The Age of Genius
This book was sent to me by the publisher at no cost.
This was a really interesting book; I’m just not sure it’s entirely the book that AC Grayling thinks it is.
I adore the concept of exploring a century as a turning point; in fact for Grayling, the seventeenth century was “the epoch in the history of the human mind” (p3, his italics). Obviously other historians have disagreed, as he acknowledges, but even if there are strong arguments for other times – or even suggesting that such a claim is ridiculous – it nonetheless should make for an interesting book.
I supported this book through its Kickstarter campaign and I am so excited that it is finally here. You can pre-order now and get your own copy on May 30.
“People with disability already live in a post-apocalyptic world,” says Robert Hoge in his Introduction to this volume. The central character of every story in this anthology has some sort of disability or chronic illness – but the point of the story is not that. The point is people getting on with surviving the apocalypse. Some do it with more grace than others; some do it with a lot more swearing and crankiness (I’m not saying that’s bad; looking at you, Jane, by KL Evangelista). Some do it almost alone, others with a few people, still others with lots of people around (which can be good and bad). The apocalypses (apocalypi?) they face are also incredibly varied, from comets hitting the planet to various climate-related problems to aliens to disease to we-have-no-idea; the settings include Australia, New Zealand, the Netherlands, the moon, space, and indeterminate.
The first four stories give an excellent indication of what the anthology as a whole is like. Corinne Duyvis opens the anthology brilliantly with a story that includes a comet, refugees, spina bifida, food intolerances, teen stardom and adult condescension. “And The Rest of Us Wait” sets a really high bar. Next, Stephanie Gunn throws in “To Take into the Air My Quiet Breath” which combines cystic fibrosis, sisterhood, influenza, and taking desperate chances. Seanan McGuire serves up a story that somehow manages to combine being really quite cold and practical with moments of warmth; the protagonist has mild schizophrenia and autism, and not only does she have to deal with surviving a seriously bizarre problem with the rain but also one of the girls who used to tease her. No. Fair. And then Tansy Rayner Roberts does banter and romance with “Did We Break the End of the World”? Roberts somehow makes looting not seem quite so bad and THEN she does something REALLY unexpected at the end to actually explain her apocalypse which I should have seen it coming and totally did not.
So that’s the opening. A focus on teenagers, and I guess this could count as YA? But some of the protagonists in other stories are adults, so I don’t know what that does to the classification. At any rate I’d be happy to give it to mid-teens with an understanding that yes, there is some swearing, but as if that’s a problem. They should maybe skip “Spider-Silk, Strong as Steel” if arachnophobia is a problem, though.
Tsana Dolichva and Holly Kench have created an excellent anthology here. The fact that each protagonist has a disability or chronic illness isn’t quite beside the point, but it kind of is: that is, most of the time while reading the stories I wasn’t thinking “oh, poor blind/deaf/handless/whatever person!” I was thinking “I want to be with that person when doomsday comes down because they’ve got this survival thing down like nothing else.” Of course I’m not suggesting that these stories could or should have been written with able-bodied protags, or that the disabilities have been added in to be PC (which, remember, isn’t actually a bad thing). Instead what this anthology shows is that being diverse and inclusive isn’t bad for fiction. In fact it’s great for fiction. It’s an important reminder to (currently, mostly) able-bodied types like me that HELLO you are not the only people; and for people living with disability and illness this is of enormous importance, because it reminds them that (unlike what we see in many other books and films) they’re not automatically destined to die in the opening scenes of an apocalypse. They have stories and they’re important, like everybody else who’s not a straight white (able-bodied) man.
Accessing the Future
I supported this anthology through its IndieGogo campaign, because I support the idea of diverse voices in literature. I hope for the day where we can just have anthologies of science fiction that contain both able-bodied and disable-bodied characters throughout where the point is the character and their actions (this applies to gender, sexuality, colour, all the many ways in which people are diverse) but given that this is not yet that day, it’s great to see anthologies like this (and Twelfth Planet’s forthcoming Defying Doomsday) making the point that having spina bifida or being blind or autistic doesn’t prevent people from being, y’know, people. And therefore existing in the future.
Well, probably. One of the interesting questions raised in a few of these stories, and indeed by people in lots of contexts, is whether/how disability will exist in the future. Pregnant friends remind me of the testing that’s done to see whether the foetus is ‘normal’; there are implants and prosthetics… and many able-bodied/ perceived ‘normal’ people would see that doing away with disability (generally in the ‘fixing’ sense but I guess more sinisterly in the ‘getting rid of’ sense) is surely a good thing? Because ‘normal’. I’m not familiar with all the discussion around this, because I don’t inherently need to be, but I know that it’s an arena that needs to be seriously discussed. I think anthologies like this help to do that.
The stories here present people dealing with different sorts of disabilities – some physical, others mental, or emotional – and with different sorts of reactions: uncaring, wanting to ‘fix’, accepting. There are very different worlds, different points in the future, and different ways of dealing with the problems before the protagonists. In most cases the protag’s disability isn’t the point; it’s part of their character, of course, and sometimes it hinders them in their negotiating with the world, but there’s no fixation on the disability itself. Continue reading →
The Rebirth of Rapunzel
This book was given to me by the publisher at no cost.
I adored Kate Forsyth’s Bitter Greens a few years ago – a reimagining of the Rapunzel story, along with the story of one of its first tellers, Charlotte-Rose de Caumont de La Force (1650-1724). It’s a book of excruciating loveliness, whose three interleaved stories are told in heartbreaking detail and with great compassion.
But I’m not here to talk about that. If you haven’t read it – and even if you don’t think you like fairytale reimaginings – you really ought to go read it.
What The Rebirth of Rapunzel does is present Forsyth’s research into the story of Rapunzel – about the differences in versions, and the people who told them, along with what the story has meant, can mean, and what it shows us about fairytales in general. I think it’s just awesome that research like this can find a home; it’s so depressing when something you’ve spent many years on simply… disappears into a black hole. Forsyth has made her research very readable. I’m coming from a background of literary and historical criticism (I’ve read a couple of the books Forsyth refers to), but I’m pretty sure that such a background isn’t necessary to understand and appreciate Forsyth’s points. This isn’t academic-lite; it’s academic-approachable. Continue reading →
Galactic Suburbia 141
In which we stack up months of Culture Consumed into a glorious spiral tower of dubious structural integrity. You can get us from iTunes or at Galactic Suburbia
Alisa: Lois McMaster Bujold: Modern Master of Science Fiction, Edward James (and a bunch of Lois McMaster Bujold!)
Alex: Radiance, Catherynne M Valente
Tansy: The Winged Histories, Sofia Samatar (reviewed in the latest Cascadia Subduction Zone)
Alisa: Bitch Magazine & Popoganda podcast
Alex: Extra(ordinary) People, Joanna Russ
Tansy: Every Heart a Doorway, by Seanan McGuire IT’S A NOVELLA
Alex: Once Upon a Time season 1 & Alan Alda at the Press Club
Tansy: Agent Carter; yes all right, Orphan Black
(Tansy is now watching Orphan Black, alert the media! In other news, the silent producer has spoiled himself via the Galactic Suburbia Orphan Black Spoilerifics – you can too! Season One, Season Two)
Skype number: 03 90164171 (within Australia) +613 90164171 (from overseas)
Please send feedback to us at email@example.com, 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!
Consider the Fork
When I listened to the first episode of Gastropod, I immediately decided I needed to read Bee Wilson’s Consider the Fork. And now I have, and I was not disappointed.
To start with the writing: Wilson writes beautifully. Her prose is clear, occasionally whimsical, sensible, and altogether a delight to read. It’s not that often that I read 280 pages of history in just over a day, even when I’m on holidays. In fact at one point I tried to put it away because I was worried I would finish it too quickly (I was away from my bookshelf; I was feeling a bit irrational, ok?). Her love of food and history and cooking come through clearly; she mingles the occasional personal anecdote with what’s clearly broad-ranging research. But she also doesn’t get bogged down in the research – she’s not aiming to construct a thorough, blow by blow account of the development of cooking or food technology. She’s writing for an educated but non-professional audience and she does it really well.
The chapters are organised around probably the most important aspects of cooking and its technology: pots and pans; knives; fire; measuring; grinding (I admit this one surprised me a little); eating; ice; and the kitchen itself. In each chapter she gives some of the current thinking about where and if possible how the technology began (in some instances in the Palaeolithic, in others more recently), and then – depending on the objects – skims through the ancient world, the medieval, and the early modern.
My main quibble with the book is its European preponderance, but I do wonder whether I’m being overly sensitive about that. There’s a wonderful section about the Chinese knife, the tou; and a discussion about the difference in fork+knife vs chopsticks; some about the differences in wok cooking opposed to more European methods; and other mentions as well. I wonder if there’s more history done on this from a European perspective – or that’s translated into English anyway. Although if that’s the case I would have liked a mention of the dearth of literature.
Another small quibble is that sometimes her language implies that the changes in cooking technology were things that the population had just been waiting for. While that might be true for can openers (invented FIFTY YEARS after the invention of the tin, I kid you not), sometimes it grated a little: to whit: “At last, these people [the ancient Greeks] had discovered the joy of cooking with pots and pans” (12). I get what she means but it grated a little.
Anyway. A few gems include ideas for future ice cream experiments (burnt almond, orange flower water, cinnamon, apricot, quince; bitter cherry; muscat pear…), the history of the refrigerator and freezer and how they show differences between the English and Americans post-WW2, and developments from coal to gas to electricity in terms of stoves. Also the thing about the tin opener. SO WEIRD.
Overall this is a joyous book that I highly recommend if you’re into food and history, especially both at the same time. Her writing really is marvellous, you might learn something, and it re-inspired me to get into my kitchen and make something. (Which was annoying because I was on holidays, but whatevs.)
The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe
This book was sent to me by the publisher, at no cost.
A middle aged woman goes on an epic quest. You’ll want to be reading this in August when it’s released by Tor.com.
…no seriously, what more do you need to know?
Vellitt is a mathematics professor at the only women’s college in her city. Although it’s not really “her” city – it’s just where her youthful ramblings ended up taking her. Anyway one night she discovers that one of the students has left – run away with a boy – and not just any boy, but one from the waking world. Because Vellitt’s world is a dreaming world, and things are not the same there as they in the waking world of Earth. Thus begins Vellitt’s quest.
I was fascinated by the world building here. It’s not entirely original – there are other stories where people know that they live in a secondary world or an imagined world or a story – but this dreaming world with its heavy sky and ninety seven stars and changeable distances and multitude of cranky, vicious gods is beautifully realised. I could imagine many stories set here but actually, I rather hope that Johnson just leaves this as a stand-alone jewel.
Johnson says that this was an attempt to re-imagine a Lovecraft story she loved as a child but whose racism and lack of women was clearly problematic. The story is completely and thoroughly Vellitt’s. She reminisces about her experiences travelling the wide world as a young woman, about the people she met and skills she learned; but she’s not pining for her youth. She’s entirely comfortable with her black and silver hair and with the experience age has brought. Vellitt deals with all the problems cast her way – sometimes well, sometimes with help, and sometimes she’s left shaking with fear and revulsion. She’s determined and pragmatic and I really like her.
The Moon is a Harsh Mistress
This was sent to me by a Galactic Suburbia listener, when I mentioned that I had finished my first Robert Heinlein (Stranger in a Strange Land) only recently. Isn’t that awesome??
… apparently I should feel a bit bad about not loathing this. Ah well.
The short version is: I enjoyed it more than I anticipated that I would. I had zero knowledge of what the story was about before going in (except for the slight teaser from Jonathan Strahan describing Luna: New Moon as “The Moon is a Very, Very Harsh Mistress”), and given that it was published in 1966 by a man who has almost become synonymous with outdated ideas and views… yeh, I found it surprisingly readable.
Let me deal with the problems first and get them out of the way. Yes, it’s racist. The Chinese colonists and those on Earth are not given the same level of respect as the white colonists. I am in no way disregarding that; but I was expecting it. It’s like being able to tolerate – that is, not run away screaming from – such racism in James Bond movies. But I’m white; I have the advantage of not having to deal with that sort of crap every day. I can understand not wanting to wade through that to get to possible good bits. I am certainly not saying anyone has to read this.
Additionally, yes it’s sexist. Interestingly it’s not as sexist as I had expected; there are a couple of women who have active and interesting roles. While Wyoming doesn’t have as active role as some of the others, she is present and she is a genuine member of the action, as are – if to a lesser extent – a couple of other women. So I think it does slightly better on the female angle than on the non-white angle (damning with faint praise?).
The short version of the plot: the moon is being used largely as a penal colony – well, the bit the story cares about; there’s also a Chinese colony, but they hardly feature (see? racism). The colony is being used as labour to extract stuff that Earth needs. So there’s a revolution. Naturally.
SPOILERS below in case you’re like me and a Heinlein novice. This isn’t pretending to be an in-depth analysis of the book, just a few comments on the things I found interesting.
I’ve had this on my self as needing to be read for… a long time. I have finally got to it as part of my effort to make a dent in the to-be-read shelf. I read the first couple of pages to see whether I did want to read it, and I did. It opens with Baudolino starting to write his memoir, in a mixture of languages and appalling spelling and with the occasional bit of Latin intruding because Baudolino wasn’t able to scrape it all off the parchment. It’s unclear whether Baudolino is telling the truth … and basically that’s the motif of the entire book.
The entire premise of the book is to explore the ideas of truth and ‘truthiness’ (which I think Stephen Colbert developed) – when does a thing that’s not true become true because it’s been claimed to be true enough times? – and notions of faith, and honesty, and history. And basically it’s a big sprawling story about one man claiming to have connections to a whole bunch of stuff that is generally accepted to have happened in history along with other things that exist in myth and legend. It’s sprawling and epic and quite remarkable. As you would expect from Umberto Eco.
Baudolino is telling his story to a Byzantine man he’s rescued during the Crusaders’ sack of that city; Baudolino isn’t part of the sacking but he looks Frankish enough to be able to get around. He’s telling the story as a way of making sense of his life, searching for the meaning he hopes to see in his experiences. So there’s two narratives going on here, as Baudolino and his friend look to get out of Constantinople, and the story of Baudolino himself. It’s the second, of course, that’s the most interesting bit. His story begins with meeting Frederick Barbarossa and being adopted by him because he, Baudolino, tells such interesting stories and appears to be a good luck charm of sorts. It then progresses through Baudolino going to university in Paris, and then various escapades with Frederick, and eventually going on a mind-boggling journey to find the country of Prester John. Along the way he encounters the story of the Grasal (Grail), meddles in politics, makes and loses friends, nearly dies several times, and is rarely accounted as much of a scoundrel as he actually is.
Note: the fact that this book is translated is remarkable, and the translator – William Weaver – should get more acknowledgement than he does. It’s beautifully written.
I have now read Frankenstein. I’ve never had the impetus to read it before; I never studied Gothic literature, and it’s just never been bumped up the to-be-read list. But a few weeks ago someone at church read it, and waxed so lyrical in wanting to have a pop-up book club to discuss it (as a sequel to one last year on The Book of Strange New Things) that I agreed… and here we are.
I do not like Victor Frankenstein.
I had a general knowledge of the story – that Victor created the monster, who then implored his creator to create a mate for him, and then the monster killed Victor’s bride. I knew there was something to do with the Arctic but I didn’t know why. So to be honest, I wasn’t really expecting to be particularly surprised by the novel. And in the broad outlines, I wasn’t, but in some of the details I certainly wasn’t.
I had no idea that the story was structured as a story within a story, with Victor relating his tale of woe to Robert as they sat stuck in the ice in the far reaches of the Arctic, who is then relating it by letter back to his own sister. I don’t think that particularly changes the story itself but it’s intriguing to see Shelley using this conceit as the excuse for why, and how, the story is being told – that she wasn’t just writing a third-person omnipotent narrator watching and relating all the events. Instead, this allows Victor to include his passionate remonstrances and remembrances, and for Robert to include his own reflections at beginning and end.
Side note: I would have liked more about Robert. Did he get home? Why was he so passionate about finding what was in the extreme north? I wanted more than just what he told his sister!
And so Victor. Continue reading →