Category Archives: Books

Lotus Blue

Unknown While this may not be a uniquely Australian perspective on the future – other places have deserts – there’s still definitely a strong Australian flavour running through this world. The Dead Red Heart, the dust and sand, the mad tankers (Sparks acknowledges a debt to Andrew Macrae’s Trucksong), the caravans, the grim survival in the face of crappy odds. Also the place names that occasionally gave me a giggle, to see them cropping up in this devastated future.

Cat Sparks is a friend… but she’d never expect anything but the truth from me, so don’t worry; this is definitely a fair review.

So it must be pointed out that you shouldn’t come to this book hoping for a happy post-apocalypse world, or a happy post-apocalyptic story. That is not how Sparks rolls. There is unpleasantness and violence and maiming and death and loss and lots and lots of hideous sand. This is a world where human survival relies on following rules that enable communities to survive even if you don’t understand them; where groups have to be wary of other groups because even though helping each other is a good idea, sometimes my group against yours might mean we survive at your cost. Did I mention the sand? There’s a lot of sand. Life is hard and for most people, requires hard work and sacrifice. Well, for most people… and that (naturally) is one of the tensions that Sparks works through here.

This is a world after global conflict, some indeterminate period in the world’s past, that involved soldiers created by humans – robots, cyborgs, and all manner of variations on the theme. Exactly what happened in the past is never spelled out; I got the feeling that a whole bunch of conflicts got conflated and thus, a thoroughly mangled world – which isn’t unimaginable. But the history itself doesn’t matter so much, except insofar as the remnants can be either helpful or harmful to the humans still making their way. Coming off Isobelle Carmody’s Obernewtyn series, this is refreshing, and I liked it: for most of the population survival is more important than history, and that makes sense.

The novel is made up of a large and varied cast, whose stories eventually intertwine. There’s an adolescent on a caravan in the desert fed up with her life; a supersoldier reawakened; an old, old woman eking out the end of her life; a grifter; and representatives of those doing better than everyone else, come to see what the rest of the world is like. It was good to read the variety of perspectives and remember that human survival will mean a diverse range of experiences.

The story at its most basic is a straightforward one. But the thing that really made this stand out was the world building. It helped that I happened to be reading this in a blast of hot days, but even if it had been the middle of winter I would have felt hot, felt parched, felt distressed by the unrelenting nature of the world – this is a world that really can’t support humans very well anymore. But humans are determined and bloody-minded, and that comes through too.

One thing that annoyed me was in the proofreading. There were a number of instances where commas were in weird places. And of course I can’t now find an example because I forgot to mark them, so it looks like I’m complaining out of turn. But they were definitely there: commas as though there were three adjectives but there was only two, for instance. Not a problem with the story, but something that threw me a few times.

Overall this is (I can’t believe) a great debut novel from Sparks. I hope she has more vices stories in her after she finishes her PhD…

on Joanna Russ

UnknownI’ve had this book on my shelf to read for a good few years now. I didn’t read it at first because I hadn’t read enough Russ, and then I put it off because I thought the book itself was going to be scary. The other day I finally decided it was Time, and I’m so glad that I did. Because this book is fantastic.

It’s not a book to read if you are completely unfamiliar with Russ, in my opinion. There are a few of her works that I haven’t read and when they were discussed, I was definitely a bit less engaged and a bit left out of the conversation (my fault, not that of the writers). So you really want to have read “When it Changed” and The Female Man, and The Two Of Us and We Who are About To… before coming to this. That said, that’s not exactly a hardship. Well, The Female Man might be; it’s not linear, it’s very 70s-second-wave-feminism in its attitude towards trans women (ie not very positive), and it’s playing rough with a lot of literary conventions. BUT it’s still worth reading and then you can read THIS set of essays and that’s great!

The first five essays deal with Russ in her context, and I found this deeply amazing and exciting to read. Russ as reviewer, Russ in community, Russ being all edgy and spiky and much as I wish I could have met her I think she would have intimidated me! I also loved this section for helping me get deeper into an appreciation of what it was like to be a feminist and a female SF fan in the 60s and 70s. Things are still not always great today but things have, largely, improved – at least in my experience. These essays are all beautifully written, too, and use such a fabulous array of sources from the period that it makes me want to tell everyone to keep their ephemera! Store it safely! Print your emails!

The second, bulkier section includes essays on Russ’ fiction. Some of these go deeply into literary criticism territory – like Tess Williams using Mikhail Bakhtin’s carnival theory – and I haven’t read much lit crit in… quite a few years. So there were definitely a few bits where I did not get as much out of the essays as I might have when I was still studying and had practise. Nonetheless, the ideas that the essayists present are fascinating and intriguing and gave me new ways of thinking about the different stories. They also made me want to go and read Kittatinny, for instance, which I had thought I didn’t really need to. The essays use a range of devices and theory and ideas to get at the meat of Russ’ stories, to look at what they’re saying about society and gender and people and literature. It was actually really exciting to read.

The other thing this book gave me was a love of my feminist foremothers, Russ and the others that she was bouncing off/working with/ inspiring later. It made me really, really appreciative and fiercely grateful and amazed, too.

I’m so glad I got around to reading this book.

Galactic Suburbia 178

In which the trashfires are covered in rainbows this week. So many trashfires; so many rainbows. Huge congrats to all the QUILTBAG/LGBTQ Australians who got engaged since Wednesday 15th 2017, including friend of the podcast John Richards! You can get us at iTunes or at Galactic Suburbia.

WHAT DO WE CARE ABOUT THIS WEEK?

Australia voted Yes! And we really want Penny Wong to lead the country now please.

World Fantasy Awards: results out

China, the largest SETI telescope, and Cixin Liu

CULTURE CONSUMED:

Alisa: All the news. Literally all the news.

Alex: Lord of the Rings; Wynnona Earp season 1; Searching for Sugarman; The Red Queen, Isobelle Carmody

Tansy: Hamilton’s Battalion, Tremontaine Season 3,
Tansy’s new superhero novella Girl Reporter is available for pre-order now!! Check out her cover reveal on the Mary Sue.

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 – which now includes access to the ever so exclusive GS Slack – and don’t forget to leave a review on iTunes if you love us!

Muriel Matters

UnknownThe short version is that Muriel Matters was an Australian actress and acclaimed elocutionist who went to Britain and ended up participating in the suffrage movement in the early 1900s, and went on to work with underprivileged children, among other things. She was also one of the first women in a flying machine, and was – as far as we can tell – the first person to engage in aerial leafletting: she tossed Votes for Women pamphlets over the side of the airship basket. She was amazing and this biography captures her wonderfully.

The longer version… is basically going on about some of the other, remarkable parts of Matters’ life. Like chaining herself to the Grille, part of the screen that stopped MPs from seeing the women who were in the tiny little room where they could watch parliament. Or the things that she endured while on her endless speaking tours, such as constant heckling and having eggs – and other things – thrown at her. The stays in prison. And her magnificent speeches about suffrage – which was not an end in itself, for Matters, but merely the beginning of women coming to full participation in social life and the fabulous consequences that would have for society. At the moment, it’s all too tragic to read some of Matters’ hopes and dreams for how women would be able to participate once they had the vote. Because yes, there were some positive changes made in SA, for example, once women were voting, around labour laws and the like. But we still see the ways in which women are hampered from full participation and the consequences of women’s voices not being taken seriously.

Wainwright, who also wrote Sheila, has done a remarkable amount of research here. Matters has never had a biography written before – and I’ve read quite a few books about English women’s fight for suffrage and she has never featured significantly in any of them. Matters died a widow, and with no children, and most of her family gone and overseas, so most of her own papers have been lost. So there’s a huge amount of reconstruction from newspapers, from early accounts of the suffrage movement, and other such sources to find out what can be found out. There are gaps, of course – in particular around Matters’ personal relationships – and Wainwright offers speculation but is clear that that’s what it is.

As to her politics and passions, those seem quite clear from her speeches and from where she devoted her energies. After becoming disillusioned with parts of the suffrage movement, Matters works with striking workers and then eventually becomes one of the first Montessori-trained teachers in Britain, working with children in slum areas. Knowledge of her later life is sketchy because she disappears from public view, which is such a shame because surely this woman didn’t sit at home fuming, after her actions earlier on? It makes me want to encourage everyone to print their emails and keep them in secure vaults so that historians can find them later.

This is an engaging, thoughtful, and generally lovely look at a fascinating and important woman who was part of a historical struggle that most people know far too little about.

Galactic Suburbia!

WHAT’S NEW ON THE INTERNET/WHAT DO WE CARE ABOUT THIS WEEK?

Julian May died

No more Writer and the Critic: announcement

Feminist Poltergeist podcast, from Ellenbutnotdegeneres:

Carmilla movie out

OUR DISCUSSION: Leisure, freelancing/part-time hours and guilt.

CULTURE CONSUMED:

Alisa: Otherlife; Stranger Things S2; The Trauma Cleaner, Sarah Krasnostein; Pop Culture Happy Hour; Friends Like These

Tansy: Podcasts: Uncanny 14b (To Budapest with Love by Theodora Goss & Some Cupids Kill with Arrows by Tansy; Kameron Hurley’s Get To Work Hurley #6 (how to write when overwhelmed by the world); Fangirl Happy Hour #100 (On Brand) & #101 (Howl’s Moving Castle); Thor Ragnarok – ABC Radio interview

Alex: Nexus, Scott Westerfeld, Margo Lanagan, Deborah Biancotti; Bold as Love sequence, Gwyneth Jones; Lord of the Rings; Glitch season 2

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 – which now includes access to the ever so exclusive GS Slack – and don’t forget to leave a review on iTunes if you love us!

The Tallow-Wife

36147725I can always rely on Angela Slatter to shatter my heart.

This wee volume was put together by Fablecroft for Conflux, the Canberra SF convention, this year. It’s a teaser for Slatter’s next volume of stories set in the world of Sourdough and Bitterworld Bible, basically. The main feature is the title story, with a couple other short bits included, and – to make it extra special – illustrations from Kathleen Jennings.

“The Tallow-Wife” is exactly the sort of story I have come to expect from Slatter, especially when it’s a story from this world. It’s a family story, it’s a gentle story, it’s a nasty story as only family stories can be. There’s hints and suggestions of machinations that aren’t spelled out, there’s layers of heartbreak and confusion, and it’s all presented in beautiful prose that sometimes bewilders me: how can such lovely words be telling a story that tears me up? It took me a good couple of weeks to read this – I read it in two sittings but after I put it down the first time I was super reluctant to pick it back up because I knew it would just hurt. And it did, but it was worth it, and I loved it for all the pain.

It must be noted that this is a lovely <i>object</i>, too. Hard cover, Jennings pictures; it’s a delight.

 

Nexus

UnknownThis book was sent to me by the publisher, Allen&Unwin, at no cost. It’s out today; RRP $19.99.

I enjoyed but wasn’t blown away by Zeroes; I was immensely more impressed by Swarm. With a few niggles about the haste with which this third book ended, I am basically very satisfied with how the trilogy concluded. It levelled up nicely, ramped up the consequences and problems being faced, complex-ified the characters… and it’s a very fast-paced read. Hugely enjoyable.

The basic premise, in case you’ve missed it: six kids in a little town in America, all born in 2000, have powers, of a sort. They’re all different powers and take varying degrees of control. None of the kids is really all that happy to have their powers. They end up working together basically because of Nate, or Bellwether, whose power is a persuasive one. So if you’re into superpowers and their consequences for individuals and families and communities, this should definitely be on your radar. Continue reading →

Terra Nullius

UnknownThis book was sent to me by the publisher, Hachette, at no cost. It’s out now, RRP $29.99.

Terra nullius has a specific resonance for Australians who know anything about their history. It’s the legal fiction under which Britain decided they could colonise the land that’s now Australia, because it was ‘nobody’s land’ – that is, no one that the British recognised owned it. Because the British didn’t recognise the traditional owners as ‘owning’ the land, for a whole bunch of reasons. So for Claire G Coleman to use that as the name and premise of her book is brilliant, and pointed, and tells you a lot about what the book is on about before you even open it.

Coleman, who identifies with the South Coast Noongar people, won the black&write! writing fellowship in 2016 with this manuscript. The main reason why I think that’s awesome – aside from the obvious one that it’s a great book – is a bit spoiler-y, and that’s a bit of a problem with discussing this book at all…

The blurb talks about Natives, the Colony, and Settlers. It says “This is not Australia as we know it. This is not the Australia of our history. This TERRA NULLIUS is something new, but all too familiar.” Along with the fact that this is a didactic book (in no way a criticism) that does its message-work with clear prose, understandable characters, compassion and a lot of toughness… I can’t really say much more about the book without revealing what makes it something other than a book about Australian history. There’s runaways and enforced schooling and hiding from Settlers and Settlers complaining about the environment… and… other things.

I want to throw this book at all white Australians. And I would be fascinated to hear what non-Australians think, especially people living in other colonised lands. I don’t know enough about how that’s spoken of elsewhere to know whether the resonance would work in a non-Australian context… but I think there’s enough commonality for it not to be a completely foreign experience.

And now, for those of you who don’t mind spoilers:

Continue reading →

Beneath the Sugar Sky

BeneathSugarSky_hiThis novella was sent to me by the publisher, Tor.com, at no cost.

And I’m really sorry but it’s not available until 9 January, 2018. I’m sorry about that because it’s really really good.

Down Among the Sticks and Bones is a prequel to Every Heart A Doorway ; this is Every Heart’s sequel, chronologically speaking. You could absolutely read this without reading the other two (although seriously, why would you not read Every Heart? It’s one of the best novellas I’ve read in… years); there are some spoilers for Every Heart in Beneath the Sugar Sky, because there’s passing reference to the events that occur, but they’re not enough to make this novella opaque.

For those just joining us: the premise is a question that’s obvious once it’s asked. What happens to those children who fall through doors into other lands when they come back to the mundane world? Some long to go back, some are traumatised terribly. Enter two schools to help out, one for each experience. Every Heart and now Beneath the Sugar Sky are focussed on the school for those children who want desperately to leave this world, because they just don’t fit; they crave a return to the world that wants them, that invited them. And so they attend Eleanor West’s School for Wayward Children… and wait. And hope.

Cora is new to the school, and quickly gets accidentally sucked into a quest. There’s travel to other worlds, battling usurpers, making friends, and trying to cope in worlds that really don’t suit you (how does someone driven by Logic survive in a world driven by Nonsense?). The story itself is charming and fast-paced and a lot of fun; unexpected and upbeat and delightful.

But it’s the characters that are really wonderful, and Cora in particular. She is described as fat fairly early on – descriptively, not pejoratively – and the rest of the story has moments where she deals with (expected) responses to her size based on past experience, with her own attitudes towards her size, and most importantly pointed reminders that size in no way correlates to personality or worth or any other marker of value. She has moments of triumph and moments of failure; she is a valuable member of the group; and the other people in the group, sensible humans that they are, never make her feel like anything but.

I just love this world so much. I love the idea that the other worlds can be mapped against different ‘directions’ (Logic and Nonsense and so on), that there is a system to their connections. But mostly I love the characters that McGuire is creating here, and the way these adolescents grapple with not belonging. I am hoping for many more such stories.

Provenance

UnknownI received this book from the publisher at no cost.

I really really liked this book. It’s very different from the Ancillary books, despite being set in the same universe; the concerns are different and the setting is different. What’s not different is the awesomeness of the writing itself, and the sheer excellence of the story and that the characters are delightfully well-rounded and gripping.

I told you I liked it.

Some of the things I really liked are minorly spoilery, so they’re below, but at heart it’s a ripping good story with characters I genuinely cared about in a society that’s just different enough to be alien and similar enough to be familiar, with the differences being intriguing. There’s political shenanigans and surprising coincidences and sibling rivalry and questionable identities…. Also, if you have read the Ancillary books (in no way necessary, although there is a tangential spoiler for the books), it’s fun to see how other societies view the Radch (unsurprisingly, with suspicion).

It appears to be a stand-alone, in case unfinished trilogies put you off. I didn’t quite read it in a day, but close. I adore Imray, the main character, a lot.

These spoilers don’t spoil the story, but just in case you want to discover them yourself:

SPOILERS:
1. The gender stuff! Choosing your own gender and your own name! With THREE options, and no suggestion that there’s any link to any physical bits! Such a neat way of doing it. And it’s just… there… and doesn’t play a role in the plot itself, because really why should gender play a part in what someone can do? As I write this I realise that that’s actually really significant: Imray has chosen to be female but there’s no suggestion that she is impaired by that, and none of the non-binary folk are hampered by their choice either… they’re all just people.

2. The vestiges! I see this as a nod to the Roman lares, the household gods, and the fact that leading families would have remnants from their famous ancestors to boost their own standing. But of course heaps of people do this sort of thing – investing objects with numinous power – just look at celebrity objects that get sold for stupid amounts of money. I loved that even when the authenticity (provenance!) of objects was questioned, Imray realised that in one sense at least it doesn’t matter if an object is genuine, because of the way it accumulates power and authority thanks to how people think about it. I really, really enjoyed this aspect.

3. Imray herself. Her appearance is largely irrelevant to the plot, which I really only noticed the one of two times that it <i>was</i> mentioned, in passing. And those mentions were about things like a particular space suit not being designed with someone of her roundness in mind. This is a person who’s not tiny but… no one cares. Also, she cries several times – and is never criticised for it, never made to feel like that’s a weak, womanly thing to do. She tries not to cry, a few times, so as not to betray her emotions – but it’s not gendered.