Monthly Archives: July, 2015

Melusine, etc

images Sarah Monette’s Melusine series is a remarkable set of four novels. I’ve been reading them for a while now, and they’re the sort of books where although I owned them all, I didn’t read one immediately after the other… because I didn’t want the story to finish yet.

Also, because it might hurt too much to keep going.

Slight spoilers

Do not read these books if you are really squeamish. There are some really distressing bits that I found quite harrowing; Unknown-1violence, and sexual violence, are at the heart of the first couple of books in particular. There’s more to the stories than that, but the violence is a fundamental part of the character and motivation and problem for both of the main characters.

The series is made up of MelusineThe Virtu, The Mirador, and Corambis. The stories are about magic, relationships, the abuse of trust, the recovery of trust, good governance, loyalty, sabotaging relationships, and how to heal. Yes they are complicated. Yes it is worthwhile. Yes even the distressing bits. Mostly.

All of the books have at least two viewpoints. The later books add another viewpoint, which is a bit weird as a reader but I think I get why Monette did it; it makes sense in terms of rounding out the main characters, and I think it makes sense artistically too, to give the world greater breadth. And here’s the slight spoiler: the narratives are from the perspective of brothers, but you don’t know that for quite a long time and it’s rather startling when it’s revealed, because they Unknown-2are so very different (and themselves don’t know their relationship). Monette is painstaking in developing the two different voices – Mildmay is uneducated and rough, and in telling his story is way down the spoken end of the register. He can’t be bothered impressing you; if you’re worried about his language and grammar and manners, well that’s your problem, yeh? Felix, on the other hand, is refined and learned and precise and all of his words are very. consciously. chosen. And learning how he came to be that way is part of the pain of the whole narrative trip. I love both of them; Felix I want to cosset and Mildmay I want to have a drink with (with no dice around. and very careful measures). Their relationship was by turns inspiring and despair-inducing, asUnknown they figured out how to relate and not destroy one another.

Aside from the fraternal relationship it’s the world that Monette imagines that really, really works. For starters, she does something which could be corny and sad, but which manages to make work: her world is tantalisingly close to ‘the real world,’ with linguistic analogues just nearly making sense… but which then skip away from whatever French or Spanish or maybe Latin word you thought it was meant to resemble, with a hint at meaning but well and truly going its own way (homosexual relationships described as being about tarquins and martyrs… Cabalines, the Curia, Troia, the Empyrean…). This could have been disastrous. Instead, it is charming and elusive and adds possible depths that are enchanting as you try to chase them down. Frustrating sometimes, but with a come-hither look nonetheless. (Much of the narrative revolves around sex.) And then there’s the world of the Mirador, home of Felix and the centre of the first three novels (although much of the stories themselves are set elsewhere, the Mirador is the heart of the narrative). It’s a brutal and unpleasant place. So is the city around the Mirador. The thing I loved most about the fourth novel in particular is that although Felix and Mildmay have journeyed a long way from the Mirador before, it’s in this novel that the old-fashioned-ness of that place is placed in stark contrast against a city that – in the same world – is recognisably modern. After spending three novels thinking the Mirador was brutal but normal for this world, this contrast made me question everything that has come before by showing it in an entirely new light. Without compromising any of the narrative or world-building that has come before. Sarah Monette: brilliant.

This is not a happy series. Bad things happen. To men and women and if there are kittens, to kittens. Characters experience grief and loss and pain, they are cruelly treated and wrongfully accused and it’s just generally bad for pretty much everyone at different points. And sometimes this is pretty heavy going, as a reader. But there are good bits, too, not least of which is Mildmay’s sardonic, evil wit; he skewers the egos and shrugs off delicacy and is brutally honest. But other than that… there is also hope. There are good relationships – which are sometimes screwed up, yes, but they do exist. There are positive things that can be done, even in the midst of madness, and light never entirely abandons this world that I imagine as being lit (within the Mirador at least) entirely by smokey candles and never ever by the sun. (This is not in the least upheld by textual evidence, but it’s the vibe of the thing, man. It’s always night there. Or at least overcast.)

It’s not widely available – I got my copies from Better World Books – but if you’re keen to read fantasy with brilliantly realised magic and complex relationships, this is a pretty good bet.

Galactic Suburbia 124

An all culture consumed special (with a little awards chat just for old time’s sake). You can get us from iTunes or at Galactic Suburbia.

Hugo Awards update – how we voted. If you’re voting, get in before the eleventh hour!

World Fantasy Awards: Aussies on the ballot.

What Culture Have we Consumed?

Alisa: The Almighty Johnsons; Wayward Pines

Alex: Arrow season 1; Beauty, Sheri S Tepper; Poseidon’s Wake, Alastair Reynolds; Of Noble Family, Mary Robinette Kowal

Tansy: Uncanny Magazine No. 5: “Midnight Hour” by Mary Robinette Kowal, “Woman at Exhibition” by E. Lily Yu, “Ghost Champagne” by Charlie Jane Anders, “Catcall” by Delilah S Dawson, Natalie Luhrs “Ethics of Reviewing”. Black Canary #1. Glitch.

In August we will be reading:
James Tiptree Jr: The Double Life of Alice Sheldon, Julie Phillips
“Houston, Houston Do You Read?” and “Your Faces, O my Sisters, your Faces filled of Light!” by James Tiptree Jr.

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 Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet

This book was provided to me by the publisher at no cost.

This book was… entirely adequate.

Hmm. Faint praise much?

UnknownI really wasn’t sure that I would get through it, after the first fifty or so pages. And to be honest I could easily have given it up. But I thought I’d keep going, just in case… and it didn’t get worse, but it also didn’t improve. It pretty much went where I expected.

This is a story sent some ways into the future, where humanity has joined the an interspecies UN-equivalent and got themselves travelling and trading and all those sorts of things. Our Heroes are on a little spaceship that does tunnelling – the way this universe gets around the no-FTL rule (like a wormhole or tesseract basically; or like Stargat Universe?). It is, of course, a multi-species crew, and when they take a fairly major job that requires them to travel through normal space for a long time they go visiting all sorts of other species. So it ends up being a Grand Tour sort of novel.

The good: it’s well enough written. That is, I didn’t roll my eyes at many metaphors, and I didn’t get too impatient waiting for things to happen. It’s a fairly positive outlook on interspecies cooperation (sometimes more than just cooperation, eh? Eh? Nudge nudge), although not entirely positive as you would expect. I was intrigued by the notion of a human Exodus, and what that might mean for human psychology.

The indifferent: there’s a lot of info-dumping. I am not an author so I don’t know how those things could be done better, but I do think they could be. (And this from someone who adores the info dumps in books like 2312).

Almost every character on the ship had Something To Work Through, and while I appreciated the effort to make them all individual it also got a bit dull: time to explore Ashby! Done with him, time to explore Sissik! OK, time to give Rosemary her moment of angst! … and then they were fixed, and their angst didn’t seem to keep bothering them (or in the case of those who had to wait til last, they were fine – fine – fine – BAM THE WORLD IS ENDING).

The title refers to the job the crew have undertaken. They get there with 70 pages left in the novel. This shows you just how (un)important the job is in the overall story. It kinda bugged me. Maybe this is to be expected, given the title, but I still thought that the crew’s job would feature more than their interpersonal/intrapersonal issues.

It’s an easy read, the characters are varied enough not to get too annoying, and there’s an attempt to deal with some interesting issues (interspecies relationships, the rights of AIs and clones, who gets to join the UN, etc). It just wasn’t a book that lit my fires.

Of Noble Family

Spoilers for the previous four books, I guess (first, second, third, fourth).

Things I love about this series:
It’s about married people being in love, even after being married for a few years. They even still have sex. With each other. Willingly.
It’s about married people having issues and problems – with one another and with the world – and, in general, working them out together.
The magic is really delightful and intriguing.
Kowal confronts relevant issues of the time in both a 19th century and a 21st century way.
Jane is just so AWESOME.

UnknownIn this, the final (sigh) novel of the Glamourist Histories, Vincent is forced once again to confront his family background, and come to terms with it more than previously. He does so in Antigua, whence his father had fled some time ago… to his sugar cane plantation, and thus his slaves. Vincent and Jane travel to Antigua, and Kowal tackles the delicate and problematic issue of how to talk about slaves and slavery in an acceptable, humane, and true-to-19th-and-21st-century ideas way. Overall, I think she manages ell.

Jane was fairly well developed in the first book, as the main point of view character. She has changed and matured over the series, but it hasn’t been a surprising exploration of her character; our understanding has deepened, not changed. Vincent, however – his character has really been the focus, and continues to be in this book. And I think this makes sense, since it’s a lot about a woman learning about her beloved; a beloved who has for years been reserved for the sake of survival, discovering that love means he doesn’t have to be that way, thus learning about Jane what the reader already knows.

On the issue of slavery… I’m going to assume that Kowal did her homework; I’ve trusted her in other areas and it seems right to do so here. The one aspect I was… somewhat dubious, or afraid, of, was the language of the enslaved Africans. Happily for my state of mind, she speaks very clearly in her Afterword about the efforts she went to in order to get the dialects ‘right’, so that relieved me. As did the pointed discussion from some the Africans themselves that they were from different nations – that they spoke different languages, had different traditions with magic, and so on, no matter that white eyes might see them all the same. It made my heart sing.

Which brings me to the other bit that I really loved: the discussion of magic, and the differences in tradition between a European model and the different African traditions; that the words and ideas you use to try and explain magic will then actually impact on your use of magic. This was so cool!

It’s not all lovely; there are some distinctly distressing and unpleasant moments. But this is, at heart, a romance. And it’s comforting to know that this is the sort of romance where the characters do get to live together in harmony, despite and sometimes because of the difficulties they have endured.

And this time, I picked the Doctor. Not the first time he was mentioned, but I did find him. I am a little smug about that.

I’m so sad that this is the end, but I respect the author’s decision not to keep dragging Jane and Vincent through increasingly unlikely adventures just to keep mad readers like me entertained. And it’s not like I won’t be rereading the stories in future.

Slow Bullets

Alastair Reynolds is one of those authors that I basically preorder as soon as I hear something new is coming out. It’s fair to say that I haven’t loved the more recent stuff as much as the Revelation Space stories (something I am sure authors just loathe hearing), but I still read it and (generally… Terminal World didn’t work for me overall) enjoy it.

UnknownSlow Bullets is a stand-alone novella about war and renewal, peace and struggle, time and identity and sheer bloody-minded determination.

Scur is a soldier, although she wasn’t meant to be. Peace has been brokered but when your war spans multiple solar systems, it’s hard to get the message out. Scur ends up in stasis… and when she wakes up, something is deeply, deeply wrong. For a start she’s told that most of the others on the ship are war criminals; for another, the planet out the window doesn’t look familiar. And the nav beacons, that are meant to help with interstellar flight, appear to be on the blink….

There’s a lot going on here, and I can’t help but feel it might have been better served either as a novel or a short story (maybe novelette). With the latter, you could cut out some of the side-plots and focus really tightly on Scur and her revenge-seeking (which I didn’t love partly because it got a bit lost with everything else going on, partly because I don’t love revenge stories). With a novel, there would of course be more scope to examine the reactions of different people to their predicament, and spend more time on the issues of reconciliation (the ship is populated with people from both sides of the war, and it’s unclear to all of them who is a war criminal and who is not) and rebuilding lives that must now be entirely re-thought (no one is going back to Kansas).

I really loved the idea that if your main database is being corrupted (accidentally but irredeemably), and you’ve got this enormous spaceship with blank walls all around you, there’s a really obvious way of recording your history and culture for posterity.

I didn’t adore it but I am happy to have read it.

Hugo Awards: the novellas

… and now we get a little controversial…

As mentioned previously, I decided to read all the Hugo nominations. Because.

The novellas: I am… more torn than I have been previously.

“Big Boys Don’t Cry,” Tom Kratman: an AI battle-ship type thing, who is gendered female because of her call sign, is nostalgic for the Good Old Days when she had real soldiers instead of drones (*cough* Leckie *cough*). She is especially nostalgic because she so liked to cook for them… ?!? I’m sure it’s meant to ‘humanise’ the AI, but STILL. Anyway. The rest of the novella is Maggie (the ship) reminiscing as she’s torn apart for scrap. Hard to keep timelines straight, harder still to care about the characters; not Hugo worthy.

“Flow,” Arlan Andrews: actually kinda clever; young man goes on a journey and dicovers that the world isn’t as he always assumed it was. Andrews has done a passable job of thinking through some of the issues of not knowing about the sun and moon (our hero lives under a perpetual cloud bank). But the story itself was nothing of interest, the attitude towards women was decades old, and I just couldn’t bring myself to care about any of the characters.

“One Bright Star to Guide Them,” John C Wright: I didn’t hate the premise (this is where I start getting controversial, FWIW). Yes it’s using CS Lewis and maybe some Susan Cooper; no it’s not especially original (there’s even a lion, for eye-rolling astonishment). It’s too long, and definitely drags in the middle. As a story, I don’t actually mind it. But is it worth a Hugo? Sometimes, pastiches or homages are. I don’t think this one lifts enough, or gets different and interesting enough, to fall into that category.

“Pale Realms of Shade,” John C Wright: again, I actually didn’t mind the premise (ooh, see me keep on being controversial!). Told from the perspective of a dead PI, it’s a ghost telling its own story about figuring out who done the deed and why. It’s a story of self-discovery and repentance – maybe a bit late when you’re dead, but oh well. I imagine that some readers got peeved at the religious aspects; this is not a problem for me. As with the previous story I found it quite passable… spoiled by this line: “There were no steeples in that future, no church bells, just thin, wailing cries from thin, ugly minarets.” Uh. No.

“The Plural of Helen of Troy,” John C Wright: ready for me to get actually controversial? I’m not sure about this one.

That’s right. I actually liked this story and would consider putting this on my ballot. But it was published by Castalia House, and that sound you just heard? That was my politics running smack bang into my reading enjoyment.

The story is told backwards; another PI, this time working in a city outside of time somehow – I’m generally quite capable of reading time travel stories without the paradoxes doing too much to my brain, as a rule, although I know that’s not possible for many readers. (What can I say, it’s a gift. Like reading Greg Egan science.) He’s contracted to help a man whose girlfriend (?) is apparently going to be attacked by someone, and they have to stop it. Of course things get messier than that, and there are iterations and variations as the story progresses (…which means going backwards…). There are some neat moments – I was quite amused by the realisation of who the man and the ‘Helen’ were, and some funny enough moments of these people completely out of their times living together. Including Queequeg. QUEEQUEG LIVES.

Anyway. Now I have to figure out how to vote in the novellas and it HURTS. I’ve got a couple of weeks, right? I can figure it out in that time…

Hugo Awards: the novelettes

As I said in the last post, I decided to read the Hugo-nominated fiction because I wanted to be able to comment on their merit, as well as the politics.

The novelettes: no, no, no, no and no. Again, nothing worthy of a Hugo nomination in my opinion.

“Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust, Earth to Alluvium,” Gray Rinehart: I kinda liked the concept, but the characters were nothing and there was no fleshing out of consequences either physical or metaphysical. Could probably (can’t believe I’m saying this) make an interesting novel if some effort was put in to the characters, especially.

“Championship B’Tok,” Edward M Lerner: a somewhat interesting premise although not at all original. Some military speak, some boring characterisation.

“The Day the World Turned Upside Down,” Thomas Olde Heuvelt: I feel like this definitely owes something to “The Water that falls on you from nowhere” – which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it did win a Hugo after all, but it doesn’t make itself different enough. I didn’t like the main character, which isn’t a problem necessarily, although I think we are meant to sympathise and I just couldn’t do that. Better than the other nominees buuuuut still not award material.

“The Journeyman: In the Stone House,” Michael F Flynn: did not finish. Excruciating to try and read, characters utterly unappealing.

“The Triple Sun: A Golden Age Tale,” Rajnar Vajra: plucky young things manage not to get themselves killed or thrown out of the service by being obnoxiously cleverer than people who’ve been on the ground for some length of time. Weird aliens are weird and not developed enough.

Galactic Suburbia 123

In which classics, what classics, we’ll pick our own canon thanks, and reading Heinlein becomes less and less compulsory every year, so try not to worry about it. Actually, no books are compulsory. Read what you want to read. Book-shaming is the worst. Don’t do that. You can get us at iTunes or at Galactic Suburbia.

Introducing The Wimmin Pamphlet: serving you a diverse range of feminist thought since this fortnight.

Strange Horizons essay by Renay – Communities: Weight of History

Renay, we are with you! Anti-Impostor-Syndrome Reading and Life Support Group Is Go!

James Nicoll’s reviews of Women of Wonder, the Pamela Sargent books Tansy refers to as her SF education, highly recommended: 1 & 2

What Culture Have we Consumed?

Alisa: The 100 Season 1; Tiptree Bio, Julie Phillips, Sens8

Tansy: Rocket Talk Ep 53 on Spec Fic 14 & online writing in the spec fic scene, Loki: Agent of Asgard; Fresh Romance #1

Alex: Hugo fiction reading: short stories, novelettes, novellas, novels. OMG the decisions! The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison, The Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu, Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie.

Also New Horizons!!

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!

Hugo Awards: the short stories

I decided that I was going to read the Hugo-nominated fiction works despite the whole Rabid Puppies thing because for me, it seemed important that I have read them and be able to comment on their worth, as well as the politics around their nominations. I don’t expect everyone to agree with this stance; I’m not suggesting other people should do the same, or need to. This is very simply MY perspective.


The short stories.

No, no, no, no, and no.

In my opinion, none of these stories are worthy of a Hugo nomination.

“On a Spiritual Plain,” Lou Antonelli: I don’t mind the premise, of a world somehow able to keep part of a ‘soul’ after death. But the execution (…heh…) is just boring. A great big meh.

“The Parliament of Beasts and Birds,” John C Wright: an attempt to be the new CS Lewis? Gets a bit grandiose at points and quite eye-rolly at points and made me hope that other Christian writers could be a bit more subtle – either that or not try at all to be subtle and just come right out and examine ideas less circuitously (Wright does kinda get there in the end).

“A Single Samurai,” Steven Diamond: there is no story here.

“Totaled,” Kary English: interesting idea – a woman’s brain used after a car accident in an experiment – but no character development, no explanation for how or why this came about (that made sense, I mean), and only average prose.

“Turncoat,” Steve Rzasa: I didn’t loathe it. It’s still not Hugo material, but it’s an interesting enough take on the AI/ human / how you live together question. I can see why it speaks to some: it is after all basically two battle set-pieces with a wee bit of philosophising/ religious musing along the way. Competent… but not award-winning

The Goblin Emperor

… There’s going to be more, right?

UnknownThis is really not the sort of book I would have been likely to read immediately off my own bat. 15 years ago, perhaps, but I haven’t really read secondary world fantasy like this for ages… and not necessarily for a reason I can put my finger on, aside from I Like Spaceships More.

Still, it’s on the Hugo ballot in The Time Of Rabid Puppies, and a lot of people whose opinion I generally respect have raved about it, so I wasn’t too sad to be sitting down with it as part of my Read The Hugo Ballot binge.

And I really liked it.

This stills seems improbable to me. Lots of ‘thee’s and formal ‘you’s and so on – the sort of thing that sometimes makes me break my eyes in the rolling. It’s goblins and elves for… no reason I can see? The elves have non-human ears which you only know because they’re described as doing things like flattening when the person is annoyed, and goblins just seem to have darker skin and maybe grow bigger than elves? But goblins and elves do intermarry; Our Hero is a product of just such an (unhappy, arranged) alliance.

And it’s not like the book is startlingly original in its plot. Emperor and his sons all die together, leaving one nearly-forgotten son by aforementioned unhappy marriage to inherit the throne. There are political machinations, palace intrigues, quandaries over who to trust, questions over whether someone in such a position can have real friendships… y’know, the normal things that happen when an unlikely heir takes the throne. We’ve all been there.

And yet. And yet. It works. Much of this is down to Maia, Our Hero. He may be the forgotten heir but he’s not completely stupid; clueless at times but not a Garion figure; possessed of a brain and determination and a desire to do some things his own damn way, thank you very much. I’m reminded somewhat of the story I heard once about Queen Victoria: that when she was crowned (I think?), one of the first decisions she made was to sleep in her room by herself – without her mother – for the first time ever. Maia isn’t just led around by the nose. But neither is he super arrogant, thinking he can do anything he likes and deciding to do just that; nor is he super capable in an impossible period of time. Addison strikes a good balance of learning the ropes and being actually, like, capable.

I liked many of the other characters (Csevet for the win), and the variety of female characters is really nice. I like the honesty with which Addison confronts the issues of arranged marriages, and the different ways of thinking about things like duty and honour.

Basically, when I finished reading it (in one day), I wrote that opening sentence: there
is going to more, right?