By Diana Peterfreund
Sadly I did not love this book as much as I had hoped. Partly this is me, partly it is the book.
I had read the novella, Errant, so I thought I kinda knew what the story was going to be about. But Errant is set… I forget when, some time in the past. Rampant is not; it’s about a girl in modern America learning about unicorns. Which is fine, it was just a bit of a surprise. I had t read the blurb, deliberately; I didn’t want any spoilers since I figured it was going to be the sort of book I’d like anyway.
Killer unicorns? How can that not be awesome? That’s what it’s about, by the way. Unicorns are real and they hunt animals and people. Only certain people can hunt them in return. This is the learning-about-your-abilities book. If that’s your thing, feel free to ignore my whinging! Just go read it; it’s certainly enjoyable enough that I wouldn’t dissuade potential readers automatically.
Anyway, what I really had not expected was how much the book would be focussed in sex. Not having it, how people feel about you if you do or don’t, etc (do American teens really feel pressured to have sex before they leave high school??). It does make sense, given that Peterfreund has kept the virginity aspect for her unicorn hunters, but… it felt like it got in the way of what I was expecting, which was learning about unicorn hunting and dealing with that aspect of your nature. Which, yes, virginity is part of that. But there was a lot of going on dates and agonising which I guess just isn’t what I was interested in reading.
So I’m willing to agree that in that aspect, definitely a problem of my expectations. And I did like the discussion around rape, attitudes towards and reactions to, although the victim seemed to deal with it faster than I would expect. (Not that I want intense victiming either, necessarily.)
On the book’s side, I felt that the plot went a bit too fast sometimes; fast enough that things got a bit improbable (yes yes, around the killer unicorns bits) and too convenient. In the characters I especially found Astrid’s mother a bit much; a bit ridiculous.
For all its faults I will definitely read the sequel, Ascendant, at some point.
This book is absolutely bonkers. Mad. And completely wonderful.
This was Tiptree’s first novel, but naturally enough many of the concerns and interests of his short stories are present here as well. I am so sad that he did not write more novels; this made me so happy, as did Brightness Falls from the Air, that I do wonder what else could have come from that amazing brain.
Let’s start by talking about the authorial situation and get that out of the way. This was published in 1978. Tiptree had been revealed as Alice Sheldon at the end of 1976. I was surprised therefore to discover that the brief bio in the end flap (oh hard backs I really do love you) makes no mention of him being her, although it does acknowledge Tiptree as a pseudonym. But I guess that pre internet, how are people going to know about the identity? Via Locus maybe, and fanzines, and word of mouth. Tiptree was not such a big deal that the New York Times was going to run an expose. Presumably therefor with this publication your more casual, less crazy SF fans aren’t going to know who Tiptree ‘really’ is – and Tiptree is enough of a name (… and male…?) to make it worth keeping the pseudonym. But THEN I turned to the back and the back cover image is Sheldon! Now I’ve seen the pic before and it’s quite obvious to me who this is; but others have suggested that this could, actually, be an ambiguously gendered person. I’m not entirely convinced. But anyway, there’s that.
Now, to plot. I’m going to be entirely spoilery because I really want to think about what Tiptree is doing here.
I felt like a traitor giving this book only three stars on Goodreads. But it has to be said that I don’t feel the anthology lived up to what it was setting out to do.Does that make me a heretic? Possibly.
In the introduction, Susan Janice Anderson discusses how hard a lot of people said they found the topic. That they had to invent an entirely new society in order to talk about men and women being actually equal (to which in my head I say, duh; you’re writing SF aren’t you? Maybe that’s a bit harsh). It was very interesting reading about what they wanted to avoid (female monsters), and how hard it was to find models of what they did want. The Dispossessed and “When it changed” were of course mentioned.
This was provided to me by the publisher.
This is not a straightforward novel. The plot is not linear, the characters are slippery, and so is the language sometimes. But it is engaging and haunting and (much as its trite to say) challenging.
1. The plot is not linear. The focal character, Demane, sometimes has flashbacks to his past experiences – and sometimes to the experiences of other people, and sometimes he’s simply reflecting on history. It’s not always clear when this is happening, which I think is a stylistic choice; it took me a little while to understand when that was happening, but once I left myself go with the flow it usually made sense. The only frustrating thing by the end of it was that I really, really wanted to know more about Demane’s history and that of the world he lives in, with its Towers and demigods gods who have gone back to the stars…
2. The characters are slippery: this is somewhat related to the lack of narrative linearity (did I mention this isn’t a problem? It’s not a problem, as long as you don’t mind having to work a bit). Demane is definitely not straightforward – he’s got one mammoth backstory that only gets revealed in dribs and drabs, and that’s nothing on Captain, whose life is like a picture that’s entirely in shadow except for one tiny bit where one spotlight hits. Again, not a problem, but it does make it hard to explain what you’ve just read: “There’s this guy who works with a merchant caravan at the moment but he’s had this amazing life in the past, where he was kinda taught magic except it’s not magic, and in the present he’s trying to keep everyone around him alive…”
3. The language is slippery too. I’m not referring to the dialogue here, which is written very much in a spoken style (I know nothing about Wilson but I presume he’s thought long and hard about the use of the n-word; I can’t imagine Tor leaving that in a book without it being very deliberate and considered, either); dialogue doesn’t bother me. I think the elusiveness of the language often related to the non-linearity of the narrative actually. It took me a few pages to get the hang of it anyway, and once I was properly immersed it flowed beautifully.
I will look out for more work by Kai Ashante Wilson. Well recommended.
I feel conflicted about rating this on Goodreads. I’d like to make it 3.5 – I’m such a sucker for half marks; I guess I tend towards ambivalence? I dunno…
(see what I did there?)
The set-up is great, as I’ve come to expect from a Scott novel. In fact after I read the first few pages I sighed with happiness and wondered why it took me so long to get around to reading this – it’s been on my shelf for ages – since the writing is lovely and captivating and immediately immersive. So that’s a wonderful thing and the prose itself stays very readable. The plot, though… it feels like a very long build up to a very abrupt and somewhat unsatisfying conclusion. I was surprised, as I read, that there were increasingly few pages left to go and no sign of clima – oh, there it went! Blink and you just about miss it. It felt like Scott either got bored by the story and/or characters (I’m going with the latter), and just wanted out, or she’d been given a timeframe that meant she had to rush the conclusion. Perhaps that’s a disservice and she always intended it to work that way, but it didn’t work for me.
Anyway: the story has two different plots that end up entangled. In one, Ista lives on a station owned and run by the Night Sky Mine Company, and she’s learning to be a hypothecary – someone who deals with what we would call the virtual world. There are safe nets, controlled by companies and governments, and then there are the wildnets – where anything might develop. Programs are flora – basically immobile – or fauna; Scott has developed an awesome nomenclature that give teasing hints as to characteristics of these programs (chogets and hug-me-tights and walaroo…). That was the aspect that felt really familiar from other Scott novels and that playfulness is something I really enjoyed.
The second plot involves Justin and Tarasov, men of very different backgrounds trying to make their relationship work dirt-side. Tarasov works in policing and they end up getting involved in an investigation that leads them to the Night Sky Mine system, and meeting up with Ista, and discovering that they all have some common interests that they want investigated.
The virtual world aspect is intriguing; there are hints at how it developed and got away from strict human control, but nothing too definite. The other world-building aspect that is intriguing is how Scott imagines human society working; this is no utopia, although it’s not quite a dystopia either (so quite realistic then). Humanity, at least within the Federation systems, are born into quite distinct castes – Union, Management, Transport, probably a few others – and there are definite resentments towards the different groups; Union always feels hard done by and that they are always the bottom of the pile. Friendships across castes are difficult, and love even more so. And then Scott adds another group, which I think is absolutely true to human nature: the Travellers. People who reject the idea of being tied to a caste and a certain job and a certain place. The most extreme Travellers (the Orthodox) take a spiritual view of their place in society, while Reformed Travellers are in it for the movement and lack of stricture. I could definitely read more stories set in this world, exploring how the different groups interact.
In the end I certainly don’t regret reading the book. I am glad that it wasn’t the first of Scott’s books I read, because I probably wouldn’t have gone on to read others – and then I would have missed out on Trouble and Her Friends which is definitely one of my very favourite cyberpunk stories.
I received this as an ARC from the publisher.
Firstly, LOOK AT THAT COVER OH MY IT IS A THING OF BEAUTY.
Secondly, Margo Lanagan is right, as usual. This is a riveting read.
Mistress Gideon, the narrator, is not a nice person. She’s not a good person, either; she works for and wants the best for those she loves, and for that reason is a fierce and loyal friend… but she’s not nice. And she’s not good. She is terrible to her enemies.
Mistress Gideon has enemies because she is a witch. Those of her neighbours in Edda’s Meadow who know she is a witch don’t say anything, because it’s useful having a witch nearby. But when visitors come through with a bit too much curiosity… well. Curiosity can be unhealthy.
Slatter has written a – well, not a lovely story. There’s a bit too much ruthlessness and hands cut off for ‘lovely.’ But it is a fierce story and one that demands to be finished; it’s complex and surprising. Don’t expect an entirely happy ending. It takes the old story of witches being found out and burnt at the stake and makes it a far more dynamic tale, exploring motivations and cause and consequence and collateral damage.
What I liked most, in the end, is that this is a story focussed on women. Women who love and who hate and who survive and who hang on through sheer bloody-mindedness. There are brutal witches and resentful teenagers and flighty wives and despairing lovers and bitter sisters and the guilty, the grim and the determined. Some of the women are a number of those things at the same time. These women are complex and challenging and very very real.
Of Sorrow and Such will be out in October. You know you want to read it.
I don’t really remember when I started this. It might have been 2012, or 2013. You see, I’ve been reading it for about half an hour every fortnight of school time… and not quite every fortnight even then. So it’s taken me a while. And I feel somewhat bereft now that it’s finished. It was such a hefty, cosy friend every time I went into the library to set a good example by reading.
Yes, this was my first Heinlein. Yes it was deliberate; I’d heard it was his “liberal” book, and the concept intrigued me. Yes, I know there are people who are appalled by this. I did read the whole thing though, so it wasn’t that bad (… over a few years…).
Not having read other Heinlein I don’t really know how else he presents his politics. I’ve seen the move of Starship Troopers, but I think there’s some squabbling about whether he meant the novel to be quite as satirical as the movie ended up being? Anyway, from the perspective of a leftie in the 21st century, this doesn’t seem all that liberal in its politics. I mean, I guess it seems to be advocating a form of socialism, but I’m not sure how seriously anybody was meant to take that (although given how prevalent ‘grok’ is in certain circles… hmm). Of course if you take ‘liberal’ to mean ‘happy to talk about sex and have sex and I don’t believe in marriage to have sex’ then yes, it is liberal. Of course compared to modern books the sex scenes are positively chaste and I had to re-read some sections to understand what the fuss was about (ohhh he talked about them kissing but he meant they weren’t ONLY kissing…).
It’s a very long book to talk about the return of a human child to Earth, now a man, who has been raised by the inhabitants of Mars and has therefore quite a different way of understanding the world. He has no clue about human interactions and the ability to perform various mind-tricks like telekinesis and so on. There’s also a financial aspect since the way the law works he appears to be the owner of or ambassador from Mars, plus other technological side-benefits, which means that he is a multi-millionaire… all of these things naturally mean he has more enemies and would-be friends than he can deal with.
Interestingly the focus, I think, is not really on Mike, the Man from Mars. Nor is it on Jill, his nurse, at least not after the first bit. Instead the character who has really stuck with me is Jubal. Jubal almost seems to me how I imagine Heinlein to have been (and this is completely unfair since no one is born old): old, cranky, seen it all, cynical, bored by the world but still in love with it, impatient, garrulous, and desperate to do right by all those around him. Also the most amazing sense of entitlement. Jubal appears to have tried everything worthwhile and he runs a house that is at once a commune, a resort, and a demanding place of work. His obstinance and his love of his adoptive grandchildren, his bullying and arrogance matched with the fact that he uses his enormous brain for the good of those he loves – this, rather than Mike, seems to me to be the epitome of humanity.
Because in many ways I think Mike is meant to represent the best of humanity. But he’s a distant figure, for all he sleeps with every woman he gets close to as far as I can tell. He is unknowable. Interestingly he’s an inversion of the Great White Saviour trope, I think, because he’s doing humanity better than humanity but he IS human, just raised by a distant and unknowable people. I’m not sure that he’s being a better Martian than the Martians; we’re not given that info.
There are some appalling moments, especially about the women; this is not unexpected. The stuff about Fosterites was weird and a bit uncomfortable (but not nearly as weird as the bits about Foster himself!). The inclusion of a Muslim character surprised me, given the publication date… and the way he’s treated by those around him is simultaneously welcoming and also appalling.
I am glad I’ve read it. I’m not sure I would recommend it to anyone. Perhaps someone like me who is old enough to be cynical and hasn’t read any Heinlein before… as long as they’ve read enough other SF to know that it’s not all like this. Will I read any more Heinlein? I’m honestly not sure. There are so very many other books to read.
Something that might be of interest…
Guidelines for Science Fiction by Scientists
Editor: Mike Brotherton, PhD
Type of publication: Print, e-book
Publisher: Springer (Science and Fiction: http://www.springer.com/series/11657 )
Pay: Likely 1 cent/word plus a royalty share
Genre: science fiction
Word Length: up to 10k, 3k-8k preferred, plus bio and afterword (see below)
Deadline: January 31, 2016
Submissions and Queries: Email to firstname.lastname@example.org (pdf, doc, docx, rtf)
Who can submit: This anthology is open to “scientists” of all types, as long as that characterization can be fairly supported, and includes working researchers, retired scientists, those with science and technology degrees working in closely related fields,
and scientists who have turned full-time writers. If you’re uncertain if you qualify, ask. We are looking to meet reader expectations given our title, and will provide bios describing each authors scientific background. We are open to previously unpublished fiction writers. Collaborations between scientists and non-scientist co-authors are welcome as well.
What kind of stories: We are looking for entertaining, well-written short stories in which the science plays a central role, from fundamental concepts to cutting edge-speculation. Scientist characters and scientific thinking are welcome, but not necessary. Our goal is a balanced volume, ideally covering multiple disciplines such as physics, astronomy, biology, chemistry, computer science, geology, planetary science, robotics, etc., without being focused too heavily in only one or two areas. Subjects within engineering, the social sciences, and mathematics are also welcome if approached from a scientific perspective. Show us what’s fascinating, exciting, or important about science. Bring us a sense of wonder. Share what it is to think like a scientist.
Inspire us to want to support science. Point out the dangers and responsibility ever increasing knowledge brings. Write a story that puts the science in science fiction.
Afterwords: Each submission should include an explanation and discussion of the relevant scientific concepts used in the story, up to about 1000 words. Afterwords can include the inspiration for the story, relevant mathematics, citations to the scientific
literature, or detailed explanations that can potentially educate as well as enlighten.
Yes, that Archer’s Goon.
I really do not understand how I missed Diana Wynne Jones as a child. It’s not like I was too old for her stuff when it was coming out. It’s not like there weren’t libraries in my town. There were even bookshops! … but there it is. I didn’t read my first Jones until a couple of years ago – a Chrestomanci – and I’ve been hearing about Archer’s Goon for ages. And now I’ve finally read it.
Yes, it is magnificent. Yes, I loved it. Yes, I will be foisting it onto every young person when I think they’re not quite ready for it.
If, like me, you haven’t read it – well, just do so. It’s about a family whose house gets gently invaded by a very large man with a very small head who insists that Dad has to write 2000 words, Or Else. And things go on from there with discovering that the town really does not run the way they thought it did. Which naturally leads to Adventures. And those adventures were genuinely absorbing and often unexpected and always wonderfully written.
So what did I really like?
Firstly, the family situation. The adventures centre on the son, Howard, but Mum and Dad are absolutely present and important and relevant. I love the family dynamics, actually; that Mum and Dad are so different, Dad is so magnificently obstinate and Mum is wonderfully competent; that they have a raging row which does not result in them considering divorce; that they complement one another and generally work together. And then there’s Awful. Seriously a family who nickname their daughter Awful and still go out of their way to make sure she’s ok – this family is so REAL. I love them.
I love the Goon. When people were talking about the book I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what the title meant. Clearly goon can mean henchman, but it didn’t seem to fit here; then there’s the Aussie slang term for cheap wine, and that really didn’t seem to fit… so I was lost. Discovering that actually it did mean henchman was a surprise, but made sense once I realised that Archer was of course a person. Anyway, I liked the Goon a lot. Especially his dialogue.
And I liked the plot. I loved that Jones did not explain absolutely everything about Archer’s family and their place in the town; you just need to accept that this is what Howard and his family know, so of course it’s what the reader knows. We regularly deal with events that we don’t have complete context for, so why must it be different in a novel? Going around visiting the different members of the family to investigate what’s going on is of course a familiar trope; it reminded me of Garth Nix’s Keys to the Kingdom series (which of course is a series, not a stand-alone, something else which is a bit different in Jones), amongst others. There’s nothing wrong with using this trope, of course – it’s used so often because it does let the author show you stuff about the world and reveal the plot in bits and pieces. And Jones does it so well.
Finally, in looking around for a picture of the cover, I discovered that it was a TV show – which I vaguely remember someone talking about at some stage. Is it wrong that I immediately got the Round the Twist theme song in my head? (Roger Lloyd Pack as Dad is SHEER BRILLIANCE.)
In which other women are magnificent on the Internet, Fangirls are happy, and something mysterious is happening in Night Vale. You can get us from iTunes or at Galactic Suburbia.
What’s New on the Internet
Nicola Griffith crunches some data about book bias between winners & shortlists
Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s Women and SF blog, and the Vonda McIntyre Starfarers post in particular
Kate Elliott on Diversity Panels: Where Next?
What Culture Have we Consumed?
Alisa: Fangirl Happy Hour Podcast
Alex: Night Vale; Seanan McGuire, Every Heart A Doorway; Catherynne Valente, The Girl who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of her own Making
Tansy: Court of Fives by Kate Elliott, Letters to Tiptree
You can buy Tansy’s murder mystery Drowned Vanilla in ebook now!
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