Category Archives: Random

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.


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.

Please send feedback to us at, 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!



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 →


Unknown.jpegI have loved everything I’ve read by Mark Kurlansky. So when I was in a small bookshop in a small town and saw a new book from him, I was pretty stoked. I half considered buying it as an e-version, partly because OH THE IRONY, but then my darling fawned her how pretty it is (and it really is very pretty, with rough-edged paper and all), so I bought the bard-back. Supporting small book shops for the win.

Tragically, I am disappointed.

I was trying to pin down exactly why the book didn’t work, and halfway through I realised: each paragraph felt like an extended dot point. Like he had all of these great ideas and fascinating points, mostly connected to paper, but… couldn’t quite nail the flow and structure. There are weird disjointed bits that entirely lack in connection, there are some fascinating bits about language and so on that aren’t clearly tied to paper, and… well. Disappointed.

I appreciated his discussion of the technological fallacy: that tech happens and then society follows. Rather, he argues, society creates a demand and THEN technology follows, playing catch up: why else is so much money spent on market research? So I liked that bit. However, as someone has pointed out to me, Kurlansky is entirely too linear in his perspective on the relationship between change and society. Civilisation just isn’t like that.

More serious than the lack of sequencing, though, were a few points where he was just… kinda wrong. For instance: he suggests that some people credit Ada Lovelace with inventing computers, and then reveals that actually she was inspired by Charles Babbage. And, uh, no. She invented the first computer language, and it’s no secret she worked with Babbage! … so this makes me a little concerned when he’s discussing those bits of history that I don’t actually have knowledge of. Because… can I trust him?

I gave it a four over on Goodreads because the ideas and the history really are fascinating, but the book itself as a piece of text ought to get a three.

River of Teeth

Unknown.jpegThis novella was sent to me by the publisher at no expense. It will be on sale at on May 23.

HIPPOS. Hippos, folks. There need to be more hippos in my literature.

The foreword states that the American Congress debated importing hippos at the start of the 20th century, to resolve a meat shortage. I have no idea whether this is true. I presume it is; the foreword says it is. I could google it… but I choose not to, and live in the world where I believe that America actually considered ranching hippos. Because that’s way more fun than not.

And what’s even more fun than living in that world is this, Sarah Gailey’s debut. (Seriously? debut? kick. ass.) It’s an alternative history (which means it’s definitely not true, despite some recent definitions of ‘alternative’), pushing the date of hippo-introduction back half a century and imagining the consequences of actually hippo-ranching. Like cowboys riding hippos, and hippos going feral, and breeding hippos for stealth to help deal with the ones being raised for meat.

I’m just going to stop here for a moment and consider eating hippo-meat. Because… I dunno, the Anglo-Celt of my heritage just wants to gag.

Anyway, this is a crazy romp filled with wonderful characters and, as the name suggests, a whole lot of hippo-teeth-gnashing. Winslow Remington Houndstooth, putative lead and leader, is filled with desires for revenge and does his own share of teeth-gnashing. He rides Ruby: black, sleek, fast and deadly. Wonderful as he is, I adore Regina Archambault more: “Nobody ever suspects the fat lady”… who pickpockets and breaks hearts and helps save the day. She rides Rosa: three thousand pounds of albino hippo. Hero is also wonderful, and all about blowing stuff up (always the way to my heart), and the rest of the team fills out nicely. There’s a good villain (or two, or three…), so that’s the character side all sorted. There’s explosions, and card games, and feral hippos that are happy to eat people; romance, confusion, and a lot of crankiness and snark. OH THE SNARK.

You’ll want to get your mitts on this one, folks. It’s just way too much fun to miss out on.