Monthly Archives: November, 2014

Uncanny #1

Uncanny_Issue1_FINAL_large1-340x510Space unicorns, they did it! Uncanny was Kickstarted earlier this year.

The opening story is by Maria Dahvana Headley – “If You were a Tiger, I’d have to Wear White” – and I thought it was weird and clever and, indeed, uncanny while reading it and then I discovered just how much of it is true. It’s a reporter going to Jungleland (real) to interview the MGM lion (who really lived there, but probably not in a smoking jacket) and who ends up talking to Mabel Stark, the tiger tamer (real). Love and loss and memory; commercialism, culture and the crass.

Ken Liu’s “Presence” is sad and sweet and uncomfortable-making. One of those lovely sf pieces that brings together awesome tech with very real human stories.

“Late Nights at the Cape and Cane,” from Max Gladstone, isn’t really my thing. Nor was “Celia and the Conservation of Entropy” by Amelia Beamer.

Kat Howard’s “Migration” takes a quirky look at the idea of death and rebirth, while Christopher Barzak takes a Peter Pan story I had never heard of and updates it somewhat in “The Boy Who Grew Up.” And the fiction is rounded out by a reprint of a Jay Lake story, “Her Fingers like Whips, her Eyes like Razors” which also does interesting things with death – this time, challenging it, which I can’t help but imagine was inspired by Lake’s own cancer.

There are three poems included – from Neil Gaiman, Amal El-Mohtar, and Sonya Taaffe. I am not a connoisseur of poetry.

Then there’s the non-fiction. I have to say that my one disappointment with this first issue of the magazine is that there wasn’t more non-fiction, which I thought was going to be a bit of a Thing. Anyway, Sarah Kuhn talks by way of cosplaying as Sailor Mars about the reception of geeky women in fan spaces over the last few years, which felt like a round-up of some of the issues for people who haven’t been following it all closely. I did enjoy the discussion of becoming more and more involved in the Sailor fandom. Tansy Rayner Roberts’ “Does Sex mark Science Fiction ‘Soft’?” never answers its own question but does discuss the ways in which some in the sf scene have tried to banish stories with Too Much Sex/Kissing/Whatever out of sf… although they wouldn’t be accepted by romance immediately anyway. And Christopher J Garcia’s “The Ten Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Shorts on the Web” is a really great sort of article to include in a magazine like this and indeed makes its online nature an absolute positive. So too does the fact that the interview with Headley (there are interviews with Barzak and about Lake too) contains links to pictures of Stark. Overall this is a positive start to the magazine and I look forward to more.


imagesI haven’t read Steelheart so the characters and the problems in this short story didn’t mean as much to me as they would to someone who has read it. And it turns out that the story is actually half of this cute little number’s pages; the other half is a teaser for the second book in the series.

Still, I read it, and I think it does actually work as a stand-alone. There’s obviously a lot that’s gone on in the past, but that’s often true of a good short story. The one thing that could have been cleared up by a single additional sentence is the nature of the ‘Epics’, who are clearly the villains (usually) and clearly some sort of humans but… that’s all a bit obscure.

Anyway, it’s got a good pace and the setting – Newcago – is nicely set out. The narrator, David, is a bit of a nothing character to be honest; this is more about action than it is about character, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The villain was quite fun and I enjoyed Sanderson’s take on his particular ability.

This book was provided to me by the publisher.

Troll: A Love Story

100485I am torn.

On the one hand, this is a beautifully written story that deals with some fascinating issues. And trolls are real.

On the other hand, I was uncomfortable with the implications of some of the relationships.

So, the first hand: it is lovely, and made all the more impressive by the fact that it’s translated – that can never be an easy task. I love the fact that it alternates story with ‘non-fiction’ grabs from pseudo-websites, dusty old tomes, poems and mythology – some of those are real, I’m pretty sure – and newspaper reports. I know that some people find this annoying; don’t read the book if that’s you. And I know that sometimes it really doesn’t work. But here I lay claim that it adds wonderfully to the depth surrounding the central idea of trolls being a real animal, known to science for the last century or so, and that this story is seeking to add to what humanity knows about Felipithecus trollius. Additionally, although there is a central narrator – Angel – as the story proceeds more of the incidental characters get to add their own perspectives, also in the first person. I know some people have found this changing around to be irritating or confusing, but at least in my edition each chapter clearly labels who is speaking, so rather than confusing I found that it added to the richness of the novel.

Sinisalo raises a diverse range of issues in her story, some more central than others. Trust and love and manipulation; ethics in art and journalism and business; the relationship between humanity and the natural world; mail-order brides, sex as power, desire as all-consuming. Angel, the central narrator, finds a wounded young troll and decides to care for it… which leads to encounters with a neighbour, an ex-lover, a would-be lover, and an object of his affection. Plus a business opportunity.

Which leads me to the other hand. And from this point on, SPOILERS.

Firstly, I know Angel ended up feeling ashamed of taking advantage of the troll, but it was still an unpleasant thing to do – taking advantage of Pessi’s trust in him for entirely mercantile purposes. Given how much Sinisalo works to make Pessi seem if not human then certainly above the animal, I really didn’t like it. Again, I’m sure that was the point, but it doesn’t matter; I still read it, and felt uncomfortable.

And then there’s the implications of the relationship between Pessi and Angel. Perhaps it’s prudish but I was very uncomfortable by Angel’s sexual reaction to Pessi. This is partly because Pessi is coded as being quite young, so the power differential of age exists; partly that Pessi is clearly in a submissive position with regard to Angel in tribal terms, so again the power differential; partly, hello different species – where Pessi is <i>not</i>, especially at first, coded as being as capable/sentient as a human. I know that Sinisalo is trying to problematise issues of desire and sexuality – Palomita’s experience as a mail-order bride is certainly not meant to be endorsed but is still far more socially acceptable – but… it was a problem for me.

Lastly, the ending. I knew it was coming – that Sinisalo was working up to the idea that trolls were either evolving, and catching up with humanity, or that they had always been that clever and were now coming out of the forest and starting to demonstrate it. I really liked it, and but for the sexual relationship stuff I really liked the ambiguity of what was going to happen to Angel, too.

I think, on balance, that I really liked this book. Sinisalo is certainly doing intriguing things, and she does write beautifully.

You can get Troll from Fishpond.

Galactic Suburbia 111

In which we try to fix the world and don’t even fix ourselves, but progress is being made (we hope). You can get us from iTunes or at Galactic Suburbia.

On the World Fantasy Awards

A couple of links to the big recent internet discussion we didn’t want to try to explain via podcast:
Laura J Mixon
Tessa of Silence Without

What we talk about instead: general issues arising from recent controversies & discussions

Industry bullying & threatening – why people who threaten to blacklist you probably can’t.
On Being Complicit
On Back Channels & the Broken Step
Do We Do Enough & What Else Can Be Done?

What Culture Have we Consumed?
Tansy: Sleepy Hollow #1 (Noelle Stevenson), Gotham Academy #1, Batgirl 35, Young Avengers: Sidekicks
Alex: Interstellar; Haven season 3; the Great Rosetta and Philae saga.
Alisa: We’re not even going to tell you, you have to listen. But it is pretty out there.

Please send feedback to us at, follow us on Twitter at @galacticsuburbs, check out Galactic Suburbia Podcast on Facebook, support us at Patreon ( and don’t forget to leave a review on iTunes if you love us!

Quantum of Solace

quantum_of_solace_daniel_craig_movie_posters_desktop_4134x3100_hd-wallpaper-806978This 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 the design people must have got a good deal on glass. Water is the most precious thing in the world… and this is actually a sequel?

Alex: turns out this isn’t quite as bad as I remembered. Faint praise I know, but after the glories of Casino Royale there were a lot of hopes riding on this film and at the time… well. I was sad. However, in the context of all Bonds, this one isn’t too shabby. Also, shout out to yet another absolutely kick-ass song; Jack White and Alicia Keys are an inspired, off the wall choice and I think they’re awesome.

The film opens with a brutal, fast car chase through Italian mountains and at the end, it turns out Mr White was in the boot of Bond’s car. So this is picking up where the last one left off in a way that has really never happened before. This is intriguing and actually somewhat discomfiting. It’s weird enough to have the odd call-back to a dead wife; now we get a Bond who is actually affected by things in the last film?? Wha – ??

The credits open without Bond shooting down the barrel of a gun. (He does so at the end of the film instead.) The credits are very different from those before, except that the nudey girls are back. Hello boobs.

Bond has brought Mr White to M, and there’s all sorts of discussion about Le Chiffre and Vesper that is meant to suggest you’re still watching Casino Royale. Mr White is amused by their arrogance at thinking they can keep him prisoner, and then M’s bodyguard tries to kill her because he’s One Of Them. Bond saves M and chases him – the parkour isn’t as good as last time, but they do go through a glass roof and do some spinning-upside-down fighting. To be honest it’s all a bit video game-y.

Bond keeps chasing down these Mr White/Le Chiffre connections, and ends up in Haiti where yet more glass is broken in a fight with someone who’s maybe connected. He takes the guy’s briefcase and is picked up by a woman in a case of mistaken identity; lucky for her since the other dude was meant to kill her. There are shenanigans that suggest she’s sleeping with a nasty man who was probably responsible for setting up that hit… and we know he’s nasty partly because he’s so slimy, partly because he smugly claims to have facilitated a change of government in Haiti to help out some big corporate. Villain then ‘gives’ the woman to a a general who’s buying his services to (re)take over Bolivia. Bond saves the woman but she’s furious – because it turns out she wanted that to happen.

images1Let’s talk about Camille. I love her. She is ruthless and determined and she’s being trying to get close to the general for years in order to get revenge for her family, whom he killed. Yes, she’s another in a long line of women who start out loathing Bond and then work with him, but there’s a difference. She doesn’t sleep with him. WHOA. Bond writers, are you actually growing up?? Also, she’s tough, with added real fear about what it will be like to kill someone. This is, I think, not feminine weakness – Bond never treats it like that – but real concern about, y’know, taking a life. I really like Camille.

images2Camille was using Dominic Greene to get to the general. Greene appears to be a wealthy entrepreneur who is also philanthropic and solicitous for the world. BIG RED WARNING LIGHT. (Also he has amusingly coiffured henchmen.) Of course Greene is actually a scheming arrogant villain who is just our for MOAR MONEYS. Greene’s going to do this by tying up all of Bolivia’s water and forcing the country to pay through the nose for it. He’s got a deal with the CIA (hello Leiter, you awesome man you, I know you’re not evil you’re just hanging with the wrong crowd) and he’s in the Mr White and a bunch of other big nobs. Basically, this is the new SPECTRE.

images4Bond goes to Bolivia to figure out what Greene’s up to and is met at the airport by Fields, from the consulate. Gemma Arterton has lovely reddish hair here, so clearly she’s Strawberry Fields but the writers choose not to actually go there in the dialogue. Fields tries to boss Bond around but he bosses her around instead and they end up in bed. Natch. (So the writers aren’t growing up that much.) And then she ends up dead, also natch, in a horrible call-back to Goldfinger: she’s covered in oil, because everyone thinks Greene is after that rather than water.

Anyway, Bond and Camille follow Greene and the general to the weirdest five-star hotel in the middle of a desert, and they proceed to destroy the place. Lots of glass gets broken in the process, Camille gets her revenge, Greene dies in the desert with motor oil in his stomach (which Bond sadistically gave him as he stumbled off).

This is, however, not the end of the film. Bond goes to Russia, and there confronts a man and a woman – the woman wearing a very familiar Algerian love-knot. She’s Canadian secret service, he’s Vesper OTP, Bond gives him to M and appears to have forgiven Vesper for her betrayal. So I guess that’s nice. images3

Oh, interesting cameo I forgot to mention: Mathis! Bond asks him for help, and after grousing about the torture that was all Bond’s fault, of course he goes along for the ride. And ends up dead in Bond’s car boot. Poor Mathis.



Oh the opening ! Cars, the tunnel, slightly grainy film and the noise ! This could be a Top Gear episode reviewing the exhaust noise of cars in a tunnel under a Romanian palace.  For the film nerds this Bond was mostly shot on super 35mm which gives it a beautifully gritty and real if a slightly Bourne franchise look.  Alex beat me to the punch, but the opening theme is great – Alicia Keys and Jack White.  The opening credits, sand dunes (foreshadowing) and the graphic novel style is retained too, but with boobs – they’re back.  Bond is still Bond.

The main event – Felix is back (on the right team, just not the local US team).  Camille to Bond – ‘There is something horribly efficent about you’ – ‘Is that a compliment ?’  Fields covered in oil (again gazumped by Alex this review) Goldfinger style.  All the while Bond is more and more dishevelled … I think nearly the whole film is made with him wearing one suit.

2.5 Martinis – served warm sitting out in the sun.

Galactic Suburbia 110

In which culture, we consume it. Over at iTunes or at Galactic Suburbia.

What Culture Have we Consumed?

Alisa: Landline by Rainbow Rowell; Coode St Podcast Ep 207: Kameron Hurley; The Wheeler Centre: Books, Writing, Ideas Podcast – Quarterly Essay: On Women Freedom and Misogyny : Anna Goldsworthy; … AND PHd Check in!
Tansy: Rachel & Miles X-plain the X-Men, Battle Scars, Uncanny, Cranky Ladies, Nanowrimo
Alex: Haven seasons 1 and 2; Upgraded, ed Neil Clarke (NB available from Fishpond, for Austraian listeners!); Journeys, Jan Morris; The Book of Life, Deborah Harkness

Orphan Black cat cosplay
Anthony Mackie shouts out to little Falcons & Falconettes.
Sean Pertwee cosplays his Dad for Halloween.

Please send feedback to us at, follow us on Twitter at @galacticsuburbs, check out Galactic Suburbia Podcast on Facebook, support us at Patreon ( and don’t forget to leave a review on iTunes if you love us!

The Slow Regard of Silent Things

22739835In his Foreword, Rothfuss points that that people may not want to read this book. It’s not an ordinary book; there’s no plot. There’s no explanation of who Auri is, who she is anticipating, or even where she is. It’s probably not the first thing by Rothfuss that you want to read.


But it is a beautiful object, but it’s a haunting chronicle of six days, but Auri is indeed a bit of the sun.

It’s a beautiful object: I have a hardcover version, and the cover picture is all shadows and moonlight and flowers and Auri’s silhouette. Nate Taylor’s black and white pictures are strewn throughout like the objects that Auri finds, and the text makes way for them so they work together companionably. I’d like to see more books with pictures in them, like this.

It’s not a novel, or a novella (150 pages in this wee format); it’s a chronicle. It outlines Auri’s actions and thoughts for six days. Some days are good, some days are bad. Some days Auri manages to fix rooms and objects so that they are just so and some days she doesn’t have anything to eat. Some days she makes soap. Some days she weeps.

Auri is the only character in this chronicle. In watching her for six days, the reader learns only fragments of her past and nothing of her future. We learn that she is a joyful creature – she grins all the time, and that mostly didn’t get annoying – but she is also deeply broken, and she knows she is broken and feels it keenly. And she knows that the world is broken, too, and she wants desperately to put it to rights, one little bit at a time – finding a place for a bottle, feeding another’s imagination, making soap properly. Anticipating a visitor and fretting about having the right gift.

Auri’s entire life revolves around doing things properly, and making the world right, and not wanting things for herself. I was at points humbled by her, and her willing and joyful self-sacrifice; at times enraged on her behalf, because clearly something has happened to make her so completely self-effacing. At times I was horrified – she has so little to eat – and at time intrigued, as when she contemplates her soap and knows that while it would be perfectly serviceable without perfume and other additions, how joyless to live in a world that was simply <i>enough</i>.

There’s something like 16 pages of making soap. Sounds crazy, I know. Trust me, it works. Or, you know, don’t trust me, because this isn’t your sort of book anyway. That’s fine. I really liked it. (I really liked the first two of Kingkiller Chronicles: The Name of the Wind, then The Wise Man’s Fear.)

This book was provided to me by the publisher at no cost. You can get it from Fishpond.

Jan Morris’ Journeys

415-Cle0SbL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Reading a collection of travel essays written in the early 1980s is a surreal experience. So I’ll break this discussion into two parts: by golly I love Morris’ writing, and the essays themselves.

By golly I love the way Jan Morris writes. She constructs beautiful, evocative sentences. Describing the approach to Wells: “As one descends from the spooky heights of Mendip, haunted by speleologists and Roman snails, it lies there in the lee of the hills infinitely snug and wholesome.” On travelling to China for the first time: “Of course, wherever you are in the world, China stands figuratively there, a dim tremendous presence somewhere across the horizon, sending out its coded messages, exerting its ancient magnetism over the continents.” I’m no writer; I don’t have the ability to assess what makes great prose great. (There’s a great piece of graffiti near my house that says “I know art, but I don’t know what I like.”) I do know that I enjoy Morris’ writing, that I find her descriptions absorbing and sometimes moving, and that some of the books I read would be improved by their authors having read and considered Morris’ style.

Separating the form from the content should not be read as a negative about the content, don’t worry.

The first essay is about Sydney, and as an Australian this was really, really interesting. I felt there were parts that Morris exaggerated, and I was a bit uncomfortable with “Kev,” the white-collar worker standing in for Everyday Aussie, and she pokes a bit of fun at Sydney attitudes and expectations. Now, all of these are standard in a travel essay, sure. But I’ve never read a travel essay by a professional like Morris about somewhere that I kind of know – I don’t actually know Sydney very well, but Morris writes about Sydney as representative of the entire country (to which true Melbournians recoil in horror…). So I enjoyed the essay – she says some very true things, very appropriate things, and of course it’s well written. But it also meant that when I read her other essays, of places I have never been (of every other place she mentions, I’ve only been to Wells), I was aware that a native of those places may well have the same reaction as I did to the Sydney essay. Which made for an intriguing experience: not completely immersed in the narrative or the description, but interrogating her assumptions and elisions and emphases. For this sort of writing, I think my experience was actually enhanced.

This is Morris’ fourth book of essays. None of them have dates attached; the publication details simply explain that most appeared in Rolling Stone, a few in other publications. It came out in 1984 and there’a reference somewhere to 1977, so I presume they all date to that general time; the historian in me really wants dates on each one! There are several essays on parts of the US: my zero interest in Las Vegas succeeded in plummeting even lower, although Santa Fe intrigues; a few on Europe – she’s not a huge fan of Stockholm yet somehow I am now more interested in going, and Cetinje in Yugoslavia (now Montenegro) absolutely fascinates. And the Indian and Chinese essays are probably the most intriguing, and most problematic, in terms of how people and places are viewed.

I love Morris’ work and may well make it an ambition to collect most of what she has written.

The Book of Life

205551671. I received this as a review copy from the publisher.
2. I have not read the previous two books in the trilogy. As well as impacting on my understanding of relationships, it’s possible this review will therefore have spoilers for the first two books.

Vampires are not, in general, my thing. Yes I have read an enjoyed a number of books that include vampires, but I do not go out of my way to read them. And I don’t especially like vampires for their own sake; I have enjoyed books they’re in when the story itself is great. (Cyborgs, though? I like cyborgs. Sometimes I don’t even care about the plot.) So The Book of Life is not inherently my thing – so if you love vampires, this review probably isn’t going to be useful to you.

The main characters are a witch/historian, Diana, and her vampire/scientist husband, Matthew. They’ve just got back to the 21st century from Elizabethan England and things are messy, not least because there’s not meant to be such mix-marriages and it’s compounded by Diana being pregnant. Also there’s a threat a brewing both to their family and to the supernatural species in general – which also includes daemons but they hardly feature at all in the book – AND they have to continue their search for the titular Book of Life for reasons that are never clearly explained. This involves Science, and History, and the occasional It’s Not Really a Significant Crime, right? Also getting humans involved in their work, travelling across Europe, family arguments, snark, more snark, the odd bit of sex and being a bit creepy.

Pretty standard stuff really.

I was dubious when I received this from the publisher, having not read the others. But I decided to give it a go and I was impressed by how well Harkness managed to basically catch me up. For those completing the trilogy this may well have been annoying info-dump, of course. There were random characters who appeared that had no impact on me but were clearly significant, and call-backs to previous events that I just shrugged past, but I certainly never felt like I was being left behind. So that’s a positive. As well, this is the epitome of page-turning-ness. I read the whole thing on a public holiday (580 pages). I didn’t give it the world’s greatest amount of attention (it’s not like reading Ann Leckie), but I also didn’t skip pages searching for dialogue (um, a few books I won’t mention). Thus, highly readable.

At times I almost forgot that this was meant to be a supernatural kinda book, and read it as a family drama – and it works exceptionally well as such. Every now and then there were odd, jarring notes (yes, I’ve been mourning for five centuries…), but really most of it works on ‘you can’t marry him’/’I just did’ – ‘what do you MEAN you’ve got a [insert unknown family member here]’ – ‘I hate you but I’ll work with you anyway’ interactions. Which can be quite fun when they’re written with enough snark. (Harkness could have added a little more snark, and I wouldn’t have minded.) In this way, it reminds me a bit of the Gail Carriger books – the Parasol Protectorate, while having awesome stuff about tech etc, boils down to relationships and how to negotiate them ((maybe everything does ultimately…).

Harkness touches on some interesting issues, too. I quite liked that Diana and Matthew at least in theory had jobs – they didn’t do much for their employers in this novel, too busy being Indiana Joneseque, but they DID use their professional skills. And Diana is absolutely expected to use hers, because why not? That was nice. Also that Diana keeps working right up til she hatches. And the discussion around why witches and vampires and daemons aren’t allowed to congregate, while a little heavy handed at times, was yet another example of exploring racial separation/ ‘purity’ issues. Aided by the appearance of Diana’s best friend Chris, ‘a black man from Alabama’.

Problems? I don’t like Matthew’s possessiveness. There’s at least one jab aimed at Twilight (‘no, I don’t sparkle’), and maybe others – I haven’t read it so I’m not sure. But I do know from reading some discussions that the possessiveness is present there, as it is here, and I don’t like it. Explain it by saying he’s got a great sense of smell if you like; I don’t care. Plus I am SO BORED by love triangles. Also, on the narrative, there are some holes and a few bits that are just left hanging. Which was annoying. And finally, not something that’s unique to this story but something I’m getting a little weary of: all of the main characters are exceptional. They’re world renowned in their fields. No one is just average. Which, sure, I guess it helps the narrative, but ‘oh I’ve read your work!’ got a bit eye-rolly.

Overall I was pleasantly surprised, because I really didn’t think – when I picked it up – that I’d end up finishing it, let alone in a day. If vampires and witches and love and mystery are your thing, don’t start here – I imagine you want to go back and start with A Discovery of Witches. But anyway, you can get The Book of Life from Fishpond (and Discovery of Witches too).

Casino Royale

imagesThis 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 Bond gets yet another new face, plays a lot of poker, and has his heart broken. Also, parkour.

Alex: I was trying to figure out whether this is actually a reboot, and of course the answer is no. This film is not a reboot. It’s an origin story. If you can have (several) Wolverine origin stories after a few X-Men films, there’s no reason why Bond can’t have an origin story after 20 films. The fact that it’s set 40+ years after the first film is, in the scheme of things Bond, irrelevant.

Thus, Bond’s origins. We get to see his first two kills – the first very unpleasant, the second very easy – in a wonderfully chiaroscuro, noir, set of scenes. Daniel Craig is SO cold, and reminds me a lot of Dalton. The evolution of Bond over this film comes down to how easy it is for him to kill, and deal with death more generally, as well as how competent he is in dealing with suspects and crises. He starts well, here, then shows himself fallible at various points, and ultimately becomes the hard, cold killer that Fleming actually wrote.

The feel of the new Bond is helped by the credits: it’s the first time, I believe, that the shooting-down-the-barrel has actually been incorporated into the plot itself, and there are no nudie girls. Also, I love the song, and I think it’s only the second one that doesn’t include the title of the film in the lyrics (the other being Octopussy, for several reasons I would guess).

Anyway, Bond’s kills allow M (helloooo Dame Dench) to promote (?) Bond to being a 00, and I love that Dench continued in this role. We see a little bit more about her, personally: Bond breaks into her house and discovers that her name actually starts with M (leading her to promise to kill him if he utters her name) and when we see her woken in the middle of the night, there is a male partner next to her. I know that chronologically it makes zero sense to have kept her, but I adore her in this role so much and since when has sense mattered anyway. Also she gets to say “Christ I miss the Cold War.” And she describes Bond, contemptuously, as a blunt instrument. SWOON.

That interaction happens after one of the most magnificent chases in Bond history: Bond chases a man through a town on Madagascar, especially through a construction site, and Sébastien Foucan – originator of parkour – treats the audience to an absolutely astonishing display of free running. Bond manages some good leaps, too, but often the contrast is between Foucan’s balletic agility and Bond crashing through walls. The Bond shoots him. In an embassy. Showing that Bond is not completely the cold and calculating agent he’s meant to be.

images4We’re introduced to the main villain very early on, and the writers show that they’re tapping the zeitgeist. The focus is not terrorists but their banker: the man who enables them to profit, and keep their profit. I think this is deeply fascinating, and demonstrates another step forward in the sophistication of issues that Bond as a franchise is dealing with. Of course, this sophistication is not something that can be taken for granted – they’ve had very clever and insightful moments in the past and then gone whacky in the next film. Still, Le Chiffre is fascinating, and follows in that grand tradition of physically marked baddies: he has an awesome scar and he CRIES BLOOD. Take that, Blofeld! The story revolves around Bond screwing up Le Chiffre’s plans to make a lot of money and then Le Chiffre deciding to win it all back on a high-stakes poker game. BECAUSE NOTHING EVER WENT WRONG WHEN GAMBLING.

Interlude to mention the Ursula Andress reference: Bond coming out of the ocean in trunks. Nice moment.images2

Anyway, the government is staking Bond the money to get into the poker game. They’ve already chipped him, like a dog, so they can keep track of him; now he also has to be accompanied by a treasury agent – and enter Vesper Lynd, played by Eva Green, and my goodness do I love her. Their first conversation, where they utterly skewer each other by reading the other’s clothes and attitudes, is utterly devastating. “You’re not my type.” “Smart?” “Single.” Also, this look:images1

I am so bored right now by this dress and these glamorous surroundings. Also you, James. Yawn.

Vesper and Bond are a wonderful match in terms of attitude and expectations – the scene where they are instructing each other on what to wear (“there are dinner jackets and there are dinner jackets; this is the latter” omg win) is glorious. That she spikes his plans by distracting him when walking into the poker game is very funny. And then all of this comes to a head when they are involved in a nasty altercation with someone who was actually threatening Le Chiffre, and Bond and Vesper just get in the way. Bond himself is affected by the kill, but Vesper – understandably – is devastated; Bond’s care for her is one of the most touching moments in Bond history. Like Dalton, Craig gets the cold-hearted/totally human balance almost perfect.

images3Meanwhile, there’s poker to be played. Le Chiffre turns out to be playing Bond like a cat with a mouse – allowing Bond to think he’d picked a tell, then taking him for all his cash. Vesper refuses, quite rightly, to allow him to buy back in… which means Felix Leiter reveals himself. A black Leiter! Jeffrey Wright is marvellous. Makes a deal that Bond can have the money if the US gets Le Chiffre – but what about the winnings? “Does it look like we need the money?” Oh Leiter, you are so droll. Never change. Anyway, because Bond is doing so well, Le Chiffre’s girlfriend – who is never named and I don’t think even speaks – poisons him. Fortunately there’s a defibrillator in his Austen, and Vesper arrives in time to help him not die, and then Bond wins the entire pool of money. THE END.

… um no. Because this is New Bond, and things haven’t got seriously awful yet. Vesper is kidnapped, Bond is tortured (nastily) and then rescued by the fixer we saw at the start of the film – not because Bond is so awesome but because Le Chiffre is unreliable. Bond and Vesper fall in love while in hospice and run away from life to Venice… and then it turns out Vesper has stolen the money and given it to the fixer, because her boyfriend had been kidnapped ages ago and this was how to get him out.

And then she dies, and this is the one part of the film that disappoints me. Because she didn’t have to die. She could have got out of that elevator before it went underwater. She wants to die because of her mistake, and narrative-wise it’s to give Bond more depth and reason to be cold. VESPER IS FRIDGED AND I AM SO SAD.

The real end comes with Bond killing Mr White, the fixer, thanks to a posthumous message from Vesper, and Craig saying “The name’s Bond. James Bond.”

Overall this is my favourite Bond so far. It owes some of its sensibility to the Bourne films and their hard-edged-ness. It is very clearly setting itself in opposition to the kitchiness of the last Brosnan films. This is a Bond for a new, harder, more brutal age.

James: The film opens in black and white with a grainy film noir style.  The opening credits are more like a graphic novel than a movie with the playing cards heavily tied in.  No boobs.  I love the David Arnold soundtrack following on from the Chris Cornell theme.  The fighting is visceral and fast, parkour rather than skis or a boat etc.  Bonus points for spotting the Richard Branson Cameo in the airport (the price of using a Virgin Plane).  Bond at the bar, “Vodka Martini” … “Shaken or Stirred?” … “Do I look like a give a damn?” … brilliant.  They play cards and then we get the final chase scene.  As Alex says, a tough, modern Bond – More Dalton than any Brosnan.  The gadgets are there but downplayed. Perhaps it’s the origin story poking through but I felt like there was more character development than in any of the films yet.  Certainly the highlight so far.  4 Martinis – Shaken or Stirred, I don’t give a damn either.