Category Archives: Random

Doll, by Maria Teresa Hart

I read this thanks to NetGalley; it’s out in November.

Is this book responsible for me having the only two lines that I know of “Barbie and the Rockers” stuck in my head for days? Why yes it is. And no, I haven’t forgiven the author for that yet.

I did have a few Barbies as a child; I was deprived of a Cabbage Patch kid; and I had a bridal doll, inherited from my mother, with whom I never played – she was really for looking at rather than anything else. I was probably more interested in playing with the My Little Ponies, I think – hair long enough to do interesting plaits with – but I don’t remember that well. I guess I played a bit with them? But dolls held little really fascination for me. This book, though, is truly fascinating – it’s a worthy addition to the Object Lessons set.

Hart does a lot in a few short pages. She explores the history of dolls as objects – their uses and their manufacture; she discusses their roles in reinforcing gender norms for girls and women, as well as exploring the realities of how little girls do actually play with their Barbies (is it a surprise these days to anyone to learn that Barbies tend to have a great deal of sex?). She looks at the racial aspects – the first black Barbie was a sidekick, and it took ages for non-white Barbies to have any sort of equal billing, and they’re usually still solitary examples of a skin colour rather than being the whole range of things like white-skinned Barbie is allowed to be.

Did I know that Sleepover Barbie came with miniature scales and a teeny book called “How to Lose Weight”, which recommends only “Don’t eat”? Heck no I didn’t. This is the stuff of nightmares… and makes me wonder if I was doing sleepovers all wrong (or, more likely, all right).
I also didn’t know about BINA48, “modelled after the real human being Bina Aspen, a Black woman who was married to Martine Rothblatt, a prominent CEO in there biotech industry. BINA48 was created using Aspen’s memories” p26) and this is ALSO the stuff of nightmares, in my opinion. Hart goes into a discussion of avatars as part of the doll-world, which is intriguing, as well as androids.

Another spectacular part of this series. So much packed into such a small package, and yet so immensely readable as well.

Still a bit cranky about the Barbie song though.

Persiana Everyday, Sabrina Ghayour

I received this from the publisher, Hachette, at no cost. It’s out now; $39.99.

Soooo I received this a while ago, and haven’t got around to reviewing it because I think “I’ll make just one more thing and THEN I’ll review it” – like reviewing it means I’ll never cook from it again, or something. I was very excited to receive this as a review copy; I own every other Sabrina book, so I was always going to get it… this is just a lovely bonus 😀

I have loved Sabrina’s recipes since Persiana. I would be pretty happy just cooking from her set every week, to be honest. I had been a bit worried that this would feel like a rehash of Persiana (because of the name), or her second-last book Simply… but really I shouldn’t have worried. There’s a glorious new set of recipes, often making use of her Persian roots but not always – she’s a cook with a wide range of interests, and she’s got a spectacular sense of taste/flavour combinations. She’s also not that interested in showy cooking; something I loved from her Instagram in 2020 was a set of cooking vids using pantry staples that really were mostly staples – at least for someone who likes cooking and so has a few herbs and spices. Plus, she’s not too fussed about whether you follow a recipe with micrometre precision – swap things, etc etc. And finally, another glorious aspect of this entire book is that every recipe includes “go well with…” and then gives another 2-3 recipes from the book, and page numbers.

I love this book a lot. Chapters include Small Plates; Salads for All Seasons; Poultry and Meat; Fish and Seafood; Vegetable Love; Carbs of All Kinds; and Something Sweet.

Things I have made:

  • Halloumi fatteh, which reminded me how much I adore tahini+yoghurt on meat;
  • Meatball and mushroom stroganoff, which is a genius way of making stroganoff although REALLY, BRITS? YOU EAT STROGANOFF ON HOT CHIPS??
  • Kofta, orzo, and tomato traybake – oh, put the pasta IN WITH the sauce and bake it?? GENIUS;
  • Lamb, date and chilli stew – straight to the “every winter” recipe pile;
  • Fragrant roasted [fish] – I used swordfish, because I don’t even know if you can get haddock here;
  • Pan-fried spiced prawns;
  • Sweet potato, sage and feta tart, which only didn’t work as well as I think it should because we don’t seem to have the same size ready-made puff pastry as they do in England;
  • Spicy nutty cauliflower – basically satay cauli, which is brilliant;
  • Sticky spiced harissa and lime roasted carrots, with feta and barberries, and really you don’t need anything other than that name, right?
  • Za’atar, leek, potato and Gruyere frittata;
  • Yoghurt, marjoram and pul biber flatbread – which is now my favourite yoghurt flatbread, although I’ve usually used oregano instead of marjoram;
  • Rhubarb, rose and pistachio trifle pots, which are AMAZING;
  • Chewy pistachio bites – now I know what to do whenever I have an egg white sitting around;
  • and, last but in NO way least, tahini and chocolate marmar [marble] cake.

… did I mention it comes with a ribbon? This book is just glorious.

A Spectre, Haunting

This book was sent to me by the publisher, Head of Zeus (via Bloomsbury), at no cost. It’s out now; $29.99.

It’s a joke some people make to say that I’m basically a Communist. I’m not; I’m not dedicated enough. I am happy to wear ‘vaguely socialist’; there are a lot of things within the ideals of socialism – and, yes, communism, depending on how you talk about it – that I absolutely subscribe to. And yes, of course I know that the whole concept of communism is now utterly tied up with the various 20th century versions that claimed to putting it into practise. I am a history teacher.

Mieville, too, is open about his context. In the introduction he explains that he’s trying to present the historical aspects in such a way that a reader of any political persuasion will be able to read it (without frothing in a rage is, I think, the subtext). He is clear that the final chapter is much more subjective but again hopes that people will be able to engage thoughtfully. I deeply appreciate that he’s not pretending to be neutral, which is something that would be impossible (and that anyone who knows his background wouldn’t believe anyway).

All of that is context around the fact that I think this book is incredible and anyone who wants to make any claims for or against communism in the 21st century absolutely needs to read it.

First, it contains the entire text of the Communist Manifesto. I’ve read bits and pieces but I don’t think I’ve ever sat down and read the whole thing from cover to cover (it’s an honours thesis in length! Only 12,000 words!). And every paragraph is numbered and every time Mieville refers to something from the Manifesto, it’s right there for you to refer to. I present: integrity. Bits that shook me: reading about workers being alienated from the products of their labour while watching Severance; also that the bourgeoisie / capitalism “has resolved personal worth into exchange value” and nothing else.

Second, I am deeply appreciative of Mieville giving the historical context not just of Marx and Engels, and not just of Communism (not completely comprehensive, which Mieville acknowledges) but also the context of manifestos as a genre. That’s pretty great and something I’ve not seen before. He also examines various criticisms of the Manifesto, from different times and perspectives, and discusses their validity or not. Mieville is in no way suggesting that the Manifesto is perfect, and accepts some of the problems quite readily; those he doesn’t, I think he deals with thoughtfully.

Finally, the bit that may well have some people frothing at the mouth and that particularly struck me is the chapter in which Mieville examines the utility of the Manifesto for the 21st century. And the important thing here is that Mieville comes across as angry. Really quite angry about the piles and multitudes of inequality and despair and awfulness in the world today. I can’t adequately give an overview of this chapter, because he has several points and I haven’t entirely decided whether I agree with all of them. But what I am is convinced that this rushed (although still missing its deadline), somewhat incomplete, more than 150 year old document still has something to offer – even if it’s largely as a starting point, and it’s definitely not perfect.

Escape from Puroland

I received this book as an ARC through NetGalley.

This novella is noted by Goodreads as number 7.5 in the Laundry Files series – it fills in a gap, basically, about one of the chief characters. For reference, I have read a few Laundry Files stories: I enjoy them a lot, but not quite enough to obsessively chase every single book down. I did enjoy this one a lot, which means that you could probably come to this with maybe even no knowledge of the rest of the books – as long as you’re happy enough not knowing some of the background (like who Mo is). I think there’s enough explanation about things like computers creating magical energy, and therefore background magical radiation increasing as computational power increases, that a reader who’s prepared to roll with it can do just that.

So, the story: Bob Howard is sent to Japan to help them deal with incursions of entities from other dimensions. These can take the shape of various things depending on mythology and so on in the surrounding area… and when Howard is given a hotel room that’s Hello, Kitty themed, alarm bells should have started ringing…

The Laundry Files are what I would consider very pop-literature. This is in no way a statement on quality! What I mean is that they’re fast-paced (very fast-paced, in this instance); there’s a lot of banter; there’s a lot of pop-culture references, some of which I admit I didn’t get but the general gist was obvious. This story just barges along and drags you along in its wake. And it’s a whole lot of fun. In fact, it’s made me start eyeing off the rest of the series…

The Corfu Trilogy

I read My Family and Other Animals in year 10 English. I adored it and went on to read more of Gerald Durrell’s memoirs, of being a naturalist and collecting animals for various zoological places. I realised that of course this collecting of animals is slightly problematic, but he really does write well.

I watched the tv adaptation of the Durrells in Corfu a few years ago; and for some reason I was reminded of it again recently. Given current circumstances I thought something comforting would be the go. And then I discovered that for barely any more $$ I could get the entire Corfu trilogy – which I didn’t realise existed – rather than only My Family. So, of course, I did.

It’s one of those cases where the Suck Fairy hasn’t entirely ruined what you used to love… but there are definitely elements that were, um, problematic.

Firstly, the positives: while Durrell’s writing does occasionally veer dangerously close to purple, I still adore the evocative descriptions and once again was overcome with the desire to run away to Corfu and live in a rambling villa. Durrell makes Corfu of the 1930s sound like a child’s paradise, with long lazy days of botanical and zoological collecting. And Mum gets to spend all day gardening and cooking and knitting – except when bloody Larry has invited friends over. I enjoyed reading about Gerry’s adventures and he definitely has a turn of phrase when it comes to describing animals. I’ve always thought of magpies as Maggenpies.

However. There are definitely caveats for recommending anyone read this today. Firstly, there’s the condescending nature of Gerry and his family to the ‘peasants’ of Corfu. I guess Gerry is a kid and so he can be forgiven for the fact that he takes advantage of the kind-hearted nature of his neighbours who always want to feed him; but it does get painful. There’s also the odd bit of racism – unpleasant comparisons between races, for instance, and generalisations based on nationality or race. I suspect part of the reason there’s not more is that Gerry is generally disinterested in people, unless they can teach him about natural history or help him acquire animals. So that is something to keep in mind if you considered reading these stories.

Finally, I continue to find it hilarious that the louche and irritating older brother Larry who barely gets anything written because he’s talking about it rather than doing it, became Lawrence Durrell, famous author. And even more hilarious that his Dark Labyrinth is a novel I truly love.

A Table for Friends

This book was sent to me by the publisher, Bloomsbury, at no cost. It’s out now; RRP $49.99.

It feels an age since I reviewed a cookbook! And usually I like to actually cook from one before reviewing, but… well… look at the title. None of that is happening at the moment. And although of course I could cook from it for two, the one time I tried to get the ingredients recently it fell through because of Issues with Shops. So I figured I should just get on with telling people about the book, since it’s out now!

Firstly, this book is gorgeous. It’s hard cover, and it has a ribbon (as all cookbooks ought) and the pictures are lovely. I am indeed one of those people who loves flicking through a cookbook looking at the pretties, and this is one that rewards such actions.

Beyond the appearance, though, I am intrigued by the way it’s arranged – which is slightly different, at least in the naming. McAlpine says in her intro she wanted it to feel ‘intuitive’: so it opens with what she calls Stars – the centrepiece of a meal. But that’s not always a roast; she includes chilled almond soup, and burrata with preserved lemon, mint and chilli (bring on summer) in this section, as well as Pork Wellington and poached cold salmon. For every star, McAlpine suggests what might go alongside from the other sections – Sides and Sweets. Basically, she is doing all of the menu planning for you, if you choose to follow her ideas. She rhapsodises about the joys of throwing together dinner and lunch parties in her introduction, which is something I have never found easy – enjoyable, yes, but for me sometimes quite stressful since I’m not sure what works together and I can get flustered by organisation. McAlpine’s point, then, is to make those like me just chill out a bit.

So the other sections are Sides and Sweets, and Extras – truffle mayonnaise and cocktails and the like. But one of the great triumphs is found at the back. The section called How to Cook by Season sets out suggested meal plans by seasonal availability of produce: a Make-Ahead Weeknight Supper for Spring, Late Summer Lunch Al Fresco, a First Blush of Autumn Supper, Food for Celebration in Winter… and so on. Just the names make me really, really want an end to the Current Situation. And THEN, joy of joys, she has a section called How to Cook by Numbers, which is something that really stresses me out. Starting with Cooking for Four to Six, and going to Cooking for Twenty (or more), she suggests recipes that work most easily at those quantities. Which is just magnificent. I don’t ever want to properly cater for twenty, because that seems like way more trouble than I can face; but she suggests a lot of things that can scale. And finally, because she’s clearly a sensible and canny writer, McAlpine finishes with How to Cook by Timings: the things to do last-minutes, and the things you can prepare days ahead.

I am really, really looking forward to cooking from this book, both just for us when ingredient can be come by easily, and for larger groups of friends. I am also quite greedily happy just to have it on my shelf to look at.

Rosewater

Unknown.jpegI am … honestly not sure what the point of this novel was.

Overall I liked it. Mostly. I thought it was an interesting way of thinking about reactions of first (or is it?) contact with aliens and the repercussions of that. But once I got to the end, I realised that it felt a bit more like a prologue to a novel, because narrative-wise really very little actually happened, except in the past, as told through flashbacks. And it didn’t feel like that – the past – was the point, which means… I’m not entirely sure what the point was.

Rosewater is in the name of a township that has grown up around an alien dome that plonked itself down in Nigeria in the mid-21st century. Kaaro lives there and works using his psychic skills to stop other psychics from pilfering knowledge from other people (I think?). The flashbacks are mostly about Kaaro’s life, weaving around his experiences and how his life has intersected with the coming of the alien dome. He’s not always been an upstanding member of the community, to put it mildly, but / and he’s also worked for a shady part of the government, using his ‘sensitivity’ in interrogations and the like. Kaaro is not a particularly nice person; in fact, especially early on he is actively unpleasant. And while he does grow up a bit, he never gets to be the sort of person I’d like to spend time with – and even his unpleasantness isn’t particularly interesting. In fact I didn’t really care for or about him at all.

The other characters around Kaaro are minimally developed. His boss from the government is pretty 2D – hard-nosed, no humour, doesn’t respond to his suggestive comments; the love interest is at least a bit mysterious and has some active agency of her own; most of the others are flash-in-the-pan, barely fleshed out ciphers. Even the renegade that pops in and out of Kaaro’s past (almost literally) has basically no back-story.

I got to the end of the book a bit confused that this could be the start of a series (a trilogy, I believe). On the one hand, as I said this all feels like it should be the build-up for something epic. On the other hand, the conclusion left me feeling like there was no epic to come. Clearly in an alien contact story there’s always something that can happen, good or bad, but I wasn’t left grasping for the rest of the story.

Maybe it was just me, and this book just wasn’t for me. I can cope with that.

Declaration of the Rights of Women

9781781575673This book was sent to me by the publisher (Hachette, in Australia) at no cost. It’s available today ($19.99, hard back).

Olympe de Gouges is something of a hero for me, and I’ve longed for a biography on her – there’s a French bio from the mid-90s, but as far as I can tell it’s not been translated. This isn’t the bio I’ve been wanting but it does present her manifesto, along with illustrations and the UN’s Declaration on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, and excerpts about women’s right from decades of writing.

This delightful little book calls her “the most important figure for women’s rights you’ve never heard of,” which is a crime. In 1789 the National Assembly in France wrote the Declaration of Rights of Man and the Citizen, drawing on the American Declaration of Independence and having a massive impact 150 years later on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. De Gouges wrote the Declaration of Rights of Woman and the Citizeness in response. It was ignored by the men in charge and she died as part of the Terror, in 1793.

Each of the articles is presented on a page with a facing illustration. The next page has quotes from various luminaries, mostly French – these quotes sometimes relate directly to the article they follow, although not always, which I found a little frustrating. The thing is, though, that the articles de Gouges was putting forward are not actually all about ‘women’s rights’ as such – that is, access to divorce and contraception, for example, aren’t at the top of the list. Instead what she’s doing, and what is quite radical, is she’s reframing the articles from DORMAC… with feminine pronouns. So Article 7 says: “No woman is exempt; she is accused, arrested, and detained in cases determined by law. Women, like men, obey this rigourous law.” Her point is that women are, and should be treated as, equally capable of being citizens. WHAT an idea. (This from a time when only one of the political clubs allowed women to be members – and that was part of what made it radical; women-only political clubs were shut down as part of a conservative reaction.) Oh she also wants women to have access to public office and to voting… yeh, first-wave feminism was not the 19th/20th century suffrage activists: it was de Gouges and Wollstonecraft.

Here’s my main complaint, though: each of the articles is illustrated, which I think is lovely; there’s also an image for the prelude and postlude, so 19 images in all. One of those is credited to two artists, a man and a woman. Of the remaining 18, ten of the images are by men. So in this book celebrating women’s right, they couldn’t find enough French women to get more than half of the illustrations done by them? I’m quite disappointed.

Overall this is a long overdue tribute to a clearly brilliant woman. Now someone write a biography and I’ll be happy.

Galactic Suburbia does Star Trek: Discovery

Galactic Suburbia 181: Star Trek Disco Spoilerific

Sit down, strap yourselves in and get ready to be wall to wall spoiled for the entire new series of Star Trek!

Get us at iTunes or Galactic Suburbia.

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Gladiator

And we’re back to Great Scott!

Unknown.jpegGladiator (Ridley, 2000)

James has never seen it before; Alex hasn’t seen it in a very long time.

A: Opens by telling us how mighty the Roman Empire is at its height – ¼ of the world’s population!!! Marcus Auerlius is about to fight the last of the ‘barbarians’… and then we cut to a hand in the wheat, and then Rusty in furs on a battlefield. OOH FOREBODING.

J: Standards, horses and the Crimson Tide music.

A: I like the movement from focused on one man to then showing the entire army. It’s a lovely effect. And the Roman army does look appropriately awesome.

Oooh Germans being evil. “People should know when they’re conquered” indeed.

The different accents from the actors is going to be hilarious across this film.

J: Shot on Super 35 Kodak film, interested how muted real film can look these days, especially for overcast / natural light scenes.

A: I like how dirty this film is, in battle especially.

J: Ruuusty, sounds like he’s just had a couple of cans down the local pub… ‘At my signal, Unleeash Hell’ … Is he auditioning for Croc Dundee ? He couldn’t sound more Aussie. Continue reading →