I received this book from the publisher, Hachette, at no cost. It’s out now; RRP $29.99.
If you tried reading one of the Thursday Next books and you hated everything about the whimsy of Fforde’s alternate world, just stop reading now: this book won’t be for you.
If you quite liked the early Next books and got a bit sad as they got sillier, keep reading.
If you’ve never read a Fforde book, you can keep reading too.
And if you’re a hardcore Fforde fan who’s been waiting… and waiting… and waiting for the sequel to Shades of Grey… well, this isn’t it, but it does mark Fforde’s return to writing after a hiatus of a few years, so: maybe it will arrive at some point?
This book is immediately recognisable as part of Fforde’s very particular way of constructing alternate worlds. There’s just enough recognisable from our world – what else would a Welsh near-zombie play but a Tom Jones song – but with some completely and wildly different things thrown in. In the Thursday Next world, the Crimean War never ended, and genetic manipulation means people have dodos as pets. Here, humanity hibernates. The vast majority of the population packs on fat, grows a winter pelt, and sleeps away the winter. Except, in more modern times, for the Winter Consuls – and a few dangerously antisocial types. The Winter Consuls help to keep things running through the winter; like keeping the antisocial types under control.
Charlie is the focal character – he’s just joined the Winter Consuls and is, of course, discovering that everything is not as it seems (whatasurprise). Through Charlie as novice, the reader learns about the Winter and how to survive, as well as about Morphenox – the drug that helps with hibernation, preventing the previously hideous losses, although only if you can afford it – and the various criminal and/or mythical types who also stay awake through winter. Oh and this isn’t just the winter of our world; this is the sort of winter that means mammoths are still alive and well. And global warming will mean something rather different.
It’s a very silly book in a lot of ways. There are silly/amusing jokes riffing off contemporary culture, and for some reason a massive painting of Clytemnestra. But at the same time, Fforde touches on all sorts of intriguing social ideas that might come about because of the hibernation – or simply from different ways of doing things. Like mandating childbearing, but providing the option to pass that responsibility off – to the willing or the desperate. Loss of population from hibernation means that society has developed coping mechanisms such as requiring every citizen to have at least general capabilities, and significant infrastructure to be commensurately accessible to those with those capabilities. Which does interesting things to notions of mastery, I think, although that’s not a huge part of the story. There’s clearly different things going on in terms of international politics, too, but it’s barely touched on.
I feel that Fforde is quite a divisive author. Readers are either willing to go along with his particular method of looking at the world and enjoy the ride, or the first couple of pages will make you angry or annoyed or bored. In general, I really enjoy his work. I think that milking too much out of one of his worlds leads to problems like the later Next books where things went beyond my tolerances – but that’s true of a lot of sequels. Fforde is doing what the best SFF does: making tweaks to the world and showing the consequences, and making the reader think about how those things reflect the world in which we actually live. And if there are jokes about ‘Winter cutlets’ and Carmen Miranda along the way, I’m up for it.
After our producer went to the effort of getting this out almost minutes after we finished recording, this is a belated set of show notes…
In which we save the Tasmanian Devils, take on the Classics, review cars, discover that toy fandom exists, plan to read LOTS of Australian women writers, and Wonder Woman still doesn’t have pants. You can get us from iTunes or from
Coffeeandink on The Erasure of women writers in SF and Fantasy
Mur Lafferty – My Problem With Classics
Open letter to publishers: book bloggers are not your bitches
Kate Gordon’s Devil Auction – help to save the Tasmanian Devils! (kitten pictures with TEETH)
Australian Women Writers Challenge – sign up now
Jason Nahrung posted a list of the books he plans to read for the challenge – let us know what yours are!
In association with this, Tansy produced a list of award-winning SF/Fantasy books by Australian women.
Please keep sending in your suggestions for a Galactic Suburbia Award – we hope to have a plan for this by our 50th episode and are loving reading the tweets and emails so far.
What Culture Have we Consumed?
Alisa: Bellwether by Connie Willis; American Horror Story; Yarn by Jon Armstrong
Tansy: Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor; Jingo & The Fifth Elephant by Terry Pratchett, Shortpacked, a webcomic about toy fandom, obsessed people, lots of GLBTQ characters and feminist commentary on pop culture such as this strip about False Equivalence.
Alex: Coode St podcast with Ursula le Guin, and also with Ian McDonald and Alistair Reynolds; Spook Country, William Gibson; One of Our Thursdays is Missing, Jasper Fforde; Pirates of the Caribbean 4!
TANSY RECS for DC comics that don’t treat women appallingly:
Birds of Prey (start as early as possible, either with the Chuck Dixon issues which are pretty good, or the Gail Simone run which is #56-108)
Power Girl: A New Beginning & Aliens and Apes – Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti, Amanda Conner
Catwoman run by Ed Brubaker
Stephanie Brown Batgirl: Batgirl Rising, The Flood etc.
Secret Six, Gail Simone
Batwoman. Anything with Batwoman.
I HAVE NOT YET FOUND THE PERFECT WONDER WOMAN TRADE TO RECOMMEND. But I do think anyone interested in comics history could get value from reading her first year of adventures, available as Wonder Woman Chronicles Vol. One
Please send feedback to us at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow us on Twitter at @galacticsuburbs, check out Galactic Suburbia Podcast on Facebook and don’t forget to leave a review on iTunes if you love us!
Sadly, I have been Disappointed.
I was an early fan of Fforde – I adored The Eyre Affair and the next two, to the point where I actually went to an event to hear Fforde speak, which is not usually my thing. I’ve read the rest of the Thursday books and continued to enjoy them, and his other stuff too. So I was excited when I heard there was a new Thursday book.
It did not live up to my expectations. And the main reason is that it felt gimmicky. Which is a ridiculous thing to say because the Thursday books are nothing BUT gimmicks, yet here… it just didn’t work. Maybe there were too many, maybe I was hoping for more substance, maybe I haven’t read enough of the books Fforde was riffing off. I read it all the way to the end, because I did want to know how it was going to be resolved, but… I read it in 24 hours because it was a very easy read, not because I was utterly enthralled.
There were bits I enjoyed. This novel actually has a very clever gimmick at its core which allows for all sorts of interesting discussion: the book is not centred on Thursday Next at all. It is centred on the written Thursday Next – that is, the character playing her in BookWorld, the one who is acting for all of those readers who encounter Thursday in the first five books. Head hurt yet? Clever though, yes? So there’s a whole heap of discussion and some angst about how Thursday ought to be played, and – most humorously and self-referentially – discussion about the fact that the Thursday books are basically unread at this time in the (fictional) world, which itself has all sorts of consequences.
One of the gimmicks that I enjoyed at first but then wore thin was the discussion of BookWorld, where the vast majority of the novel takes place. I like this idea a lot, and there are some interesting insights into genre politics and so on. But it was never quite clear whether Fforde was trying to be subversive, in his discussion of genre and who was dealing well and who <i>should</i> be doing well and which genre had influence on each other etc etc, or… whether he was making observations and assumptions. Because he did both. Which got confusing, since – um, was that bit subversive, or do you actually mean that potentially insulting thing you just said about that genre? Which added a layer of annoyance I could have done without.
Look, if you haven’t read a Thursday book, don’t start here. DO read The Eyre Affair, because it is wonderful, even if – like me – you have read no Dickens. If you are a long-time Thursday fan, I can’t see me talking you out of reading this one. But… borrow it from a library, or buy it second hand.
I have discovered that being a fan, in the fan situation, makes me feel quite uncomfortable.
I went to a ‘meet Jasper Fforde’ night some weeks ago. I’d been looking forward to it for a month or so – his books are great, he’s Welsh, it was going to be great. And it was: he was very entertaining, spoke like he writes – all rambling and funny and cross-referenced.
The problem with the evening was not Jasper himself, but everyone else there. No, not true – not everyone – just the people who asked cringe-worthy questions and generally fawned over him. Which, in a way and to be honest, I would have liked to do, had I been able to think up an appropriately witty question or remark and manage to get myself noticed (which, I admit, might not have been hard, since I was in the second row – only not in the first row because I thought that would be just too pathetic).
So the people who annoyed me and made me want to cringe really only did so, if I am to be truthful, because they did what I wanted to and didn’t because I thought it would be a bit embarassing. I took an elitest view to the whole thing and decided to look down on these people who seemed so desperately eager for the conversation and approval, in some form, of this author whom they admired so much (as if I didn’t).
So fandom and elitism are not placid bed-fellows. You can probably expect more dissertation on this in the future, as it really is something that disturbs at the same time that it fascinates me.
I’ve read a couple of books over the last week or so. It’s been fun to be on holidays.
Something Rotten – by Mr Fforde, whom I saw last Thursday – more about that later.
Grim Tuesday – by Garth Nix, which again was awfully entertaining. I can’t wait to read Wednesday.
Artemis Fowl – by Eoin Cowler. Also very entertaining, looking forward to reading the rest of them. I like the idea of the main character being a 12yo criminal matermind with some family issues.
The Gutenberg Revolution – by John Man, just for something slightly different.
Right not I’m reading two books. This is because the one I was already reading, the Empyrion omnibus by Stephen Lawhead (yes, like a cross between Hyperion and Endymion, but very very different and hopefully not so disappointing as that’s conclusion was… I’m still not over that), was too enormous to carry to the HTAA conference I went to today (and tomorrow, and Thursday). So I took along Queen Bees and Wannabes by Rosalind Wiseman, which I’ve been meaning to read for ages – it’s all about what it’s like in “Girl World”: aimed at mothers and daughters, but I think it will be really useful to read as a teacher too. So far it’s been pretty good; not entirely sure if/whether I’ll be able to put it into practice.
Have just finished Michael Asher’s Firebird, one of the books I got from Walkerville Library. It was an excellent story… right up to about a fifth to go. Then it got stupid. It was almost like he had this great story going and couldn’t really figure out a way to end up, and so added in this stupid bit (aliens; rarely a good idea outside of good scifi, and only then when it’s obvious they will feature) in order to bring it a not-very-dramatic conclusion.
Sigh. And I decided to finish reading that rather than jump straight into Fforde’s fourth, Something Rotten. My restraint is incredible… I’m writing this rather than starting it, even now!