think it’s bloody marvellous what they’ve achieved, when you remember what happened here.” (p196)

Thus spake an older English couple with no intention of leaving the resort.

Hav puts me in mind of China Mieville’s The City and the City, and Christopher Priest’s The Islanders, both of which do a similar thing with inventing places that ring so amazingly true. The Priest is clearly fictional but written as a travel book; the Mieville is a fiction but set in a city that purports to be real. I guess Hav conflates the two.

This review gets nowhere near what I really want to say about Hav. I am so glad that it exists, and that I have read it. And now I will force it into the hands of anybody I possibly can… although I admit to some trepidation that maybe other people won’t like it as much as I do. (I haven’t been able to look at any Goodreads reviews for that reason.) I may have used the word intriguing too many times, and I may have given in to hyperbole, but I don’t care. I love this book and want to hold it to my heart FOREVER.

(Another of the books that has been languishing on my shelves for far too long, unread. WHAT OTHER GEMS ARE WAITING FOR ME??)

You can get Hav from Fishpond.

Black Ice

It’s the exacting details in this book that means it has dated so dreadfully that for all it’s an interesting enough story, I just can’t imagine anyone born after about 1980 enjoying it. Except possibly for its historical value.

UnknownThere are two plots entwined here: a ghost story, and a technology story. And they’re packaged with a family drama, just to give the main character another headache.

The ghost story aspect holds up, as one would expect, in that it’s not context-reliant; you could have the same story set in 1850 or 2050. Syb’s new house is always cold, and the new housekeeper Hille starts talking spooky things as soon as she moves in. Hille wears an amethyst and claims to see ghosts, or spirits, all over the place. Syb is dubious, but….

The technology aspect, though – oh, I giggled. This was published in 1997. Syb is really lucky because she has an email address and can dial up the internet with her modem any time she likes. She wins a competition and gets an internet camera. People are able to get hold of each other’s email addresses quite easily, there’s only a few websites to search for on any one topic, and hacking is a breeze. I have no doubt that Sussex was going for close-to-bleeding-edge experience with this story, and going for serious verisimilitude with the intricate details. But all of that means that it really hasn’t travelled well. Which is a shame, because Sussex does write well and engagingly.

The inside cover calls it a Children’s Book; it’s what I would consider the younger end of YA. Syb’s parents are going through a rough patch, and this is dealt with brusquely but (and?) sensibly. It’s a “this is not the end of the world” attitude, but not “this doesn’t matter.” Intriguingly given how many such novels get rid of the parents completely, Sussex does it a bit differently: the mum goes away but stays in contact via email; the dad is always a bit absent in his attitude but is always present and still relevant. Also, the romance interests are just barely present but more usually as an irritant than anything else.

This book was read as part of my read-all-the-books-I-own-but-haven’t-read effort, and conveniently also contributes to the Australian Women Writers challenge for 2014.

Indy vs Henry

imagesI love Indiana Jones, but there’s a lot to dislike in Dr Henry Jones Jr. And that’s without considering the gender and race aspects of his stories.

Indiana Jones, as an adventurer, is pretty much awesome. The whip, the hat, the jacket. Rescuing people, finding artifacts, rescuing his dad – all of these things make great movies and a man who is often admirable. (Like I said, this is ignoring the problematic stereotypes, which are not my focus here.) Unknown

Dr Henry Jones, though, is meant to be an archaeologist. A reputable one. An academic at a prestigious university. And this is where, on recently watching The Last Crusade, I got a bit sad and discovered some Suck Fairy dust. Because basically, Jones is Schliemann. He’s an adventurer, he’s single minded, and he’s destructive. To get to a tomb that might exist in catacombs that might be under a converted church, he destroys a library’s floor – presumably a floor that dates to the Middle Ages, if we’re expected to believe the trail of clues. And when he’s in danger for his life, he destroys a thousand-year old tomb (ok maybe that one is almost acceptable). So like Schliemann, Jones is only interested in preserving the bit of old stuff that he cares about. Never is there concern for the provenance of artifacts, of preserving the context in which items exist. And those items do end up in museums, which is good – but they’re not museums in the countries where the items were discovered, or even vaguely associated. 

And although it’s only shown briefly, there’s also Jones’ position as a lecturer. I’m sure he’s a great lecturer, and he’s clearly very knowledgeable. But does he care about teaching? Or even research? Doesn’t seem that way. There’s dozens of students waiting to speak to him after class, and a huge stack of papers that haven’t been graded yet, and what does Jones do? Legs it out the window. Oh, so responsible.

Lara Croft behaving like Indiana bugs me far less. She never pretends to be anything other than an adventurer and opportunist (in the best possible way). You can’t expect her to be concerned about provenance; it doesn’t matter, in her context. But Jones should know better. Especially given how often he is shown to be morally outraged by the careless abandon with which the villains treat the objects that they’re both after – right from when as a young River Phoenix he’s indignant at the removal of an object that “belongs in a museum.”

Does this stop me from loving the Indiana Jones movies? No. It’s a sign of love that I can critique something while watching it for the umpteenth time (as I am doing right now, sitting in a guest house while my darling is off on a mountain bike somewhere. And I’ve sadly run out of wool in the middle of two different projects). And this issues deserves critique.