Monthly Archives: May, 2016

Galactic Suburbia 144

In which books take longer to make than they do to read. You can get us from iTunes or at Galactic Suburbia. 

What’s New on the Internet?

Nebula Awards given

CJ CHerryh named SFWA grandmaster

SF Signal closing – farewell to our friends and thanks for all the links!

Get in your nominations to us for the GS AWard: for activism and/ or communication that advances the feminist conversation in the field of speculative fiction in 2015.

CULTURE CONSUMED
Alex: The Expanse Season 1; The Medusa Chronicles, Stephen Baxter and Alastair Reynolds; The Philosopher Kings, Jo Walton

Alisa: books released & in progress: Defying Doomsday, Sharp Shooter, Grant Watson’s upcoming collection of film essays – see her Friday night at Continuum!

Tansy: Finished writing a book! My research reading list over the last several years includes: Orlando Furioso (Ludovico Ariosto/Slavitt translation), Thomas Bulfinch’s The Age of Chivalry & Charlemagne, E Nesbit’s entire backlist, Christina Rossetti, George McDonald, etc.

Also: Tansy’s serial Glass Slipper Scandal is now complete at the Sheep Might Fly podcast.

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

Please send feedback to us at galacticsuburbia@gmail.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!

The Philosopher Kings

29367474.jpgThis was really quite different from The Just City. Where I felt that the first book was incredibly focussed on dialogue and discussion about what excellence is, what makes a just city, and how to live out Plato’s ideals – and I don’t mean any of that in a bad way, I adored it – this had a lot more action. What discussion there was often didn’t feel as grounded in philosophy because it was moving away from classical sources and into more personal, I think, reflections on being and existing. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it is a difference.

There are spoilers below for The Just City.

This is taking place twenty years after the events of the first book. Apollo is still there but Athene is still off in a huff. The place has fractured even further than it looked like it would when Kebes and his crew left; now there are several different cities on the island, all claiming to be Doing Plato in the Right Way – and all looking quite different. I LOVE this idea and wish there had been a bit more about how and why the cities were different. There is some, and it was enough for a taste, but I wanted extra.

Anyway the focus is still on Apollo and his family, so it’s still focussed on the original city. The narrators are Apollo, again, and Maia, again – and I liked keeping these original two because they have changed so much in some ways, and not in others. Maia especially has of course moved further away from the 18th-century girl she used to be. The additional narrator in the book is Arete (which means excellence), daughter of Apollo and Simmea. Yup. She’s quite young and very different in perspective compared to Apollo (natch) or Simmea when she was young because she’s had such a different experience – no being a slave for her, as for her mother, but instead a loving family environment.

The action is mostly spurred by one tragic act which has repercussions for a number of people although not for the entire city necessarily, which is another difference between this and the first; another way that it’s more personal, rather than society-wide. It does lead Apollo to consider more about the realities of being human and all, of course.

I enjoyed it, although not quite as much as The Just City. I cannot wait for the next book because WHOA what an ending.

Black-Winged Angels

Continuing my Angela Slatter kick…

23461889.jpg“Baba Yaga is a woman who cannot be bound. She will bear no more children, she bow to the wishes of no man; she is independent, adrift from the world and its demands. The world, in ceasing to recognise her value, has granted her a freedom unknown to maids and mothers. Only the crone may stand alone.” (p135)

Angela Slatter’s exploration of the different ways women can be is one of the things I love most about her work, and it’s evident in this reprint collection. Most of the stories build on European fairytales or characters – Bluebeard, the Snow Queen, Melusine, the Little Match Girl. But the focus is different from the familiar story, because Slatter changes or explains the motivation, or centres on a different protagonist, or moves the setting and therefore the entire context… and she forces the reader to reconsider the telling of those stories, and what we can or should get out of them.

The quote above is one of my favourite parts of the whole collection, putting me immediately in mind of Ursula Le Guin’s reflections on being a ‘crone’, especially the essay “The Space Crone.” How often is old age meant to be something women should fear? And while Slatter’s Baba Yaga is by no means always happy with her status, she lives it.

This book is also a beautiful object. I have a hardback copy; the cover is black with a white cut-out illustration by Kathleen Jennings. Jennings’ artwork appears throughout the book, with each story having a dedicated picture – some quite simple, some incredibly complex. I love Jennings’ work and she beautifully complements Slatter’s ideas.

The Diary of River Song

26155011.jpgThis is my first real audio book and it was because of Tansy. I feel there are a lot of people who say things like that.

Did anyone else think that the music was distinctly James Bond-ish? I got a really strong Bond vibe from it.

I have no idea whether this is standard Big Finish format, so for those not in the know: there are four 1-hour long interconnected stories. It begins with River Song having taken a position as an archeology professor (of course) who rather reluctantly gets pulled out of her office and out onto a dig in somewhere fake, Mesopotamia-ish. Bad things happen. In the next story, River is back in space, and slowly the connection to the first story is fleshed out – it’s not all fully explained until the last story. Of course the story gets bigger and more complex as the four ‘diary entries’ unfold.

Having seen the Christmas special about the husbands of River Song, I shouldn’t have been surprised by how cold River is in some of the situations presented here, but I was. I still have a somewhat childish, old fashioned view of the Doctor – that he doesn’t hurt anyone, and works for the good of everyone except maybe Daleks – and ascribe this to River as well for I-don’t-know-why. So some of the callous responses from River were… unexpected. I’m not saying I hated them, because I don’t think I did, but I was surprised.

Alex Kingston has a wonderful voice and in general did very well in this format. Most of the other actors were equally good, and I thought the production qualities were also excellent.

This has not turned me into a raving Big Finish fan, but I am glad I listened to it.

The Medusa Chronicles

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

Unknown.jpegSo. This book. When I heard that Alastair Reynolds and Stephen Baxter were collaborating, I was beside myself. This is two of my great SF loves coming together. It’s Robert Plant and Jim Morrison jamming.

At the back of my mind was the reminder that I haven’t quite adored Baxter’s latest novels, and that Reynolds’ latest novels have been quite different from his early ones too. NONETHELESS. Plant and Morrison, folks.

I really liked it… but I didn’t love it. It feels… old fashioned.

The premise: building on Arthur C Clarke’s “A Meeting with Medusa,” Baxter and Reynolds take the main character, Howard Falcon, who is a cyborg due to a serious crash years before, and extend him way into the future. This is a future where humanity is incredibly suspicious of machines and artificial intelligence, and Falcon – being the incredibly weird hybrid that he is – is often at the receiving end of that suspicion. But it also means that he’s useful as a mediator when humanity’s machines start developing consciousness, which means he’s there at the birth of that intelligence, which means he continues to be useful as an intermediary. This becomes the story of Falcon’s life, and thus the story of The Medusa Chronicles.

I did like it because I like thinking about humanity in the solar system and how that might work (this is another one where there’s looming interplanetary conflict, so apparently that’s unavoidable). I liked the whimsical attachment to the notion of ballooning as inspiration for astronauts and Jovian exploration. And I also like stories of the development of artificial intelligence and the consequences of that for humanity, although I did feel like that wasn’t explored enough here.

The novel feels a bit old-fashioned because I can’t quite fathom humanity being suspicious of machines. I assume this reflects the novels and other media I’ve been consuming – I mean yes, be suspicious, but surely only after they’ve shown that they want to kill us and use our bodies as compost? There’s also a significant level of info-dumping, which isn’t always a problem for me but can be a barrier, I know, for others. And, too, there’s a lack of significant character development. The reader gets to know Falcon almost by default, as our point of view, but most of the others – like Hope Dhoni, Falcon’s medical expert for much of his incredibly prolonged life – are almost faceless, ciphers.

There are some lovely moments and a few odd moments in the novel. The odd moments are especially where Falcon makes reference to old literature or films and wonders if anyone will get the reference – for example, to Tolkien – and yet Project Silenus is thus named because of Euripides, and in explaining the naming he doesn’t have to explain who Euripides is. I’m unconvinced about the longevity of Euripides over Tolkien (we’re talking centuries here), although I guess Euripides does have form. Some of the lovely moments are in the alternate history of NASA and thus humanity in space that Baxter and Reynolds present. Here, the threat of an asteroid completely changes the direction of the Apollo programme and has consequences for humanity going to Mars and beyond; the authors reference real astronauts, like Frank Borman and Charlie Duke, but give them a slightly different career path (and there’s no reference to ‘any similarity to real people is purely coincidental’ or however the line runs, in the fine print).

Overall this is a pretty good science fiction novel, but it’s not one of my favourites for the year.

Vigil

A number of years ago, Angela Slatter wrote “Brisneyland by Night” for Twelfth Planet Press’ anthology Sprawl. It was excellent. Vigil is that story grown-up and turned into a novel, with at least two (I believe) more stories about Verity Fassbinder scheduled.

Unknown.jpegThis novel was sent to me by the publisher, as an uncorrected bound proof. Also, I had the enormous privilege of reading it in draft form, which I just can’t tell you how awesome that was. I have re-read it now partly because I have a bad memory and I knew the details had escaped me but that I loved it; partly because it’s Angela Slatter and she always withstands re-reading; and partly because it was sent as a review copy, so of course I had to. It was mostly the first two, though.

Verity Fassbinder “has her feet in two worlds” – that of the Normal, where there is definitely no magic and the only things that go bump in the night are trees in the wind and possums in the bins, and that of the Weyrd. With the Weyrd, things going bump in the night may well be very old, very cranky, and very powerful. Also, weird. Her father was Weyrd; he could change shape and he was a criminal, against both Normal laws and Weyrd customs.

Verity is a wonderfully attractive heroine. She inherited strength from her father but violence is not (always) her first recourse in a dangerous situation; she’s got a pretty short temper and little patience with bureaucracy and authority; she’s a fierce friend and protector of her neighbours, single mum Mel and daughter Lizzie; she lives in a clapped-out old house in Brisbane’s suburbs. She has little interest in fashion, she’s stubborn and determined, she’s willing to compromise and admit when she’s wrong. Basically she’s human, with flaws and problems and the sorts of characteristics I would absolutely love in a friend.

Slatter’s plot is not at all straightforward. She starts with the scenario from “Brisneyland” – children going missing – and builds layer upon layer of Weyrd problems that may or may not be connected. The death of a siren (hence the cover image), the disappearance of a young man, possibly random other deaths – all of which Fassbinder must solve, with varying levels of help and hindrance from a range of friends, acquaintances, enemies and bystanders. It’s a detective story with paranormal elements, and while that’s not a unique proposition it’s the setting and the side characters (and of course Verity herself) that make this wonderful.

Brisbane is by no means a fast-paced city. Slatter has jokes about the places that do or do not get flooded; there’s jokes and having to eat out before 8.30pm; there’s a distinctly slow-paced, I guess Australian feel to the whole situation. Moving this to an American city would make it very different, and lose a lot of its charm; I hope that translates to non-Australian readers.

Verity is aided by Ziggi, driving an entirely disreputable taxi and watching her with his third eye; she’s employed, kind of, by a Weyrd ex-boyfriend, Bela, who has some hidden depths and unexpected shallows. She’s helped and hindered in sometimes equal proportions by the Norn sisters – home of an addictive caramel marshmallow log that I wonder whether Slatter has actually made – and has all-too-frequent dealings with (Normal) Detective Inspector McIntyre, who may very well be my favourite of all the side characters (sorry Ziggi) for her ‘whisky-and-cigarettes voice’ and her even lower interest in putting on a good appearance than Verity. I really hope she continues to turn up throughout the series. I would swap her for Bela any day.

Vigil is fast-paced, quirky, full of twists, and thoroughly grounded in Brisbane (even if it is a somewhat imaginary Brisbane) and the reality of immigrant Australia. I love it and I want more Verity.

Galactic Suburbia 143

In which we talk reviews and gender balance thanks to the Strange Horizons SF count, and Alisa makes books while Tansy & Alex visit the theatre! you can get us from iTunes or at Galactic Suburbia.

coriolanus-covWhat’s New on the Internet?

Locus Awards finalists
Shirley Jackson nominees: http://www.locusmag.com/News/2016/05/2015-shirley-jackson-awards-nominees/

Peter MacNamara Achievement Award

Strange Horizons – the 2015 SF Count

CULTURE CONSUMED

Tansy: A Sci-Fi Vision of Love from a 318 year old hologram, by Monica Byrne , Wuthering Heights by shake & stir co; Whip it, Kingston City Rollers

Alisa: Working on the release of the Tara Sharp mysteries by Marianne Delacourt (now available for pre-order) and Grant Watson’s upcoming book of film essays.

Alex: Coriolanus (all female production directed by Grant Watson for Heartstring, Melbourne’s new independent theatre); The Dark Labyrinth, Lawrence Durrell; Nemesis Games, James SA Corey; Saga vol 5; Fringe rewatch, The Katering Show

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

Please send feedback to us at galacticsuburbia@gmail.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!

Sourdough and Other Stories

Unknown.jpegReading this has been a long time coming. I think I’ve owned it for a couple of years, but I’ve never quite got there before now… mostly because I knew that once I had read it, I would have read it, and then it wouldn’t be sitting there waiting to be read.

Yes, sometimes my brain is weird.

TL;DR: totally, totally worth it; wonderful and strange and making me moon-eyed. It is indeed like reading those fairy tales that were deemed Not Really Fit for young children and discovering that THAT is where the good stuff is.

Almost all of the narratives in this collection are connected in some way to other stories. Sometimes this is explicit: there are a couple of families for whom generations get stories. Others are more round-about, as a passing character in one gets developed in another. This goes too, of course, for The Bitterwood Bible in which Slatter has written prequel stories, of sorts. The fact that I read Bitterwood first meant I got to see some of the places where she went back and filled in gaps, fleshed out history, made connections clearer. The upshot is that reading the stories is a bit like moving to a small town. You meet one person and then another and only a few months later do you discover that those two have History; and then over time all the rest of the connections come tumbling out – except some of them still stay hidden, teased at the edge of perception. Sourdough and the world that Slatter has created here is exactly like that.

One of the things I fiercely love about the stories here and in Bitterwood is the focus on women – and that they are so very varied. Women are daughters, mothers, lovers, wives, friends, neighbours, enemies; they are skilled, bored, frustrated, vengeful, magical, lost, bewildered, smart, sacrificial, victims and heroes. They are human.

Seriously, just read this. Come back and thank me later.

Galactic Suburbia 142!

In which the Hugo shortlist is more controversial as ever, but in the mean time we’ve been reading & watching some great things. You can get us at iTunes or at Galactic Suburbia.

MANY APOLOGIES for sound issues on this episode – we didn’t catch an accidental microphone shift which means some background noise which should have been muted were not.

What’s New on the Internet?

Hugo Shortlist
Effect of slate nominations on Hugo Shortlist at File 770.com

The Rebirth of Rapunzel winners: Margaret Eve & Kate Laidley, we hope you enjoy your book prizes!

CULTURE CONSUMED

Alex: Rebirth of Rapunzel, Kate Forsyth; The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Robert Heinlein; Defying Doomsday, Tsana Dolichva and Holly Kench; The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe, Kij Johnson

Alisa: Every Heart a Doorway; Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee; Orphan Black

Tansy: Deirdre Hall is the Devil, presented by Jodi McAlister; Teen Wolf, Downton Abbey, Doctor Horrible’s Singalong Blog, Buffy Season 1

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

Please send feedback to us at galacticsuburbia@gmail.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!