In which Alex & Tansy talk awards, culture & promote each other’s projects. Get us from iTunes or at Galactic Suburbia.
Continuum & the Ditmars.
Locus Awards: so many winners.
Mother of Invention: last day of Tansy’s Kickstarter campaign! Last chance to pledge!
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Tansy: GLOW on Netflix
Alex: InCryptid short stories, Seanan McGuire
Tansy: One Con Glory, Sarah Kuhn
Alex: The Girl who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two, Catherynne Valente
Tansy: Not Your Sidekick, C.B. Lee; Star Crossed by Barbara Dee
Alex: Agents of SHIELD
Tansy: Valentine, Jodi McAlister (@JodiMcA & #PaceysCreek on Twitter)
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In which we stack up months of Culture Consumed into a glorious spiral tower of dubious structural integrity. You can get us from iTunes or at Galactic Suburbia
Alisa: Lois McMaster Bujold: Modern Master of Science Fiction, Edward James (and a bunch of Lois McMaster Bujold!)
Alex: Radiance, Catherynne M Valente
Tansy: The Winged Histories, Sofia Samatar (reviewed in the latest Cascadia Subduction Zone)
Alisa: Bitch Magazine & Popoganda podcast
Alex: Extra(ordinary) People, Joanna Russ
Tansy: Every Heart a Doorway, by Seanan McGuire IT’S A NOVELLA
Alex: Once Upon a Time season 1 & Alan Alda at the Press Club
Tansy: Agent Carter; yes all right, Orphan Black
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This book was provided by the publisher at no cost.
My big problem in writing this review will be making sure it makes sense and isn’t just full of incoherent hand-waving. Here area a few initial points that will establish my position:
a) I’m really glad I got to read this before finalising (coughstartingcough) my Hugo nominations.
b) Because I got old, this is the first book in ages that I’ve stayed up past midnight to finish (18yo me is shaking her head in disappointment). Letting me finish it in a day (although not a sitting).
c) When I read Illuminae, I was immensely pleased with the found-footage style, but thought I wouldn’t want it to become TOO common. And then I read this. And now: I’m happy for Catherynne Valente* to use any damn style she likes.
So. This book.
This book is wonderful.
The New York Times describes it as “a sleek rocket ship of a novel swaddled in ArtDeco decadence.” That’s pretty apt.
The overview: set in an alternate universe where the solar system’s planets are all inhabitable, and where interplanetary travel kicked off even before the Wright brothers were doing their thing in our universe, the twentieth century has developed rather differently from ours. The focus is on the film industry, but there are tantalising glimpses into politics as well (like a reference to the Tsar in the 1940s). Anyway, the film industry has mostly developed on the Moon, and it’s a mostly silent industry, because of issues over paying for the rights to sound technology. One of the focal characters, Severin, has grown up with a director-father and eventually goes into the industry herself… and something happened when she’s shooting on location.
That really doesn’t do the novel justice, of course. The story doesn’t develop in a linear manner; it starts at the end and jumps all over the place, gradually filling in gaps. Some of the ‘footage’ comes from Severin’s childhood, when her father filmed her; some from the films of Severin herself, or her father. Some of the documents are in the form of diaries, or gossip columns. There are even ads. And all of it comes together, ultimately, to describe a rich and intriguing solar system, full of the sorts of people in ours – good and bad, selfish and selfless, looking for glory or love. They’re just further apart, being on different planets. And there’s a mystery that just keeps getting deeper and deeper and draws you further in and it’s just, well, radiant.
The story is excellent. But Valente is doing more than telling a luscious story. She’s interrogating ideas of reality and of memory and truth. After all, are you sure that those memories of your third birthday are your memories, or are they a patchwork made from photos and maybe footage and family stories? And if the latter is true, does it matter? What is reality, when it’s mediated through a lens? But then, what is story-telling but putting words to fragmented memories and trying to make sense of the world – as Valente, of course, is doing here.
I love the worlds that Valente has created, with the names of towns and features on the different planets relating to different godly versions of the planet’s namesake. I love that each has a different personality, reflecting in part which nation has settled there but also developing separately – and that despite this being a largely human-friendly system, there are still issues of colonial attitudes and how to feed everyone.
I love the prose.
I half-want a huge sprawling set of stories set in this universe, but at the same time I want this one beautiful object to exist in pristine serenity all by itself.
Other books this reminded me of: Christopher Priest’s The Islanders because of the way the plot is gradually unveiled. Every story ever set on a tropical Venus. Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2312 because of the grand tour of the solar system.
Do not go into this book expecting ‘hard science’; this is not Greg Egan (although there are certainly some similarities in vibe). Don’t read it if you want a linear narrative. Do read it if you want to be swept up on a joyous sometimes confusing but breathtaking ride.
*Wordpress thinks her name is Catherine Valence, which is interesting enough but just no. Seriously.
Neil Gaiman said this book was a “glorious balancing act between modernism and the Victorian fairy tale, done with heart and wisdom.”
I love a sneaky, omniscient narrator who takes liberties with speaking directly to the reader. Especially when they’re not condescending to the reader but takes us into their confidence, presumes we are as intelligent as they are, and goes out of their way to be warm and inclusive.
I love a story where the girl who goes to Fairyland is chosen because she is irascible and short-tempered sometimes. Not because she is good or pretty.
I adore the concept of all children being Heartless in some degree or other. I adore Wyveraries (wyverns and libraries having babies, why not?), although a land of Autumn doesn’t really translate to the Australian experience – especially not for a girl who grew up in the tropics, where leaves don’t really turn red, let alone fall off branches – unless there’s a mighty storm.
I do actually really like whimsy, when the wide-eyed joy is balanced with just enough cynicism that is self-aware enough not to get in the way.
I like it when heroines are sensible and determined, when they know they’re in a story and try to decide how to be in that story, and when they get to be brave and afraid at the same time.
I liked this story more than I expected. I liked the pictures, too.