I didn’t adore Rampant, the first book, but I was very curious to see where Peterfreund would take Astrid and her fellow unicorn-hunters. This sequel was a bit darker than the first, but overall has many of the same preoccupations: the difficulties of committing yourself to a life of killing and celibacy when you’re sixteen, the difficulties of being forced together with a bunch of girls you don’t know and have little in common with, occasionally having to deal with a crazy mother. So while I didn’t adore this one, either, I definitely don’t regret reading it.
The main surprise for me with the first book was (what felt like) its overwhelming interest in Astrid’s love life. By the end I could see why this was important – in terms of plot – and of course if Peterfreund was setting out to write a teen romance with killer unicorns then that’s totally cool; it’s just not what I had expected, which is my problem not hers. That continues into this book, naturally, with some neat (well, difficult actually) twists that meant it wasn’t simply rehashing the initial plot. Peterfreund is certainly not interested in making life easy for her characters. The romance didn’t work for me but I’m not a teenager, so maybe I’m too cynical.
I liked that Astrid got to experience life a bit outside of the Cloisters, and that she got to think through her difficulties with the whole idea of killing. There’s a nice, if simplistic, balance between Cory on the one side, all in favour of killing the lot, and Phil wanting to set up some sort of genuine conservation – and Astrid fitting between them. It did relieve me that Kill The Beast! didn’t become an overwhelming theme for the novel.
I’m surprised there’s no third book. … and I’ve just looked at Peeterfreund’s website which says that she’s hoping to write the third, Triumphant, “soon” (but I don’t know when the site was updated). I’ll probably end up reading it, although it’s not a preorder-in-a-mad-rush kinda thing.
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves
I knew nothing about this book before I started it, except that it was by Karen Joy Fowler and there had been a lot of buzz. I’m very glad about that. So if you like engaging stories with wonderful writing and a quirky narrative style (not hard to read but also not entirely linear), STOP READING THIS REVIEW and just go get a copy and read it. Seriously.
This is a simply fabulous novel and I want to thrust it into everyone’s hands. The only reason I didn’t quite read it in a day is that I was travelling, and I’m not great with reading in the car.
Books this one reminded me of: Justine Larbalestier’s LIAR (not for the content so much as the narrative style – revisiting events to give more detail, for example – and the question of truth); Jo Walton’s AMONG OTHERS (ugh, families, seriously what can you do); and, very vaguely because it’s a long time since I read it, Caroline McDonald’s SPEAKING TO MIRANDA (again, weird families).
This novel, in case it’s not obvious, is all about family. How the different members interact, how they remember things from their collective history, how they treat one another and why, the consequences of that treatment. Rosie’s family is not a happy one, and it’s clear right from the start that something difficult happened early in Rosie’s life. Fowler does an excellent job of slowly revealing bits and pieces of ‘truth’ – not so slowly as to get frustrating, but like an excellent meal of small plates: the next course arrives just at the right time, to match your appetite.
And really that’s all I want to say about the narrative, because as with LIAR this is a novel it’s best to approach utterly cold. It’s also like LIAR in its preoccupation with the idea of ‘truth’, although where for Larbalestier this was a question of deliberate truth-telling versus lying, Fowler is more interested in the question of truth and memory. Rosie acknowledges this complicating factor several time, and indeed confronts it head-on. When she’s recounting stories of her life as a five year old, from a distance of many years, she’s well aware of the problems inherent in such an undertaking. And indeed her memory of events is challenged several times by other members of her family, who provide a different perspective or more detail or entirely different versions of events – or recall events that she herself as forgotten. Rosie also muses on the perspective provided by various psychologists, often courtesy of her psychologist father, which also adds to the introspection inherent in writing a memoir.
This may make it sound like it’s a heavy, sombre book. It’s not at all. Fowler’s writing style makes it immensely engaging and page-turn-y – being required to eat dinner with my own family was quite irritating because it meant having to stop reading; seriously how unreasonable. The characters are complex and the story is tantalising and – why haven’t you read it yet?
Lament for the Afterlife
This book was sent to me by the author.
Lament for the Afterlife is not an easy book to read. Here are some times when you should not try to read it:
- When you want a straightforward, linear narrative.
- When you want likeable characters.
- When you don’t feel like reading about war and/or death.
- When you want to read about long-term, meaningful and loving relationships.
- When you don’t want to work at reading.
- When you just want clarity.
If you don’t fall into these categories, then you may want to approach Lament. Here are some things you need to be ready for:
- A mosaic novel. Chapters do not follow one another linearly: they are more like snapshots, or vignettes, of different points in time for different characters. Overall the story follows the experiences of Peytr, a young man conscripted for war, and almost half the story I would guess is focussed specifically on him over quite a stretch of time. But other chapters are connected to Peyt only tangentially, and some not at all.
- Unhappiness. Pretty much every character is unhappy. There’s a variety of reasons, and a variety of expressions, and a variety of consequences. Not a whole lot of resolution, though.
- Death. There’s a lot. The first half or so is firmly set within the context of war – and war that civilians actually experience; this is Sarajevo or Kabul for its inhabitants, not for the foreign soldiers. And then the second half is focussed on the aftermath of war, which isn’t much more pleasant.
- Uncertainty. Every single character experiences uncertainty, to a greater or lesser extent (will my son come home? Will I die today? Will I be safe at work?), and this is shared with the reader. The reader also gets their own share of uncertainty because Hannett leaves an enormous amount out. “Our side” are fighting the greys, and have been for ages, but… why? And who even are they? Our side also have things called wordwinds, clouds of words and fragments of thought that circle individuals’ heads… somehow? and they can be physically manipulated sometimes? Those are the big questions; there’s a lot of other tantalising questions that just don’t get addressed. I don’t require spoon-feeding from my books but I did sometimes feel a bit frustrated by the opacity of the world – partly because it made me feel like I’d missed something at some point.
- Lovely language. Hannett constructs simply beautiful sentences. Her prose is elegant and evocative and creates vibrant images – some of which are unpleasant, but they’re nonetheless powerful.
Lament for the Afterlife is set in a secondary world, but you really only know this thanks to the wordwinds; it could as easily be a post-apocalyptic world, actually, where these ‘winds have somehow developed. It’s one of those stories that feels science fictional, but aside from its setting I’m not sure I can pinpoint quite how, or why. Not that it matters – this is not a novel that is bound by generic conventions, or even playing with them. It just is. It’s not an easy novel to read; it’s not a particularly nice novel to read. It’s challenging and disturbing and sad. It’s very good.
Galactic Suburbia 134
In which we throw our remit out the window to talk about a year’s worth of non-SFF!
What’s New on the Internet
This year, the Tiptree Motherboard established the Tiptree Fellowship Program to seek out and support creators who are striving to complete new works and make their voices heard. By adding Fellows each year, this program will create a network of creators who can build connections, support each other, and find opportunities for collaboration.
First Tiptree Fellows: Walidah Imarisha and Elizabeth LaPensée.
You can donate to encourage these and other new creators – donate through PayPal — or you can mail a check to 680 66th Street, Oakland, CA 94609.
Kate Elliott on Fangirl Happy Hour
What Non-SFFH Culture Have we Consumed over the YEAR?
Alisa: The West Wing rewatch, Transparent S1 and 2, Billy and Billie S1, The Good Wife
Tansy: Leverage, Glee, Grace & Frankie, Please Like Me Season 3, Master of None
Alex: Spooks rewatch; Veronica Mars
Alisa: Star Wars: The Force Awakens (non-spoilery discussion mostly of seating, context and spoiler-avoiding)
Tansy: Musketeers! Footloose, A League of Their Own
Alex: Suffragette; Sound City
Alisa: Self publishing webinars (Mark Dawson, Nick Stephenson); Undisclosed, The SweetGeorgia Show
Tansy: The Tuesday Club
Alex: Radio Lab; new ones: Gastropod and Chat 10, Looks 3; Waleed Aly on Osher Günsberg Podcast
Tansy: Check, Please; Dumbing of Age
Tansy: A Few Right-Thinking Men, Sulari Gentill; The Suffragette Scandal, Courtney Milan; Castles Ever After: When A Scot Ties the Knot, by Tessa Dare
Alex: Andy Goldsworthy, Enclosure; Roger Crowley, Conquerors: How Portugal Forged the First Global Empire; Jan Morris, The World: Life and Travel 1950-2000
Skype number: 03 90164171 (within Australia) +613 90164171 (from overseas)
Please send feedback to us at firstname.lastname@example.org, 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 Devil You Know
This book was provided to me by the publisher at no cost.
In this novella, KJ Parker has taken the idea of Faust and puts his own spin on it. In most versions of that story, Faust makes a deal with the devil – in the person of Mephistopheles – whereby Faust gets all of his desires seen to and the devil gets his soul after some specified period of time. Classically, Faust panics at the end of the deal; of course the irony is that all Faust has to do to get out of the deal is to ask God for forgiveness and he’d be fine.
But this isn’t a review of Faust.
Saloninus is the greatest philosopher-scientist of his age, and possibly of all time. This is a secondary world, but Parker amuses himself by attributing numerous real-world achievements to Saloninus, I guess as a way of stressing how awesome Saloninus is. He makes a deal with… well, the being is never clearly identified as a demon, but that’s clearly the idea. Saloninus gets youth and twenty years of the demon being at his beck and call; he gives up his soul in return. Right from the start the demon is suspicious – why would such a man want to sell his soul for a mere twenty years? – and that’s what drives his(?) narrative throughout. Saloninus’ deal isn’t entirely clear.
One thing that got a bit annoying was the frequent switch in perspective, between the demon and the philosopher-scientist. In the version I read, an ARC to be sure, there wasn’t an easy way to tell the difference between narrators until, sometimes, a paragraph or more into the new section. Of course I got there, but there was more work involved than was necessary.
Overall, it was a fairly fun take on the idea of selling your soul.
The one real reservation I have is that the ending really didn’t work for me. I just wasn’t convinced by Saloninus’ motivation at all.
Forest of Memory
This book was provided to me by the publisher at no cost.
Mary Robinette Kowal takes the idea of memory and its fallibility as her central theme in this novella, and pairs it with the ever-fascinating ideas of narrative, and unreliable narrators, and their motivations.
Kowal’s narrator lives in a world of permanent connection, through her intelligent system, and a world of permanent life-casting – ideas that have a strong hold on the world of science fiction writing at the moment. I was strongly reminded of Ted Chiang’s awesome “The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling.” That story is a much more rigorous exploration of the same general themes, not least because it is much longer and because it pairs those themes with ideas connecting language and meaning and memory. The two work really nicely together.
Anyway, Katya is telling a story to persons unknown who have asked for the story of three days when she was offline. (The page before the story opens has this dedication: “For Jay Lake and Ken Scholes / Who asked me to tell them a story” – which is pretty amusing in context.) She is a dealer in Authenticities, meaning old stuff with wabi-sabi (a Japanese term, she explains, of something that witnesses and records the graceful decay of life), as well as Captures on the side – that is, she sells the record of her personal experiences. The difficulty she has, of course, is that for the three days she was offline she will need to rely on her own memories, rather than asking for a replay from her i-sys. She is super aware of the possibilities here of her own unreliability, reflecting on them and looping back on herself as she considers whether or not to trust herself. It’s a wonderfully constructed piece of worry.
There’s not a whole lot of action in the story, really, and it raises enormous questions about the world in which it’s set and the reasons for why someone wants Katya’s story. I rather hope that Kowal might consider writing more stories, or a novel, set in this world and further exploring the issues raised.
The Absconded Ambassador
This novella was provided to me by the publisher at no cost.
I haven’t read the first Genrenauts story, so there was a bit of a surprise in the backstory of one of the characters, but nothing game changing. Other than that, it’s a straightforward idea – especially if you’ve read the Jasper Fforde Thursday Next books, as I have (well most of them. They lost their appeal after about the fifth book): sometimes there are breaches in what’s happening in stories, or genres more broadly, and they need to be fixed before the ripples affect Earth Prime.
This story (and I think the first one too) are largely told from the point of view of a new officer – of course; it makes the storytelling so much easier. This time there’s a problem in the science fiction area, so off the crew go in the Firefly-esque mode to a Deep Space Nine-esque station, to figure out what’s going on.
I’m really happy with the theory here.
However, I wasn’t thrilled with the execution. I thought that the story forgot its genrenaut aspect too often and strayed into straight Science Fiction Action without commentary. There was some excellent commentary on the idea of the Action Hero and what that archetype is allowed to do, but that wasn’t nearly as dominant or as thoughtful as I had hoped. Additionally, it was completely unclear to me whether what was going on in the plot of the in-story story (like the play within the play) was actually a breach, and therefore a problem. This is queried once in the story itself, and I wondered whether this is an ongoing teasing thread throughout the series (there’s at least one story to come), but if that’s the case then it’s neither been set up strongly enough to be intriguing nor set up subtly enough to pack a real surprise at the eventual reveal.
For me, then, this is heavier on the promise than on the delivery.
It’s weird. I did my mammoth James SA Corey re-read specifically in order to read this and then… it took me a while to really get into it. Partly, I think that’s because it was jarring to go from the familiar to the not but with some familiarity; it kind of threw me. And then there’s the fact that most of this book is set on, or orbiting above, a planet. I mean, there’s been bits set on Earth before, and quite a lot within the inhabited asteroids, but – a planet? as the main setting for an Expanse novel? That’s just weird.
But, eventually I got there. And of course I’m glad I did because this, really, is the conclusion to the arc that started with Leviathan Wakes (… although I’ve just bought the fifth novel and there’s a sixth due next year, so I don’t really know what’s going to happen there).
As always, there are multiple narrators. The prologue starts with Bobbie Draper, which is mean because it meant she wouldn’t feature and I really like Bobbie. Anyway. The first chapter is Basia, and it took me a little while to recognise the name (and a rather obvious hint, actually): but this is Miller’s acquaintance from Eros, the one whose little boy was kidnapped at the same time as Mai. He’s been part of the first wave of people to head out through one of the gates that’s now opened to the galaxy; basically, they’re squatters. Which is mostly fine, since their planet has a nice store of lithium for digging up and then selling – but because of that lithium, there’s a corporate ship coming with offical Earth papers that say the planet is theirs for the mining. Of course, why should an Earth piece of paper make a difference? And so Basia gets caught up with the wrong people (saboteurs) for the right reasons (family and freedom). He has many difficult decisions to make over the course of the novel.
The second narrator is Elvi, a scientist who is coming to the new planet (whose name depends on which side you’re on) with the corporate ship because heck, wouldn’t you? Chance to check out (what should be) a pristine new environment? Of course things go wrong (see previous comment on Basia’s friends), but she does at least get to do some science. I wasn’t always happy with Elvi’s narrative; I’m particularly conflicted about the romantic aspects, because while I think I understand it, it did feel a bit like “oh a lady must feel romance” and that makes me sad. She does get to be a kickass scientist though, which I guess is a consolation.
Third is Havelock, and I am so embarrassed by how long it took me to figure out who this was. It wasn’t until there were really obvious comments about being an Earther and being part of Belter security that I realised: this was Miller’s partner, back in the day. The one he warned off when things were getting difficult for Earthers. So we have a marvellous set of call-backs to the first novel, here. I mostly liked Havelock, although his tendency to just follow and mirror what his leaders are doing got pretty old. I enjoyed the perspective he allowed, though – it did add a nice rounding to the story.
And fourthly, of course, what would an Expanse novel be without James Holden? Oh Jim. Seriously. This time, he’s involved precisely because of who he is: one of the most notorious men in the solar system, renowned for a disturbing sense of decency and fierce love of truth. Who better to negotiate between Belter squatters and an Earther corporation? BAHAHA.
Also, of course, Miller is still around and being annoying in Holden’s head. In fact, the artefact gets its own occasional appearance in the narration of the story…
Not quite as enjoyable as the previous novels, but still a really solid SF story… and the epilogue makes me rather excited for the fifth.
You can get Cibola Burn from Fishpond.