What do you do when you have a major heart attack and you’re also creator/sustainer of Clarkesworld? You decide to edit an anthology. Natch. (Read an interview with Neil Clarke here.) And you decide to make the theme of that anthology cyborgs, because you are now one yourself. Thus, Upgraded.
Now, before you go all ‘hmm, themed anthology’ side-eye on me, just steady on. In some stories, being a cyborg is the point; in others it is incidental. Sometimes being a cyborg is a good thing, a positive addition, welcomed. Others, it is something to be dreaded, confronted, Dealt With. Sometimes being a cyborg makes you better, and sometimes it seems to make you less. Cyborg-ness ranges from fully integrated and augmented body modifications to one seemingly small addition. Augmentation might be for aesthetics, or employment; for someone else’s sake or your own. It ranges from being socially acceptable to being almost beyond the pale.
Some stories happen tomorrow, here; some of them are way over there, temporally and physically. Sometimes there are aliens. Sometimes there are robots. Sometimes they are in love stories, detective stories, war stories, family stories. Not all the cyborgs are attractive characters. Sometimes they become cyborgs before our very eyes, and sometimes they’ve been cyborg so long it’s just what they are. Sometimes they were actually made that way from the start.
These stories feature men, and women, and sometimes genders are unstated. There are white characters and black characters and a variety of ethnicities. One of the central issues is that of disability, dealing with it and changing it and how those around you react to it. There’s queer and straight and none-of-your-business. Authors are from a variety of backgrounds, too.
So sure, it’s a themed anthology. But this is no Drunk Zombie Raccoons in Upstate New York. This is a vibrant, fun, intriguing and varied set of stories that have a basic concept in common.
The stories. Well, let me say upfront that I was so destroyed by Rachel Swirsky’s “Tender” that I had to put the book down and go to sleep. No more reading for me that night. As for the rest, here’s a sampler: Yoon Ha Lee’s “Always the Harvest” is creepy and disconcerting and sets a really great tone for the anthology – it’s the opening story – by being completely unlike any of the others. Ken Liu’s story is also deeply disconcerting because (very mild spoiler here) it is absolutely not the story you think it is. Alex Dally McFarlane does wonderful things with maps, while Peter Watts taps into the zeitgeist to suggest uncomfortable things about the military. And I have a feeling I know something Greg Egan might have read before writing “Seventh Sight” but I’m not going to mention it here because that would be way too much of a spoiler.
This is a really great anthology, with stories that absolutely stand as marvellous science fiction quite apart from their brethren. You can get it from Fishpond!
In which we solemnly swear we will repeat the title of our culture consumed after discussing it. Pinkie promise. You can get us from iTunes or at Galactic Suburbia.
Update on Gamergate with particular focus on Brianna Wu AKA @spacekatgal
(This episode was recorded before the Felicia Day incident)
Alisa’s con report – Conflux
Tansy’s con report – CrimesceneWA
Strange Horizons fundraising
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It’s time to start thinking about the GS Award, yes already, WTF 2014 why are you moving so fast?
What Culture Have we Consumed?
Alisa: Landline, Rainbow Rowell (NB since recording, Alisa actually finished this book YES SHE DID); Night Terrace S1 1- 5
Alex: Sarkeesian’s XOXO talk; Garth Nix’s Abhorsen trilogy (Sabriel, Lirael, Abhorsen); Mothership: Tales of Afrofuturism and Beyond; Indistinguishable from Magic, Catherynne Valente; Bitterwood Bible and other Recountings, Angela Slatter; The Dish.
Tansy: Unmade, Sarah Rees Brennan; Night Terrace S1, Agents of SHIELD S1, The Flash S1 Ep 1-2
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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 there is lots of ice, bad CGI, yet another space laser, and Madonna. Also North Koreans finally get to be the baddies.
Alex: This film turns on the idea of a sooky North Korean military official, Moon, who wants to make money but is prevented from doing so initially, we presume, by Also High Military Official Dad and then by James Bond spannering his plans. Presumed dead, he goes off and has his DNA changed and comes out looking like a preppy English public-school product (that’s a spoiler BTW) named Graves, and uses that – plus a load of diamonds – to fool the world and meanwhile construct a space laaaaaaser. Bond, naturally, ends up foiling GraveMoon’s plans.
That’s all well and par-for-Bond-good. However, my one enormous, abiding, overwhelming and rage-inducing problem with this film is not the dreadful CG and Bond surfing enormous avalanche-caused waves on a bit he ripped off a land-speed-record car. Nope, I can roll my eyes at that and deal with it. It’s not even the ludicrous, so-heavy-with-innuendo-I-can’t-believe-it-floats conversation that Bond and Jinx (Halle Berry) share. I dealt with Christmas Jones; I can avoid throwing things for this one. My problem is this: if you have a space-based solar shield thing that can be so focussed that it becomes a laser, and it’s capable of being so targeted that you can use it to chase a car across the ice, why the hell are you using it to blow up land mines in the Korean DMZ? Why aren’t you using it to pick off, I dunno, the White House? Maybe the South Korean government buildings, if that’s who you’re really pissy at? Then go for Westminster, maybe the UN buildings in New York, and throw in the entirety of The Hague while you’re at it so you can’t ever be charged with war crimes? This part of the film utterly ruins any credibility GraveMoon might have had.
ANYWAY. The above is a real shame because the film begins as possibly the darkest of any Bond because he’s captured by the North Koreans and tortured. And rather than the credits being just full of nudey girls, the torture is shown in quite clever ways through diamond-cum-ice frames (both a theme throughout). This quite cleverly allows the audience to see the brutality but not get overwhelmed. It’s also the first time, I think, that the credits have been used to add to the storyline. There are still nudey girls, though, don’t worry.
Bond ends up being traded for a North Korean whose face he filled with diamonds, because the Americans think he’s spilled his guts, and after escaping from the Brits by stopping his own heart he ends up in Cuba, looking for Mr Diamond Face (Zao). While there he hooks up with Jinx and interrupts Zao’s facial reconstruction. Some time later Bond is back in Britain and has a sword fight with GraveMoon, whom Bond is just naturally suspicious of because he’s too good-looking (ok there’s a connection to conflict diamond but whatevs), and GraveMoon’s fencing teacher is Madonna. In leathers. And she gets to say that she won’t watch them because she doesn’t like cock fights. ZING.
Eventually Bond and GraveMoon and Jinx and GraveMoon’s assistant Miranda Frost end up in Iceland, and that’s when all the crap goes bad and there’s death the end. Oh wait, except for using a SPACE LASER to take out land mines. THEN it’s the end.
I can’t believe I’m going to say this, but Christmas Jones is better than Miranda Frost as a character. Oooh she’s all indifferent towards Bond, she’s Frosty, geddit?? For all of FIVE MINUTES. And yes, being a turncoat is relatively interesting, but not enough is made of it for it to actually be interesting. Jinx… well, it’s almost obvious now for a kick-ass woman to be an international agent, so the revelation that she’s NSA isn’t unexpected. She gets a couple of nice fight scenes, but I’m completely disinterested in girl-on-girl fights as a Thing (although theirs was ok as a fight), and really I think she should have tried harder to escape the ice prison. Also let’s not forget her callback to Ursula Andress is Doctor No, coming up out of the water to Bond’s waiting eyes, wearing a bikini. M is wonderfully cold in this film, especially at the start – she may be fond of Bond as a person but as an asset, the price for his freedom was too high and she’s not worried about him knowing it (and, to his beardy credit, Bond knows it too – I like these glimpses of professionalism).
Racially I think this is quite problematic. After all, the Korean Moon does remake himself as a Westerner, and Zao tries to. (Incidentally, GraveMoon confronting Bond about his identity change is one of my favourite bits, with Moon saying he based Graves on Bond: “I paid attention to details – that unjustifiable swagger, the crass quips, the self-defence mechanism concealing such inadequacy.”) He couldn’t have stayed Asian and been as successful, got knighted, etc? Bah. But he and the other Koreans are no condemned for their race, which is good, and there’s not even really any comment on North Korea itself. Colin Salmon is back as a fairly powerful underling to M, Jinx is of course black… and there’s a fairly dodgy Chinese concierge-spy, and I’m not sure what I think of him.
Overall I think I have to call this a pretty disappointing end to the Pierce Brosnan era – one that started so well got, dare I say it, closer to the Roger Moore style of innuendos, and pushed the limits of CG beyond the realms of what was necessary. I do think the basic story lines stayed interesting – but then they have mostly done so for the whole series.
ETA: how could I forget?? The stewardess on the plane who serves Bond is Roger Moore’s daughter! That’s cool.
An invisible car which leaves tyre tracks in the snow is not invisible. A space laser is so Connery and John Cleese returns as
R … Q. This Bond did not light my fire. 2 Martinis.
When I finished reading the first story in Mothership, a little voice in my head said “Was that really the story to start this anthology with? I mean, sure it’s got a black protagonist, but is that enough?”
And then the rest of me took a step back, looked horrified, and said: “Have you learned nothing from Pam Noles’ essay “Shame”? And from the entire Kaleidoscope project? The story has a black protagonist. That’s entirely the point.”
And then I sat, aghast at my own white ignorance, and felt ashamed.
And then I kept reading, because that’s the obvious way to combat such an attitude and is at least part of the point of this project and why I supported its production.
There’s a really wide variety of fiction in this anthology. Some skirt the edge of being ‘speculative’ (Rabih Alameddine’s “The Half-Wall”) while others hurtle over the edge and throw themselves at it. I didn’t click with every story (Greg Tate’s “Angels + Cannibals Unite” really didn’t work for me, and nor did Ran Walker’s “The Voyeur”), but many of them were absolutely breathtaking.
Nisi Shawl’s “Good Boy” – one of the only stories that really qualifies for the ‘mothership’ appellation by being set in space – is a glorious fun romp.
“The Aphotic Ghost”, by Carlos Hernandez, did not go where I was expecting and was utterly absorbing.
SP Somtow’s “The Pavilion of Frozen Women” has a wonderful line in bringing together several quite disparate cultures and tying them together into a fairly creepy thriller.
NK Jemisin does intriguing things with the notion of online communities in “Too many yesterdays, not enough tomorrows.”
“Life-Pod” is Vandana Singh’s haunting reflection on family and identity and connection.
In “Between Islands,” Jaymee Goh suggests how different things might have been for the British in colonising Melaka and surrounds with different technology…
Tenea D Johnson’s “The Taken” is a profound reflection on contemporary issues and problems stemming from the historical transportation of enslaved African to America… I don’t even inhabit the culture that’s dealing with it.
One of the intriguing things about this anthology is that it’s not focussed on African-American fiction, which I had basically expected thanks to the title’s reference to P Funk and Afrofuturism. Instead, there are stories here that draw on Egyptian, Native American, Caribbean (I think? I’m Australian, sorry!!), Japanese and Malaysian (again, I think) traditions and cultures – and those are just the ones that I (think I) could identify. There are definitely others that draw on other Asian cultures (I think there’s an Indonesian one?). The author bios don’t universally identify where the authors are from, so that doesn’t assist in figuring out what might have influenced them… which is not a complaint, by the way, because so what? (in the most prosaic ‘fiction is fiction’ sense). So it’s a really broad understanding of what falls into “Tales from Afrofuturism and beyond” – much more inclusive therefore than, for example, many anthologies of the last few years, let alone decades.
This is an good anthology, period. That it’s exploring and accomplishing a particular political aim is icing on the cake. You can get it from Fishpond!
Earlier this year I watched the entirety of Fringe – a show that Alisa and Tansy have been raving about around, near and at me for quite a long time. So because I watched it – all of it – in a short period of time, we were finally able to record a Galactic Suburbia spoilerific episode of it. And here it is!
We spoil absolutely everything. We’re really not joking about that. Only listen if you’ve watched the whole lot, or really don’t mind spoilers.
I received this book as a review copy from the publisher.
I am sad to announce that I abandoned this book. Mostly for “it’s me not you” reasons – although not entirely…
1. I’m really not in an epic fantasy kinda zone at the moment – and “at the moment” has lasted for a few years now (albeit with a few exceptions – though not many). So that counts against it for me – but for anyone who’s really in that mood, I think this is probably a good option. It’s certainly epic (in a good way!).
2. I’m not really a – argh, I don’t like the term – grimdark fan. And I’m pretty sure this counts as such. Others have compared it to A Song of Fire and Ice, and while I’ve only seen the show not read the books that sounds like the right sort of comparison. So the style is really not for me. I don’t mind bad things happening to characters, but there’s something about unrelenting unpleasantness – especially before I care about any of the characters – that frustrates and bores and annoys me. So that’s a style issue that is my problem, not the book’s.
Then there’s the style thing that I had an issue with, and it’s the way sex in general and women on occasion are described. I’m not a complete prude, although I guess I’m closer to that end of the spectrum than not, but there’s something about descriptions like “he’d have had the little wagtail pinned against a wall long since” (64) or “Aside from a writhing woman pinned on his cock, was there anything better in the world than a lance in his hand, a grand horse between his legs, and a man before him a handful of heartbeats from defeat?” (15) that leave me not just cold, but actively uncomfortable. As for the women – I got to about page 90, and most women by this stage are dead, useless, or conniving. The wet-nurse clearly has gumption and I hope she’s allowed agency and smarts, but that’s about it.
So there it is. Not a book for me. I am sad because it’s an Australian female author… but not sad because it’s an epic series I don’t have to get invested in so that saves me some time… but sad because I really don’t like abandoning books.
Sometimes when people talk about an author’s work being ‘raw’, it’s as if they think words just appear on the page and there’s no mediation whatsoever. That these words, ideas, thoughts had been flying across the savannah just minutes before the author brought them down with a flying leap to serve them up still warm for the reader. I’m not silly enough to think that – and even if I were, Catherynne Valente’s excoriating essay against people who think authors are just the conduit for some muse (“she wrote it but…”) would have made me rethink my position.
When I say that much of Valente’s work, as presented in Indistinguishable from Magic (provided to Galactic Suburbia for review by Mad Norwegian Press) is raw I mean that she has not hidden her emotions, she has not hidden herself, from the world while writing these essays.
(One presumes. It could all be a very elaborate persona, with a very detailed background and crafted voice. Y’know, I wouldn’t put that past her – she certainly has the mad writerly skillz to accomplish such a feat. And if that’s the case, well, more power to her.)
The essays collected here are variously from Valente’s blog, speeches, and a few other sources. They’re arranged into categories: pop culture and genre; writing and publishing; gender, race, and storytelling; fairy tales, myth and the future; and “Life on Earth: An Amateur’s Guide.” And they showcase the brilliant variety of Valente’s
interests passions: Persephone and Doctor Who (… possibly not so much of an antithesis there…), fairy tales, equality in all manner of things, Jane Eyre (see, Tansy? she’s on MY side), poetry, and Single Male Programmer Types managing to have sex (trust me, it’s very a very funny essay).
The pop culture musings range between 2003 and 2011. Valente’s writing is beguiling enough I actually read the entirety of the first essay, which is about Buffy and Angel, despite having watched maybe three episodes of the two shows combined. Her comments on what the show meant to 20-somethings nonetheless resonated – and that pretty much set the tone for the rest of the collection. I’m also not a big Trek fan, and have watched very little DS9, but her musings on what the station would have been like with social media? Priceless.
More seriously – no, it’s all serious; more academically, her essay on why World War 2 and the Nazis keeps on popping up in comics and other fantastic culture is deeply insightful.
I read about half of the essays on writing and publishing; not being in the game myself means that I don’t really have the emotional attachment to the issues necessary to connect with much of what she writes here. That said, the first essay – the one about writing actually being hard work – is a glorious piece of writing; her explanation of her love of the term metal makes me itch to use the word more; and her utter dismantling of the argument that ‘traditional publishing is dead = a good thing’ is brilliant.
Valente is wonderfully, evocatively, angry and sincere and honest and passionate and conciliatory and clinical in her essays about gender and race and why those things matter in storytelling. “The Story of Us” skewers very neatly the whole ‘but why does it matter?’ complaint – and matches nicely with Pam Noles’ “Shame,” which I read in a Tiptree Anthology. She gets dangerously personal in “Confessions of a Fat Girl” – dangerous to herself, I would guess, because of potential backlash (I really, really hope she didn’t get any); dangerous to some readers because of how it might make some squirm at their reaction; dangerous to other readers because it might just call out their own troubles, and make them confront them.
All the essays up to this point have been easy to read – delightful to read. Some have shown Valente’s academic training. With the essays on fairy tales and folklore, though, she gets her academia on. Katabasis in Alice in Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz, and The Nutcracker? Why fantasy keeps going back to the medieval (“Dragon Bad, Sword Pretty”)? The purpose of Persephone, and her multiple faces? Oh yes.
Finally, the last set are more whimsical as a group – they don’t really have a collective theme, aside from ‘some thoughts on living in the world’. Her reflections on why people love apocalyptic literature are fascinating; her frustration at being of a generation told to live as well as their parents without the means to it revealing; and her reflections on Cleveland surprisingly moving. Her essay on her love of the anchorite idea just sings, as does her discussion of “Two Kinds of Love.”
I read this not quite in a sitting, but with nothing else around it. It certainly works like that. It would also work beautifully as a collection to dip in and out of – none of the pieces are very long, after all. There is so much going for Valente’s writing – for those who are writers, for those interested in fantasy and folklore, for those interested in the world in general. And even if you’ve been a faithful reader of Valente’s blog, Rules for Anchorites, I would suggest this is still a great collection because reading these essays in this order, with essays from elsewhere to add depth and piquancy – it just works.
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 we get a Bond film that deals with both oil and nuclear weapons at the same time! Swoon! Also Denise Richards is a nuclear physicist and Hamish Macbeth is an unconvincing anarchist.
Alex: one of the things that people remember about this film is Denise Richards. Or maybe that’s just me. So let me get this bit out of the way first. I was already groaning in anticipation of rewatching her in this film. My thoughts were coloured by two things: the first time we see her, and the last time. The first time, she’s climbing out of a hazmat suit and the only way the camera could have fawned over her any more would have been to actually be touching her skin. It’s not quite a strip tease, but mostly because she’s still wearing clothes (a crop top and tiny shorts). Then the last scene… it might actually count as the worst line in Bond history, and let’s be honest that there’s some pretty… oh heck… stiff competition. Her name is Christmas Jones, and I’m pretty sure that’s her name solely in order to set up that last, appalling, joke: Bond saying “I thought Christmas only came once a year.”
So yeh, my expectations were pretty low, and when you take in to consideration my love of Michelle Yeoh just a fortnight prior… I was resigned at best. Turns out, though, that Richards is better than I remembered. Yes her opening scene has her wearing ridiculous clothes, but later she mostly gets to wear sensible clothes (except when Bond is using her to distract someone, which I am not best pleased by). She doesn’t have the greatest dialogue – not her fault – and sometimes her delivery is a bit painful. But she is by no means the worst Bond girl ever, and she’s allowed to be competent at her job, too. Bond says “What do I need to defuse a nuclear bomb?” and she says: “Me.” And then she does it, too, on a speeding rig inside an oil pipeline. So Richards, you were better than I remembered. Good work.
Since I’m already talking about the women: Sophie Marceau… meh. She’s ok. I think the character of Elektra (yay Greek spelling!) is a fascinatingly complex and intriguing one: daughter of a construction baron, kidnapped then escaped when not ransomed; takes on father’s business but insists that it’s because the oil was found by her mother’s family – so Azerbaijani, I think? – and that her father stole it from them. So we get notes of colonialism in different forms here, which is surprisingly deep. And it turns out that rather than having Stockholm Syndrome – since she’s working with the Big Bad – she turned him, to get revenge on her father. So she has great agency, even though the film insists that she must use her body in order to get it. But I wasn’t in love with Marceau’s performance, sadly (also I can’t help but have the line “I have heard about your…. woman” from Braveheart in mind, which is totally my problem not hers).
And M rocks, as always, and this time she’s in the field! And she manages to Magyver an alarm clock to rig a location beacon so Bond can find her! Brilliant. She’s also revealed to be a mother, which I am unconvinced was a necessary move.
So the plot: someone is sabotaging Elektra King’s pipeline, and because her father was M’s friend M sends Bond to investigate. It eventually turns out that Reynard the Anarchist is doing it – in collusion with Elektra, because the idea is actually to nuke Istanbul, making the three Russian pipelines impossible and therefore Elektra’s pipeline the only one that the West can access. So it’s partly about revenge (dad didn’t ransom me), partly about money, and for Reynard (
Hamish Macbeth Robert Carlyle) it’s both about love (of Elektra) and anarchy.
Well, I presume Reynard’s in it partly for the anarchy. He’s called an Anarchist by M et al, but to be honest you never see any real demonstration of his attachment to anarchy as an ideal. He’s also back to being that not-quite-normal Bond villain: he has a bullet in his brain that means he’s slowly losing all sensation, which apparently makes him super strong for some reason? Anyway I think he’s amongst the most boring of all Bond villains.
Far more interesting is Robbie Coltrane, another Scot playing a Russian, reprising his role as Valentin. How can you not love a character who greets Brosnan with “Bond James Bond!” Love it. His caviar factory gets sawn in half by a helicopter tree cutting saw, then he appears to die – but doesn’t – but then does, although not before helping Bond escape from Elektra. He’s a great cameo, almost replacing Felix Leiter I think.
The saddest part about this film is Bond’s scene with Q, wherein Q introduces him to his trainee – John Cleese – whom Bond dubs R. Bond asks, concerned, whether Q is really thinking about retiring; Q doesn’t reply. Desmond Llewellyn died at the end of the year this film was released (1999).
James: I disagree that Q doesn’t answer the retirement question … Bond shows his dismay that Q is considering retirement and then Q signs off with his famous “Now pay attention, 007,” and then offers some words of advice: Q: “I’ve always tried to teach you two things: First, never let them see you bleed;” Bond: “And second?” Q: “Always have an escape plan” — before he is lowered out of view. Foreshadowing! Back to the rest of the film then, the opening sequence is one of the best with a high speed boat chase on the Thames. Like Alex I expected Denise to be more cheesy that she turns out to be, the character is overdone but then many things about this Bond are. Bond is issued with the usual modern era set of interesting gadgets; a ski jacket which can turn into a protection cocoon, another BMW to destroy and a watch with a grappling hook built in. The twists and turns of the villains and not villains could have been very clever, but in the end Elektra has to explain it all or the film wouldn’t make sense. 2 Martinis.