Author Archive: Alex

FarScape: s1, e13

Farscape rewatch

Each week on a Sunday afternoon, join Alex (of Randomly Yours, Alex) and Katharine (of the unpronounceable Ventureadlaxre), as they re-watch the Australian-American sci-fi show Farscape, notable for the Jim Henson animatronic puppets, the excellent mish-mash of accents, and the best OTP ship of all time.

Season One, Episode Thirteen: The Flax

As always, when things go wrong they go wrong in multiple areas all at once. A simple flying lesson turns much more deadly when Aeryn and Crichton get stuck in The Flax, and all they have to rely on to help them in a ‘garbage connoisseur’.

K: Aeryn is trying to teach Crichton how to pilot one of the shuttles, to half-baked results, however he is happy enough – she reckons she’ll kill him if he pilots so poorly again.

A: this is hilarious and of course it’s basically a driving lesson, which is always dangerous.

K: Everyone’s getting a bit tetchy due to Moya’s pregnancy somehow. I’m not entirely sure what’s so bad – if they’ve managed to find an empty bit of space surely life ain’t so bad.

A: Or they’re just wandering along and happened across it?

K: Aeryn says that someday Crichton may be vaguely useful, which is almost a compliment, and then everything goes to shit. Probably literally.

A: An invisible THING pulling them in?? Oh no!

And the credits tell me RHYS MULDOON is going to be in this episode!!  (HAWT) Continue reading →

Stealing Snow

Unknown.jpegI received this book from the publisher, Bloomsbury, at no cost as an uncorrected proof. It comes out in October; RRP $16.99.

I abandoned this book, after reading just over half. It’s a hard thing to do, but it really wasn’t working for me and there are SO many books I want to read that I just don’t have time for books that don’t work.

Firstly, the press release says it’s for children 12+. I’m not sure I’d be happy with a 12 year old reading this: the protagonist has spent eleven years in a mental institute – since she was six – and there are some bits that I think may be a little scary for less mature readers. Anyway, that’s not a reason for me abandoning it.

The protagonist is part of the reason. I did not at any point feel any empathy towards Snow. There’s a bit too much repetition about her immediate woes (not being able to see the boy she really likes, who’s also in the institution), and a serious lack of development about either her history (she walked into a mirror and that was enough to get her committed?) or her personality more generally.

This is symptomatic of the book as a whole, actually: there is so little development of anything. Characters and places and events all occur in a vague world, sometimes with connections spelled out and sometimes not. Things happen far too fast – strange dreams! strange boy appearing! lover boy disappears!! a Tree!!! – and I was left completely bewildered, and not in a shivery-anticipation kinda way; in a ‘what the heck just happened?’ kinda way. It’s a portal fantasy, eventually, but whereas Foz Meadows deals nicely with the sort of confusion this would produce, Danielle Paige has Snow being confused for about ten seconds and then basically comfortable, with no explanation for how this is possible (i.e. treating it as a fantasy or whatever).

Also, the writing does not help the reading process. It’s not actively bad, but I was aware of reading – rather than being sucked into a world and ignoring the process, which really awesome writing enables.

I’m sad that this didn’t work out. I think the Snow Queen story has a lot of potential for reworking. In fact the day I received this my mother was visiting, and she had just started Michael Cunningham’s retelling of the story (very different from this), and I’d seen Frozen only about a week before. So there definitely is potential. And this version had potential… it just wasn’t achieved.

The Silk Roads

Unknown.jpegThis book was sent to me by the publisher, Bloomsbury, at no cost. It’s out in September; RRP $29.99.

This is one of the finest history books I have read in recent times. It’s also probably the first book I’ve read that calls itself ‘a history of the world’ that does not mention the Norman invasion of England. And that’s because in 1066, from the perspective Frankopan presents here, a wee island on the west coast of Europe was of absolutely no relevance to the movers and shakers of the world. (Henry VIII is barely mentioned either!) The real business of global activity was in what Frankopan calls the real heart of the world – the lands of the Silk Roads, from the Himalayas to the Mediterranean, which for the two thousand or so years covered here drove human history.

Now, that’s a big claim, but what’s a history book without a big claim behind it? and of course important things were happening in places like Britain in the 11th century – but things of regional importance, not things with world-changing impact. Frankopan’s thesis is that the areas connected by what came to be called the Silk Road had an impact on actions, thought, and policy across most of Europe and Asia and, eventually, the Americas and Africa as well. Sometimes this area is actively driving history (the beginnings of Christianity and Islam, anyone? – and Judaism too although it doesn’t start in the period covered) and sometimes it’s – not quite passive – but almost: that this area happens to be incredibly oil-rich isn’t anyone’s fault or decision, but the reactions to it are.

Each chapter of the book is centred around the theme of roads: the road of faiths, to a Christian East, of gold and silver and black gold and genocide. It’s blunt about the horrors perpetrated – so much slavery – and waxes lyrical about the beauties produced by various cultures. Islam and Christianity and Judaism are shown cooperating, although rarely all three together, as well as antagonistic – for religious and political reasons (throw Zoroastrianism in there too, and indeed Buddhism).  There are countless invasions – sometimes repelled, sometimes welcomed, sometimes hugely resented; there are alliances and back-stabbings and intermarriages. Most of all, though, there is trade. Trade along the Silk Road – from China and indeed further east, all the way to that insignificant island on the west coast of Europe, and of course within the regions along it too. The impact of Chinese pottery on the Dutch. The impact of silk and gold and – of course – oil, as well as innumerable other goods, back and forth, is mapped out by Frankopan. Not quite half the book is basically from 1900 onwards (the chapter is called ‘The Road to War’), which I know makes sense in terms of the availability of sources; the medievalist in me was a bit sad, I’ll admit.

I am guilty of having a Euro-centric view of history. Partly this is my education and upbringing which have in turn led me to be most interested in European history, especially British and the ‘classical’ worlds. I have a bitser knowledge of events involving Persia across the ages and the regions of Central Asia – usually as they intersect with those areas I have studied (Alexander the Great, the Huns, the Mongols). More recently I am absolutely guilty of falling into the complacent trap of thinking of Central Asia, in particular, as being a war-torn area that is to be pitied (HELLO privilege). To see this area’s history presented chronologically and with a focus squarely on it, the actions taken by people in the area as well as those acting on it; and to see the actions involving Iran and Iraq and Afghanistan and Pakistan and Egypt, and Britain and the US in particular, over the last five decades or so – this was an absolute revelation. For those who are more interested in modern politics perhaps this won’t be quite so eye-opening, but I imagine that for most it will still be a revelation to have all of the pieces fitted together and the connections between them pointed out clearly and cogently.

Unknown.jpegReading about the actions of the British Empire made me embarrassed to be Anglo, at times. The sheer arrogance on display was truly remarkable.

The aesthetics: if I could have a framed copy of the front cover, I probably would. It’s gorgeous. Inside there are two sets of eight pages of colour pictures – which isn’t as many as I might have expected from such an epic book, but they were a reasonable overview of the content. I have a copy of the trade paperback; it’s a hefty tome: I didn’t quite manage to not put creases in the spine, which is an indication of how hard it was to read without opening it fully! (Yes I am that person; crease my book’s spine and I will crease you.) It’s 520 pages long (with another 100 pages of footnotes) – so it’s not a fast read, but it’s definitely a worthwhile read.

This book is a must-read for anyone interested in world history, or in modern history. It should be read by any politician or policy-maker who thinks they can make decisions about any part of the world other than their own without consequences. It should also be read by anyone with a tendency to Eurocentrism. It’s a study in well-written history, too.

Galactic Suburbia 150!

In which we celebrate our 150th episode via cake and Hugo stats, the top two sources of podcaster fuel in the known world. You can get us from iTunes or at Galactic Suburbia.

Read the Hugo Stats along with us by downloading the pdf.

Or just check out the winners.

The Uncanny Magazine acceptance speech: Love wins!

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!

FarScape: s1, e12

Farscape rewatch

Each week on a Sunday afternoon, join Alex (of Randomly Yours, Alex) and Katharine (of the unpronounceable Ventureadlaxre), as they re-watch the Australian-American sci-fi show Farscape, notable for the Jim Henson animatronic puppets, the excellent mish-mash of accents, and the best OTP ship of all time.

Season One, Episode Twelve: Rhapsody in Blue

Moya responds to a distress call that turns out to be from a colony of Delvians. Zhaan goes to assist her people, to slightly dire results.

K: Weird opening. John in bed with some blonde just about to propose and it becomes clear it’s something from his past – for a second I thought it was some weird crack-side episode where he’s flung into some awful space-soap opera.

A: NAWWWWW sad John. Meanwhile, do men really buy rings before they’ve proposed in real life? THat seems ridiculous to me. Also did he really get up and get champagne without her noticing and then came back to bed?

“Hail Prince of the Obvious” might be my favourite new term.

Continue reading →

Strange Matings

Unknown.jpegPublished by Aqueduct Press, this remarkable book is a tribute to Octavia Butler. It includes personal reminiscences; photos; a poem; a transcript of a conversation with Butler; and the bulk is made up of academic essays – most of which are also somewhat personal.

I’ve read Butler’s Xeongenesis/Lilith’s Brood trilogy, but a long time ago… and that’s about it. Maybe some short stories as well? It’s one of those cases of ‘I’ve always meant to read more…’. So it was a bit of a weird experience for me to be reading academic analyses of stories that I haven’t read. However, and all kudos to the authors, I was neither hampered by that lack of knowledge – they all explained their points exceptionally well – and nor was I put off reading those stories. I have in fact bought the Parables books and am exceedingly excited to read them, armed with the theoretical discussions from these essays. I’m honestly not sure whether I will read Kindred, and I know this is a privileged position as a white Australian. I will definitely read Fledgling at some point, for all Butler was apparently a bit embarrassed by her vampire fiction. What I loved about the essays presented here is that each author so clearly loved the work they were examining – not glossing over faults, but showing how rich and subversive and powerful and present-speaking and future-prescient they are. How remarkable the women are, and how different the relationships, and how challenging the suggestions of how society could be. It made me realise just how powerful an author Octavia Butler must have been.

This is all beautifully resonant with the personal reflections included throughout. Butler’s shyness and insecurity and amazing generosity all come through, emphasising the sheer humanity of the woman – which I know sounds ridiculous, but it sounds like she made her life so full, and extended that to people around her, despite problems. The transcript of Nisi Shawl’s conversation with Butler, at the Black to the Future Conference in 2004, made me jealous of the people who got to see it live; Nnedi Okorafor’s reflections on sending emails to Butler – even after she died – and Steven Barnes’ very heartfelt reflections on his friend and mentor feel like precious gifts we should be thankful to have in print, so that we can glimpse those connections.

Strange Matings is a magnificent tribute to Octavia Butler that clearly works for someone with very little knowledge of her work, and must also work for those who’ve read far more. It’s provocative and powerful and human. Just like Octavia Butler.

The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu

This book was sent to me by the publisher, Allen&Unwin, at no cost. It’s out on August 24; RRP $32.99

Unknown.jpeg

I recently listened to an episode of the BBC’s radio show In Our Time about the Malian empire, which was the first time I learnt anything about that area’s incredibly rich cultural history. So I was completely stoked to receive a copy of this book – it’s modern, rather than about the production of the manuscripts and the intellectual foment of Timbuktu in its hey-day, but it’s an area that gets little attention in the English-speaking world of written-for-the-armchair-reader so its publication is a great thing.

However, this book is not quite what it purports itself to be. It’s a gripping book and one I don’t regret reading, but there’s a stretch in the middle of about 100 pages that talks about the rise of Al Qaeda jihadists in Mali and surrounds, their tactics and their eventual (brief) seizure of northern Mali (including Timbuktu). It was necessary context, since it’s that seizure that required the manuscripts of the city to be rescued, but it felt like there was too much exploration of the jihadist threat that wasn’t immediately linked to the whole point of the book. If Hammer’s point was actually to look at the cultural threat of AQIM (Al Quaeda in Islamic Maghreb), with the manuscripts of Timbuktu as a touchstone, then it should have had a different title. So don’t read this if what you’re really after is a discussion of manuscript preservation, or an overwhelming focus on the manuscripts or libraries themselves. This is not the book you’re looking for.

Nonetheless, as I said: no regrets. There is an extensive discussion of how one man, Abdel Kader Haidara, was responsible for collecting around 377,000 manuscripts from individual people’s homes, where they’d been sitting in holes or caves or just in trunks, because of a history of them being stolen or destroyed by various different groups (including the French, making many people suspicious of anything with foreign backing). This included some incredibly old Korans, and unique examples of medieval Islamic texts, and exquisitely beautiful calligraphy, and… well. What a trove. It’s then under threat when Timbuktu is occupied by AQIM, so Haidara organises for almost all of them to be smuggled out. This is the most incredible part of the whole story, since the logistics – in a place with limited communications, with serious threats in front and behind – are truly astounding. And uplifting.

One weird point: one of the people who helped Haidara was a woman who lived some of the year in Mali. She requested that her real name not be used in the book… but then her translation of an 1839 French grimoire is noted, complete with its title. Um. Surely that’s going to give her away?

Anyway, the collection that Haidara put together certainly sticks it to Hugh Trevor-Roper, who proclaimed in 1963 that “at present there is [no African history]… There is only the history of Europeans in Africa. The rest is darkness” (33). The story of their salvation (this time), through charitable donations from a significant number of international charities and, awesomely, a Kickstarter campaign, made me joyful. I’m sure Haidara would be painful to be married to, with his manuscript obsession, but it seems to me that Mali and northern Africa more generally owe him and his team a debt for looking after their cultural heritage.

You can get this book from Fishpond. 

Great Scott! presents: Top Gun

Tony: 1986images-1.jpeg

Every fortnight (ish)* my beloved and I are watching a film by either Ridley or Tony Scott. We’re watching in chronological order. There are, of course, spoilers.

*Yeh… not so much with the fortnight(ish)… but we ARE still committed to it!

(Of course, this is not actually chronological. But that’s because it turns out Bladerunner isn’t on iTunes, so now we need to source that. THEN we will be back to chronological.)

 

It should be noted that this is one of J’s favourite movies Of All Time, whereas A consistently and constantly disses it whenever it gets mentioned. 

A: The opening music is very cool. It builds a lovely level of suspense. I even like the opening on the aircraft carrier; the music matches beautifully. This movie has the opening of a truly awesome film. (Context: I grew up wishing I could have been a pilot in WW1 or 2 with Biggles and his crew, ignoring the whole ‘you’re a girl’ aspect.)

J: Tobacco graduate filters, steam catapults, jets, slow motion footage. AFTERBURNERS.  Jets doing unnecessary aileron rolls at takeoff.  This is the film that made me fall in love with Tony Scott’s cinematography.

A: A plane takes off and KENNY LOGAN AW YEH DANGER ZONE. LOTSA planes taking off and braking and men looking serious.  (cue some serious couch dancing)

J: All the aerial footage was all shot on super 35mm film from the jets and it still looks fantastic if a little gritty on blu-ray Continue reading →

FarScape s1, e11

Farscape rewatch

Season One, Episode Eleven: Til the Blood Runs Clear

John and Aeryn go for a little haunt ‘round the block to collect data towards getting John home. Things go far better than expected, which goes to show how rude John can be, and brings the science back to this show for an episode.

A: Just the title of this episode bodes poorly for D’Argo. I love Aeryn’s snarkiness in this opening; she’s so funny.

K: I didn’t even realise that. Ah well, maybe it’ll give him a chance to redeem himself for past episodes.

A: aaaand Zhaan is having A Moment in the sunlight, which is quite spoiled when Pilot points out the radiation could harm the baby. Guess that’s going to be a thing for the rest of the show. Continue reading →

Another One Bites the Dust, Jennifer Rardin

Unknown.jpegThis book was sent to me by a dear friend and unfortunately, it’s just terrible.

Too much? Perhaps:

This book is just not my thing.

I do believe that it has systemic issues that aren’t just problems for me, though.

Firstly, and I acknowledge this is partly my fault, I haven’t read the first book (Once Bitten, Twice Shy). So I don’t have the knowledge about the relationships that might have made some of the banter and the fraught silences make more sense. Pardon does attempt to explain how they’re all connected, but it didn’t always make sense.

Another thing that didn’t always make sense is the different others – and yes, that’s how they’re referred to in the book: the supernatural entities. It seems like a new being just pops up every now and then for the heck of it – and sometimes with narrative reason – and their powers or whatever aren’t clearly explained. Which is related to the biggest beef I had, narrative-wise: clearly Our Heroine, Jaz, is on the track of someone who happened in the first book – there’s occasional references to them and their Dastardly Deeds – but I have almost no idea what they did or how bad they are, aside being told they are Bad. I know info dumps are sometimes clunky, but gosh some detailed explanation would have been helpful so that I understood the stakes (… heh…).

Anyway. The narrative revolves around a team of maybe-CIA-connected types, who include a seer and a vampire, trying to track down and do… something… with a vampire who has stolen some technology. Things move incredibly quickly, but there’s still time for the description of intricate details about clothes, shoes and accessories being worn; this is problem for me, with rare exceptions like Gail Carriger. There’s a Winter Festival, and belly-dancing, and murder, and magical powers, and anti-other sentiment being expressed in unpleasant ways. There’s romance, although not in a very interesting way, and attempts at disguise, and Revelations of Nefarious Purposes.

And it’s just written badly. I did finish it, partly because I wanted to see how many twists cold try and get in, and where the romances would end up going (because this friend likes to send me romances), and because – well, it wasn’t quite so bad as to make me want to abandon it, and I was a little invested in some of the characters and knowing where they would end up.

I will not be chasing down any more Rardins.