Monthly Archives: February, 2016

Galactic Suburbia 137

yttoldIn which we welcome a new member of the Galactic Suburbia: Next Gen, and embrace the awards season.

Baby News: Happy birth to future feminist awesome little dude Samuel, and congrats to his parents, Alisa & Chris as well as newly minted big sister Mack!

Nebula ballot.

Aurealis shortlist

Ditmars shortlist

Norma! Shortlist.

Mark Oshiro, ConQuest & the whiteness of cons/fan spaces
Mark Does Stuff Etc.
Mark’s original post
Mark’s follow up
Stephanie Lai at No Award on Taking Up Room in Con Spaces

(also Ben and Han Solo at home)


Alex: Finished Molly. Triton, Samuel Delany; Wicked + Divine; Illuminae, Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff.

Tansy: Molly also, Gentleman Jole & the Red Queen by Lois McMaster Bujold, Marvel Avengers Academy, Gilmore Girls, Buffy Rewatch with Daughter!!!

Skype number: 03 90164171 (within Australia) +613 90164171 (from overseas)

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 Romanovs

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

This book is a physical example of how hard it is to do complete histories of stuff from much before the 18th, even really 19th, century. Of the 650-odd pages, the last half covers less than the last century of the Romanov dynasty (which started in 1613 and went to 1918). Not because Michael or Peter the Great or Catherine the Great did less stuff, but because there’s less stuff firmly attested. Or attested at all. Whereas there are heaps of diaries and letters and non-Russian people talking about the goings-on certainly around Napoleon, and then even more so afterwards with the various power struggles, the Crimea, and then into the 20th century.

Anyway: this book is, as the name suggests, a biography of a dynasty. As with any biography there’s a certain frisson in knowing how everything ends – in this case, in a damp cellar with gunshots. I’ve done a fair bit of reading around the end of the dynasty (this bio of Alexander Kerensky was great, and I also read a bio of Nicholas and Alexandra recently), and I know names like Catherine the Great (it’s always weird to make connections like she’s active during the French Revolution), but I didn’t really know how it all connected. The answer is with blood, and sweat, and more blood, and a lot of trial and tribulation. Then more blood.

I was intrigued by, and quite liked, the format of the book. It’s divided into Acts: The Rise, The Apogee, The Decline. Each Act is divided into scenes, like The All-Drunken Synod and The Golden Age and Colossus, where the names are intended to reflect the individual Tsar (or, occasionally, Tsarina) who is the focus. It’s not quite a chapter per Tsar, in the earlier half, but it comes close. Additionally there’s a map early on showing the extent of the Romanov empire at different times, and each Act opens with a family tree, while each scene opens with a cast list – family, courtiers, other hangers-on. Which is a good thing because if I learnt nothing else I learnt:

  1. By golly there’s a lot of people with the same name in Russia over this period. I’m not just talking about the number of men called Alexander or Nicholas – Montefiore’s use of nicknames was a lifesaver – but the surnames! There’s like three important families! For three hundred years! … which also tells you something about the dynasty and who was important of course.
  2. If I thought the English royal family had a complicated family tree, I was kidding myself. The Romanovs are incredibly hard to follow – partly from marrying across generations, occasionally, but also with cousins coming and going and multiples wives and WHOA. I just gave up eventually.

There’s also quite a few pictures, in four different sets across the book, showing portraits and architecture and such things. I love that part of a good history book.

Other things I learnt:

  1. There were a surprising number of important women. Catherine I had acted as empress even before Catherine II reigned so superbly, and Anna was between both of them and Elizaveta, while Sophia was ‘Sovereign Lady’ for a while in the late 1600s and another Anna was briefly regent.
  2. Did I mention the blood? There was a lot of blood spilt by and for this dynasty. Like, a lot. Even if you don’t count the Napoleonic Wars (which were EPIC) and then World War I, of course, there was a LOT of fighting. Some of the blood was even Romanov blood… looking at you, Peter III, and all you would-be usurpers.
  3. There was a lot of infidelity. Two of my favourite picture captions are one depicting “A rare happy marriage” between Nicholas I and his Prussian wife Mouffy (this is  another thing: the nicknames), while immediately below is a picture of Varenka Nelidova, “the beauty of Nicholas I’s court,” whom “he visited twice daily” because she was his favourite mistress. Not just mistress; favourite mistress. These Romanovs, they could not keep their pants on.
  4. How German the Romanovs were. So many princesses came from the German principalities – Hesse-Darmstadt, Wurttemberg, Holstein-Gottorp and so on – I’m frankly amazed that some more-Russian types didn’t do some maths and throw them over on account of not being very Russian. I guess that’s partly what Catherine II did, to her husband Peter III – where SHE is the formerly German princess and HE is acting all “I wish I were Prussian.”
  5. Napoleon was a cad. So were many of the Tsars.

The one thing that really bugged me was the use of footnotes. I want a history book to have copious endnotes where sources are detailed – this reassures me that the author really has done their research. When these are presented as footnotes, it clutters up the page too much. When the author uses endnotes for sources and footnotes for extra stuff that didn’t quite fit into their narrative, well, I’m largely ok with that – if it’s done well. Here it felt like there were footnotes on almost every other pages, and the thing that MOST annoyed me was that the symbol was almost never at the end of the sentence. Which for someone like me meant I was breaking in the middle of a sentence to go read a footnote that WASN’T ALWAYS ACTUALLY RELEVANT. I mean, what even is that about? By the second half I was basically training myself away from this compulsion and at least waiting to the end of the sentence, so that I wasn’t wasting time going back and re-reading the whole sentence. I’m still very bemused by a bunch of those footnotes because I don’t know why they were included, except to imagine Montefiore was just so excited by the fact that he wanted to include it.

While there were a few other stylistic tics that occasionally annoyed me, there was nothing bad enough to prevent me from reading this pretty steadily and basically enjoying the whole book. It’s a big book, but it doesn’t require much in the way of prior knowledge, so if you want an overview of Russian political history from 1613 to 1918 this is a pretty good place to get it. It’s also got violence and sex. Quite a lot of both. And some comparisons with modern Russian politics that gave me pause, too.


This book was provided by the publisher at no cost.

images.jpegMy big problem in writing this review will be making sure it makes sense and isn’t just full of incoherent hand-waving. Here area a few initial points that will establish my position:

a) I’m really glad I got to read this before finalising (coughstartingcough) my Hugo nominations.

b) Because I got old, this is the first book in ages that I’ve stayed up past midnight to finish (18yo me is shaking her head in disappointment). Letting me finish it in a day (although not a sitting).

c) When I read Illuminae, I was immensely pleased with the found-footage style, but thought I wouldn’t want it to become TOO common. And then I read this. And now: I’m happy for Catherynne Valente* to use any damn style she likes.

So. This book.

This book is wonderful.

The New York Times describes it as “a sleek rocket ship of a novel swaddled in ArtDeco decadence.” That’s pretty apt.

The overview: set in an alternate universe where the solar system’s planets are all inhabitable, and where interplanetary travel kicked off even before the Wright brothers were doing their thing in our universe, the twentieth century has developed rather differently from ours. The focus is on the film industry, but there are tantalising glimpses into politics as well (like a reference to the Tsar in the 1940s). Anyway, the film industry has mostly developed on the Moon, and it’s a mostly silent industry, because of issues over paying for the rights to sound technology. One of the focal characters, Severin, has grown up with a director-father and eventually goes into the industry herself… and something happened when she’s shooting on location.

That really doesn’t do the novel justice, of course. The story doesn’t develop in a linear manner; it starts at the end and jumps all over the place, gradually filling in gaps. Some of the ‘footage’ comes from Severin’s childhood, when her father filmed her; some from the films of Severin herself, or her father. Some of the documents are in the form of diaries, or gossip columns. There are even ads. And all of it comes together, ultimately, to describe a rich and intriguing solar system, full of the sorts of people in ours – good and bad, selfish and selfless, looking for glory or love. They’re just further apart, being on different planets. And there’s a mystery that just keeps getting deeper and deeper and draws you further in and it’s just, well, radiant.

The story is excellent. But Valente is doing more than telling a luscious story. She’s interrogating ideas of reality and of memory and truth. After all, are you sure that those memories of your third birthday are your memories, or are they a patchwork made from photos and maybe footage and family stories? And if the latter is true, does it matter? What is reality, when it’s mediated through a lens? But then, what is story-telling but putting words to fragmented memories and trying to make sense of the world – as Valente, of course, is doing here.


I love the worlds that Valente has created, with the names of towns and features on the different planets relating to different godly versions of the planet’s namesake. I love that each has a different personality, reflecting in part which nation has settled there but also developing separately – and that despite this being a largely human-friendly system, there are still issues of colonial attitudes and how to feed everyone.

I love the prose.

I half-want a huge sprawling set of stories set in this universe, but at the same time I want this one beautiful object to exist in pristine serenity all by itself.


Other books this reminded me of: Christopher Priest’s The Islanders because of the way the plot is gradually unveiled. Every story ever set on a tropical Venus. Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2312 because of the grand tour of the solar system.


Do not go into this book expecting ‘hard science’; this is not Greg Egan (although there are certainly some similarities in vibe). Don’t read it if you want a linear narrative. Do read it if you want to be swept up on a joyous sometimes confusing but breathtaking ride.


*Wordpress thinks her name is Catherine Valence, which is interesting enough but just no. Seriously.


The Amazing Mrs Livesey

The publisher sent me this book at no cost.

29220952.jpgSo Ethel Swindells – whose name is hilarious in context – had something like forty aliases, eight official marriages, five divorces (… think about that for a moment…), four children, and a few stints in prison. She gained goods on credit, borrowed money, passed fraudulent cheques, stole from numerous people, and tried very hard to live the high life whenever possible. She apparently got to be about 20 stone (c. 125kg), which is relevant because it meant she could be identified on the street more easily than not when there were outstanding warrants; she could be incredibly friendly and lovely and persuasive; she left all of her children when they were young; she made up amazing stories about her life, borrowing liberally from movie stars she admired. Reading the story of her life is horrifying, because she hurt and near-ruined a lot of people, but also fascinating, to see how one person could leave quite such a trail of destruction.

It’s not quite tragedy + time = comedy, but it does come close.

However, I’m conflicted on this book.

On the one hand: holy smokes, a book about a woman! One who wasn’t noble and wasn’t a saint and isn’t generally famous today! That’s pretty awesome.

On the other hand I was disappointed to have a suspicion confirmed by the Author’s Note – at the end of the book: that this is written “as narrative or factional history, real people and actual events… woven together with fictitious character names, and imagined conversations and actions to bridge occasional gaps in the storyline or account for unnamed people.” It was pretty obvious that that must have been what Nicholls was doing, since there was no way that the levels of detail she represented could exist about such a person, but it was annoying to find this at the end of the book; felt a bit like misrepresentation, actually, which is hilarious in a book about a conwoman. I have little problem with reconstructed conversation – I’m not so naive – but I would have liked a note about what the book was trying to do, up front. Additionally there’s one moment where the narrative acknowledges an unnamed character, but that’s all; I’m left wondering if there were others.

Also there were some annoying typos, which aren’t the fault of the story but always grate on me.

If you’re interested in semi-ordinary life in Britain and Australia during and between the world wars, this gives something of a glimpse. It’s not the best written book in the world, but it’s a fast read and it’s generally engaging and Mrs Livesey (… etc…) was clearly quite something.


Unknown.jpegI’ve been meaning to read this book for ages… like since it came out. Heh.

When I bought it, the sales assistant was very pleased for me. She warned me that she’d got to 200 pages, worried that she wasn’t enjoying it, gave it another 50 pages… and then finished it at like 3am the next morning. So it was good to know that at least one other person found it a bit hard going and then BANG it got better.

That’s kinda how I found it too.

The overview: this is written in a ‘found footage’ format – emails, reconstructed IM chat, reports, etc. It’s reconstructing the events which have happened over the last twelve months from the moment that a bunch of space ships suddenly opened fire on a colony, and just a few people manage to escape courtesy of a UTA (United Terran Authority) ship that happened to be nearby. The focus is Kady Grant and her ex-boyfriend Ezra, whom she helps to escape because dude, she’s not that cold.

As I alluded to, there was definitely a bit of a dead patch for me; I was finding the interaction between Kady and Ezra a bit laboured. But it seriously picked up, and while I didn’t finish it in one sitting I came very close (about 80 pages one night, the rest the next day). I can completely understand why this has already been optioned for turning into a film.

I really liked the format. Although something I’ve very bad at is keeping an eye on the dates of things like emails or reports, it was an important thing to try and remember because checking the progress of events was sometimes vital, so I found myself going back a few pages sometimes to check on them. I loved the inclusion of things like the space ship specs, and there were a few sections where the authors and designers did some wonderful things with typography and format and it really added to the atmosphere and aesthetics. Giving the AI a very particular look – white type on black (except its direct speech, which was grey) was brilliant. Obviously this isn’t going to work for everyone, and it would be really dangerous to see this overdone – it would be so easy for it to become a cliche (maybe it already it is and I haven’t seen it? It’s still fresh for me) – but for now, I’m loving it.

As well as some fairly excellent action scenes, Kaufman and Kristoff also engage in some philosophical issues. The main one is that of AI sentience and how humanity might deal with it, deal with it going against their instruction/commands/ demands. It’s just slightly off-central – the plot doesn’t work without it but they could have had less introspection; I’m glad they didn’t, though, because for me it lifted the book just that bit into not-just-rolicking-fun.

Things I suspect Kaufman and Kristoff are fans of: Battlestar Galactica (the reboot); the Expanse series by James SA Corey; Arthur C Clarke’s 2001.


Firstly, on formatting: having all of the names of the people who died on Copernicus actually listed? Slayed me. And then followed by pictures of the same? Magnificent touch. And then when I started picking out names of my friends from the Australian spec fic scene? SHEER BRILLIANCE I LOVE YOU.

So then there’s the twist. Oh. My. I really didn’t expect it: that the AI, AIDAN, has been mimicking Ezra for simply hours to lure Kady over to the Alexander to fix the problem it has that only ‘meat’ can deal with? That’s magnificent. I loved it. Because I’d been getting a bit sick of those two – and indeed I’m not completely over my annoyance at their relationship, although the revelation of why they broke up made it slightly better for them to get back together – and to then discover it was actually a ploy… Kaufman and Kristoff, NICE WORK.

I still don’t entirely love Kady and Ezra as a couple. I think this is partly an issue with me being old and cynical, because I think “17? 18? really?” – which is mostly my problem. But I’m not going to not read the rest of this series. I fully intend to read the heck out of the next book, that’s for sure, and shove this book into the hands of whoever I can find that’s just about old enough to appreciate it.

Galactic Suburbia 136

355514-molly-meldrumIn which Alex and Tansy leap back into 2016 to talk Awards (it’s that season again!), comics, novellas, mysterious London novels and epic feminist canon.

Also, Molly Meldrum.

We’re on iTunes and over at Galactic Suburbia.
Locus Recommended Reading List.
BSFA Awards shortlist

Letters to Tiptree 99 cents! Bestseller on Amazon!

Tansy’s new podcast plug! Sheep Might Fly & Fake Geek Girl

Kickstarter for Ursula Le Guin documentary.

Nominating for Hugos (til end of March) don’t forget.

And Part 1 of the University of Oregon’s Tiptree Symposium, with Julie Phillips (Alex says: sorry not sorry, Tansy)


Tansy: Hellcat by Kate Leth & Brittney Williams, Archie by Mark Waid & Fiona Staples, The Honey Month by Amal El-Mohtar, The Beatriceid by Kate Elliott, “Binti” by Nnedi Okorafor, “The Heart is Eaten Last” by Kameron Hurley (note: Kameron says any new Patreon subscriber automatically gets access to all the stories she has posted so far including this one – bargain at as little as $1 a month!)

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, Susannah Clarke; Neverwhere, Neil Gaiman; The Just City, Jo Walton; Walk to the End of the World, Suzy McKee Charnas. MOLLY.

Skype number: 03 90164171 (within Australia) +613 90164171 (from overseas)

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!

Curtsies and Conspiracies

This is another hugely enjoyable book from Carriger. Once again our girl Sophronia is thrown into difficulties at her alleged finishing school. This time she has a lot more to do with the supernatural element of her world, especially the vampires. Of course there’s a lot of discussion of dresses and fashion and hats and reticules; she must figure out how to carry a knife without it being obvious, she must learn to bat her eyelids effectively, and how best to carry the implements required of a young lady in her position. I’m still surprised by how enjoyable I find yet another school focused book.

Most of this book is spent on the dirigible of Miss Geraldine’s finishing school. Some time is spent in classes, learning about domestic economy, poisoning, fainting and how to properly address vampires. But for Sophronia, much of her time is spent on the outside of the dirigible – climbing – as well as with the sooties down below and the dressing-as-a-boy Vieve. Interestingly the plot follows on from Etiquette and Espionage, in that the MacGuffin here is the same. Of course this time it’s not so much about finding the prototype as it is about figuring out what it can do,  how it will do it, and who will control it. There’s a surprising amount of politics for a book that seems at least on the outside as being solely can send with fashion. I guess that’s kind of the point; that the two don’t have to be mutually exclusive and anyone who is thinks they are is likely to underestimates graduates of Miss Geraldine’s finishing school.

One of the big differences in this book compared to the original is that there’s a lot more boys. I’m not really sure what I think about this; on the one hand it’s obviously an important skill for girls like Sophronia and Dimity to learn – that is, how to deal with difficult yet handsome young man. And of course reappearing in this book is Soap, certainly one of my favorite characters although somewhat problematic given that he’s black and his nickname is Soap. On the other hand I really enjoyed the almost exclusively female cast of the first book; the fact that boys were not necessary for the book to proceed, the fact that the girls were perfectly capable of getting themselves into and out of scrapes generally without any male assistance (or hindrance) at all. While some of the ways that Sophronia dealt with her would-be suitors was entertaining, I did find myself enjoying the sections of the plot that solely involves the girls generally more enjoyable.

I continue to be fascinated by the development of this world that Carriger initially developed for the Alexia books. And of course I remain desperately keen to find out how this series will intersect with the earlier one. One of those intersections is quite obvious but I have no doubts that Carriger will provide some further surprises in the rest of the series.

Walk to the End of the World

As with Le Guin’s The Word for World is Forest, if I had not known that this was highly regarded amongst feminist sf types I would have given this book up in the first couple of pages. Charnas is utterly devastating in her representation of men and their attitudes towards one another, and their attitudes towards women – “fems” – and towards history and power. While I don’t honestly think things would go this way, it still works as a horrifying critique and savage prophecy of the outcomes of patriarchy.
Charnas writes in a post-apocalyptic world where it seems that only a tiny proportion of white men, and fewer women, have survived to try and rebuild some sort of civilisation. And we know they are all white because there is specific mention of how excellent it is that one class of unmen – the Dirties – are gone, and in case the reader was really obtuse there’s a song enumerating just who the Dirties were. I cannot imagine reading this as a non-white person, given it was hard enough as a white woman. Anyway the destruction of the world has been blamed on the unmen – beasts, Dirties, and fems. The inclusion of beasts in this list is the most bizarre bit to me, because would men really have forgotten that animals were not human and had no connection to civilisation and therefore its destruction? I guess if there were no animals left and you were creating a story to apportion blame, you might. Anyway the Dirties apparently fought against the righteous actions of the true (white) men, and fems were witches who constantly fought against men because they’re agents of chaos and the void. 

Not content with this level of terrifying prediction, Charnas also suggests that patriarchy would (d)evolve into ruthless competition between, basically, sons and fathers. To the point of de-identifying familial ties so there can be no seeking out and killing progenitor/descendent; and to the point of reinterpreting Christianity as the Son defying the Father and being punished as a result. (Which is magnificent and disturbing and just whoa.) 

The story revolves around the quest of a son for his father – because he’s unique in knowing this information. At heart it’s a very simple and straightforward story but the world that Charnas has created for it is anything but. Through the quest the reader sees basically the entirety of the new civilisation, as well as how the various segments of society work and all the dangerous undercurrents that are at play. The four different points of view, giving very different perspectives, all work seamlessly to develop Charnas’ vision – which is really a warning. 

This book is brilliant and terrifying and not for the faint of heart not because of violence to persons but because of violence to notions of civility and humanity. Well, mine anyway; maybe I’m just a bleeding heart liberal. I can’t imagine what would happen if an MRA dude read it; I’d be rather scared they’d miss the irony.  

I actually read this as the first in the Radical Utopias omnibus. The next is The Female Man, and I’m not sure my brain can handle rereading that. The third is a Delany that I’m pretty sure I haven’t read, so I will certainly get to that soon.