Tag Archives: ursula le guin

A Wizard of Earthsea

I first read this… I don’t remember when. I think I was at primary school. And I’m not sure whether I’ve read it since, but it had a very big impact on me. I could still remember a lot of the little details, and my fierce appreciation, fear, and sympathy for Ged.

UnknownA friend who read this as an adult just couldn’t cope with Le Guin. It made me think that perhaps Le Guin is like a really amazing pencil sketch, where someone like Martin or other such epic writers are oil painters. Le Guin doesn’t waste words; she doesn’t give lush, page-long descriptions. But this isn’t a detraction; she’s evocative and masterful in her language, and she tells a grand tale in (in my copy) well under 200 pages. That’s not something to be frowned upon! … but it could be something that people with tastes shaped by more modern fantasy writers find hard to cope with. And that’s fine; it’s just a different tastes thing.

I love that Le Guin starts with Ged as a wild young thing. I read somewhere that when she was commissioned to write a children’s book she looked at the wizards she knew and they were all old men (she’s a big LOTR fan), and she thought: how did they get there? So forty years before Rowling, she wrote of a wizard school. And Ged is nothing like Harry.

The friendships are wonderfully understated but nonetheless feel real; the dangers are never dwelt on in horrific detail but are nevertheless palpable. Ged’s efforts, his fears, his determination – all come through. Perhaps this is why I appreciate Rosaleen Love: her sparse language is a lot like Le Guin’s, and they both manage to capture a great deal in few words.

I also love that the only white-skinned people in this story are the invading barbarians, who only occupy a few pages.

Galactic Suburbia 108

In which we level up in Gamergate, give away Kaleidoscope, and give each other Guardians of the Galaxy mix tapes. You can get us from iTunes or from Galactic Suburbia

TRIGGER WARNING: discussion of virtual attacks and physical violence towards women.

Gamergate & Zoe Quinn:

Internet’s Most Hated Person

Charles Tan does a breakdown: Understanding Gamergate.

The word of the day is: doxx

Kaleidoscope ebook giveaway
– contact us via email or social media with a recommendation of a Kaleidoscope-esque YA book or short story in order to enter.

What Culture Have we Consumed?

Tansy: Guardians of the Galaxy, Please Like Me Season 2, Kaleidoscope, Sensation Comics featuring Wonder Woman, John Chu “The Water That Falls On You From Nowhere” yes finally, shut up.

Alex: Alias season 1; Planet of Exile, Ursula le Guin – and a whole bunch of essays, from Dancing at the Edge of the World and Language of the Night; Landline, Rainbow Rowell; Kaleidoscope; Anita Sarkeesian’s Women vs Tropes in Video Games; Guardians of the Galaxy as well; Radio Lab podcast

Alisa: Rocket Talk – interviews with Kate Elliott and Nora Jemisin; Kameron Hurley; Renay; Podcasts abandoned – This American Life and TED Talks; Frankenstein (Pemberley Digital), Guardians of the Galaxy

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 (http://www.patreon.com/galacticsuburbia) and don’t forget to leave a review on iTunes if you love us!

The Tiptree Award Anthology vol 3

UnknownI just love these anthologies. I love what it showcases – the diversity of what the different Tiptree panels have judged as falling into the category of ‘exploring and expanding gender,’ which is the remit of the Tiptree Award each year. I love that it shows diversity within the genre, full stop. I love that the anthologies don’t just have fiction, and don’t just have fiction from one or two years, but that there’s non-fiction and older works as well. And that the introduction and sometimes the introduction to each piece are interrogating themselves, the pieces, and the scene in general.

There’s a lot to love.

I’ve had this volume waiting to be read for aaaages. I thought it appropriate to read as I rode public transport on my way to interviewing Rosaleen Love – what I’ve read of her work fits into the broader milieu of the works represented here. As I read, I couldn’t believe that I’d allowed myself to leave this book festering on the shelf for so long.

The non-fiction includes an essay of Pam Noles’, called “Shame,” which struck me very deeply: about the experience of watching and reading science fiction as a person of colour, and not seeing yourself. Her dad sounds awesome: he called the movies she was watching “Escape to a White Planet,” and “Mars Kills the White People.” There’s an enormous amount in this essay that I, as a privileged white reader (gender does not trump race – it’s not a competition) probably need to read it again. Several times. And that the editors paired it with Dorothy Allison’s essay on Octavia Butler was very nice – the latter doesn’t talk all that much about race, more about Butler’s vision of women in the future, but the two are surely entwined… perhaps not especially in Butler, but certainly in Butler. And then there’s a letter from L Timmel Duchamp to Alice Sheldon/James Tiptree Jr, which is a lovely musing on what Sheldon/Tiptree as person and as author has meant to one individual.

Geoff Ryman looks at some possible consequences of the internet arriving in an out of the way village; Nalo Hopkinson goes domestic, sinister and mythological all in one hit; Margo Lanagan does weird weird things that I’m still figuring out in “Wooden Bride” – the story that, I think, gets the shortest introduction of all, since “some stories shouldn’t be introduced” and doesn’t that just describe all of Lanagan’s work? Aimee Bender’s “Dearth” is a devastating, heart warming, bewildering story about maternity and mothering… and I’ve just realised the protagonist is never named. And isn’t that a statement in itself. All of the stories so far were new to me, and Bender was a new name. And then it gave me Ursula Le Guin’s “Mountain Ways,” one of my favourites of her short stories. I can’t possibly pick a favourite story, because that would mean choosing between Le Guin and Ted Chiang: “Liking what you see: A Documentary” is another of his glorious mucking-with-structure stories in which the question about whether you should turn off the ability to see/appreciate beauty is presented as if as a transcribed documentary. And the fact that there are no visuals to accompany this story about visuals just adds to its power and general gloriousness. And for the editors to pair this with Tiptree’s “The Girl Who Was Plugged In” – well, I’ll admit that I did not reread the Tiptree. It was just going to be too raw an experience. So too was “Litte Faces,” by Vonda McIntyre, but I didn’t know that before going in. Deeply disturbing and weird (but not entirely in an unpleasant way), as well as powerful and impressive – and so very different. So, too, the final story – different that is, slightly less weird and disturbing – is “Knapsack Poems,” from Eleanor Arnason. She uses a character who is effectively distributed over eight bodies to tell a story of travel and experience, and I couldn’t help but be reminded of Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice. I’m not sure the similarities are much more than superficial, but they’re intriguing anyway.

This anthology works as something read from cover to cover in a sitting or two; it could be dipped into over months; it could be hopscotched. It should be read in any way you can.

Tiptree Award Anthology #2



Unknown-1 For those just joining us, James Tiptree Jr was a magnificent SF writer whose work Robert Silverberg once described as “ineluctably masculine.” Which is amusing because she was actually Alice B Sheldon. Anyway, in 1991 some people decided there should be an award named for a woman, and that it should be given to works that “explore and expand gender”. So, to be quirky, they named it for Sheldon/Tiptree. And the award has been going since then, and there are now a number of anthologies that reflect it: excerpts from novels, complete short stories, but also other work that reflects the issues that the award desires to highlight. Which is awesome.

Debbie Notkin’s introduction does a marvellous job of discussing the very first award and how it was decided on, as well as – most interestingly – pointing out that each jury has been forced to decide all over again what it means to “explore and expand gender.” Which is good to be reminded of, because there are definitely stories in the anthology whose inclusion I was a little confused by. And this, Notkin says, is totally fine.

In honour of Tiptree/Sheldon, the anthology opens with a short essay from Julie Phillips, the biographer of Tiptree/Sheldon (which I reviewed here, and as I write I am listening to The Writer and the Critic discuss it), about talking and talking too much which is completely fascinating (and somewhat connected to the current furore over Hilary Mantel’s words about the media representation of royalty?). It’s matched with a letter from Sheldon herself, to the psychologist Rudolf Arnheim, talking about identity and science fiction and science and friendship, which is such a nice touch. And then the anthology jumps straight into Raphael Carter’s “Congenital Agenesis of Gender Ideation by KN Sirsi and Sandra Botkin,” which can only be read by itself, must be read in a single sitting, and may then require that you sit staring at a wall for a few minutes. Because it is mind blowing. It’s written as a thoroughly researched scientific article, where two scientists from different backgrounds come to a startling discovery about how gender is perceived and what that means for identity and… that doesn’t really explain it at all. It’s very accessible as well as challenging and I can absolutely understand why it won.

L Timmel Duchamp’s collection Love’s Body, Dancing in Time was shortlisted in 2004, and from it this anthology includes “The Gift.” For all that it’s set in a distant future where the narrator is a travel writer who discusses other planets rather than other countries, there’s something rather medieval in its suggestion that there is more to an understanding of gender than a basic dichotomy. And I don’t mean ‘medieval’ in a pejorative sense, but in the sense that some medieval thinkers seemed to be groping towards a similar sense – and for similar reasons as suggested here. That aside, one of my favourite parts of this story is the description of the meal composed around the ideas of Matrix Aesthetics. And made me wish that something similar could possibly exist, that combined visual, aural, and taste sensations all designed to complement one another.

The next two parts of the anthology are again from 2004, this time excerpts from the winning novels. The Tiptree Award is an interesting one in that it seems to me one of the few really big-name awards that considers all work for one award (shorts and novels), and which is not afraid of having a tie (which has happened a few times). Firstly here, Joe Haldemann’s Camouflage – the first four chapters and “and two from a little further along,” according to the reading notes. I HAVE to read this novel. It’s utterly gripping, right from the start: an alien comes to earth millennia ago, and is capable of changing its outward appearance to be… whatever it likes. Imagine the consequences of that on ideas of gender and identity. This is complemented by an excerpt from Johanna Sinisalo’s Troll: A Love Story, which I imagine I will also get around to reading. Translated from the Finnish, it does indeed involve a troll, as well as (again according to the reading notes) mail-order bride slavery and Finnish folklore and homoerotic imagery. In this excerpt, the narrator’s night has started badly, with a failed date, and gets worse when she finds a bunch of boys attacking an animal. Things get weirder after that.

“Looking for Clues” is Nalo Hopkinson’s guest of Honour speech from WisCon (the convention where the Tiptree is announced) in 2002. As a woman of colour, as she explains in her speech, finding people “like her” was one of the aims of her extensive early reading – because there weren’t that many. She takes a winding road through various media and her experiences to look at the different sorts of role models (and not) available through her childhood and teenaged years, as well as making pointed remarks about people who insist on remaining ignorant about the issues. It would have been a brilliant speech to hear in person.

Eileen Gunn’s collection Stable Strategies is another one that got shortlisted in 2004, and as a representative this anthology chose “Nirvana High,” co-written with Leslie What. This is one of the inclusions that I simply do not get. It’s a clever story and it says interesting things about difference, and about growing up as ‘different’, but I don’t see that it says things about gender that connect it to the Tiptree. But I’m sure Notkin would say “and?”

From 1996 comes Jonathan Lethem’s “Five F***s” (sorry, I would like to keep this profanity free!). It’s a series of six vignettes, and in all of them there is a woman whose life appears to be different each time she has sex with a particular man. Indeed, it’s not just her life, but the world around her; in this sense it reminds me a bit of Lathe of Heaven. The lover does not appear in every story; in all but the first, there is a different man – Pupkiss, a policeman (mostly). So there are elements of the procedural to some of the sections, but not really. It’s one of those stories, as you may be able to guess, that is particularly hard to explain. It should just be read.

Carol Emshwiller’s “All of Us Can Almost…” is another story in the I don’t entirely get it pile. Shortlisted in 2004, it’s about desire and lying and determination, and while I think it’s a very good story and fascinating in what it says about interactions between people and expectations, I don’t entirely see that the gender aspects – which I can see – are an interesting enough or explored enough aspect to get it shortlisted. Again, refer to Notkin’s advice.


Gwyneth Jones is rapidly becoming one of my favourite authors, so I was pleased to see an entry from her here. Rather than a piece of fiction, it’s a paper she gave called “The Brains of Female Hyena Twins: On the Future of Gender,” presented at the Academic Fantastic Fiction Network conference in 1994. In it, she ranges far and wide over scientific papers that discuss aspects of gender and biological sex in animals (those hyenas, peacocks, lizards and fish…), as well as gender and sex in humans and their malleability, as well as some frightening aspects of the battle of the sexes. It’s erudite and occasionally witty (insofar as such a topic ought to be), and outright challenging to biological determinists.

The penultimate place belongs to Ursula le Guin, for Another Story, or A Fisherman of the Inland Sea which I have read before but fell in love with all over again, reading it here. The planet of O is such a richly realised place – their marriage customs so breathtakingly original – and they’re not even the centre of the story, which is I think mostly about scientific research and its  impact on individuals, as well as the impact of family, and the choices that we make… It’s wonderful.

Finally, Jaye Lawrence’s “Kissing Frogs” is described as “a pleasing after-dinner mint of a story” by the reading notes, and I think that’s about right. It’s a retelling of the fairy story, of course; it’s amusing and sweet and I can’t go into any details because the point of it is the little twists Lawrence weaves in. A highly enjoyable way to complete the anthology, anyway.

What this anthology does, and I presume what it set out to do, is give a broad overview of the point of the Tiptree Award – showcasing works that various juries have thought worth honouring, as well as including work that must help to inform the juries, and authors, and readers about the ideas of gender that the award wants to recognise. It succeeds in this aim, and no doubt in a secondary aim as well – of publicising those names whose work has been recognised, so that they get more recognition, and more people are challenged and inspired by their words.

You can get this anthology from Fishpond.






First Galactic Suburbia ep for 2013!

Troy-AchillesIn which Alex touches Troy with her bare hand, Alisa discovers that the best part of Paris is not the part that’s underground, and Tansy cheats on both of them for love of Doctor Who (it was inevitable, really). You can get us from iTunes or at Galactic Suburbia.


Alex: Turkey and Egypt
Alisa: Honeymoon in Paris
Tansy: adventures on the internet including the article “Historically Authentic Sexism in Fantasy. Let’s Unpack That” syndicated on Tor.com, selling Wet Shirt Mr Darcy for the Deepings Dolls, and Verity! (a Doctor Who podcast)

Hugo Nominations close on Sunday, March 10, 2013. We’ll be making recs over the next few episodes, though in the mean time check out Tansy’s post on Hugo Recs for Best Graphic Story.

The Galactic Suburbia Award: for activism and/ or communication that advances the feminist conversation in the field of speculative fiction in 2011 – to be announced in 2 weeks, get your nominations in quick! Check out last year’s winner and honours list to see the type of thing we want to hear about, or be reminded of!

Culture Consumed:

TANSY: Eureka Seasons 1-4; Captain Marvel by Kelly Due DeConnick, Dexter Soy & Emma Rios; Saga by Brian K Vaughan and Fiona Staples.
ALISA: The entire series of The Closer, Tara Sharp 1: Sharpshooter and 2: Sharp Turn.
ALEX: Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter (the movie); Zendegi, Greg Egan; The Telling, Ursula le Guin… and how many books in total? Yes, Alisa really ran a book on this one.

AND!! Alisa’s exciting news!!

Happy Birthday to the Silent Producer, who totally missed us while we were away, and got a brand new episode to edit as his birthday present.

Please send feedback to us at galacticsuburbia@gmail.com, 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!


Four Ways to Forgiveness, or, Ursula le Guin is the best

There is just no denying it: Ursula le Guin is one of the greatest writers of the last 50 years (at least), and I firmly believe that the only reason she does not get more recognition for her commentary on race, politics, and – especially – gender – is because she sets much of that discussion off world. But, as I’ve mentioned before, this makes the discussion both easier to read – it’s not my society being critiqued! – and harder-hitting, because when we see our faults in aliens… it hurts more, somehow. Or maybe that’s just le Guin’s genius.


So. Here we have four interconnected short stories (although if we’re being technical I think the last two are probably closer to novellas). We have two planets, Werel and Yeowe. Yeowe was uninhabited until the Owners on Werel decided to start mining and farming it, for which they used the labour of their assets. Yes, Werel is a slave-owning society, and a capitalist one (I see what you did there, le Guin – very nice indeed – Marx needs a little chastising sometimes). And within the hierarchy of owner/owned there’s a gender hierarchy as well, with women being firmly the lowest section of each caste. Sounding familiar? Well yes, except that here lovely onyx skin is the most prized, and the paler you are – the more ‘dusty’ – the more obvious your slave status.

Me, I’m one of the palest of the pale whitefellas around. No way can I presume to comment on how people of colour would react to this inversion. For myself, I’ll admit that reading the derogatory term ‘dusty’ did not at first make sense (I thought it was referring to them living in the dirt and dust); and while it was uncomfortable in the context of slave/free, it’s awesome to read stories wherein black is desirable and beautiful… and it’s not a big deal.

The four stories all deal with the same basic issue and time: the consequences of a revolt of the ‘assets’ on Yeowe against the Corporation who owned them: consequences for the Owners and the assets, for men and women, and for the alien Ekumen observers (this fits into le Guin’s Hainish cycle). For me, while revolutions are interesting and all, it’s the aftermath that’s really the meat of history. What difference does it actually make? How long do changes take and how long do they hang around? Changing the world is one thing; changing attitudes and desires and beliefs quite another.

The first story, “Betrayals,” is set some time after the Liberation, in a nowhere town on Yeowe. It’s the story that has least to do with the Liberation itself, although it comes about as a result of it. It’s a tale of two old people – and how refreshing is that? – dealing with being old, and the changes in their world, and how frustrating the world can be when you’re not able or allowed to make big changes yourself any more… but you can still make small ones, that do make a difference. Bitterness and growth and love. Also gossip, and the downfall of heroes.

“Forgiveness Day” comes first from the perspective of a ‘space brat’ – a worldly (hmm, or not; she doesn’t really have a world) woman of the Ekumen sent to Werel to act as an observer there. Being an observer on tight-knit, inward-facing and closed-mouth Werel was always going to be a difficult task, but having a woman in that position – going out, rather than staying in the beza (woman’s side); her own property, rather than a man’s; speaking to men as their equal – is yet another kettle of proverbial. Solly deals with it rather bullishly, which is perfectly fair and understandable. What puts le Guin at the pinnacle is that she writes Solly completely sympathetically for maybe a quarter? of the story, and then relates the next section from the perspective of Teyeo, her bodyguard, of whom Solly has a very dim view but who again comes across as immensely sympathetic, and casts some shade on Solly; and then the rest is the two of them in rather a pickle. It’s a commanding story of attitudes and cultural perspectives, and change in the face of necessity. It also starts opening up Werel society to the reader, giving hints and clues about how and why it works, which while not making it likeable begins to make it comprehensible.

“A Man of the People” begins on Hain, with a young boy growing up in a sheltered, insular pueblo… who eventually gets impatient with the local knowledge available and longs for something bigger. Nearly half of the story takes place on Hain as Havzhida learns about universal knowledge and eventually becomes a member of the Hainish delegation to Yeowe. While the previous story showed Werel from an outsider’s perspective, seeing Yeowe post-Liberation from such a view is revealing too, not least because the gender hierarchy has been replicated. The rhetoric of freedom, of liberation, is a complex one, and le Guin makes some offerings on how to understand it in this and the next story in particular. I think this story is my favourite, at least partly because it shows how power doesn’t have to come from violence, and subversion doesn’t have to involve deceit. And the characters are wonderful and varied, and Havzhida is a willing observer – not insistent on participation where that might not be appropriate. Which is something that some activists might do well to understand.

Finally, “A Woman’s Liberation” is probably the most difficult to read of the lot. The first is post-Liberation Yeowe, so at least the theory of freedom is present; the second is Werel, where there is no freedom for ‘assets’ but Solly and Teyeo move freely (mostly); the third is post-Liberation Yeowe too, with Havzhida moving freely and women beginning to do so. “A Woman’s Liberation,” though, is from the perspective of a bondswoman – an asset – on Werel. She is thus doubly bonded, doubly enslaved, both to her Owner and to the men of her caste. This makes for a sometimes-painful reading experience – not gratuitous, not unnecessary, but painful nonetheless. Things do change, as the name suggests, but le Guin does not hide the fact that changing official status is difficult, and indeed is only one step in losing the ‘slave-mind’. Rakam is a glorious character who grows and struggles and is unrelentingly honest with the reader. She’s inspirational.

These stories are complex and challenging and absorbing and frustrating because they do not fill in all of the gaps. By the end a general sweep of the history and society of Werel and Yeowe has been revealed, but there is so much more that could be written! This is one of the peculiar gifts of le Guin, I think – she does not tell us everything. Only what we need to know. Which is about liberation, and freedom, and individuality, and community, and love.

Galactic Suburbia 69

In which we admire our Hugo pins, discuss the narrative around bestseller authors like JK Rowling, and take on the idea of what a Best Of anthology actually means. You can get us from iTunes or from Galactic Suburbia.



Trifle Club

The Casual Vacancy released – are you going to read it?

Giveaway from ages ago – copy of Showtime goes to Terry Frost for Joshua York from George R R Martin’s Fevre Dream

New Giveaway for Kaaron Warren’s Through Splintered Walls. Tweet, comment, email or Facebook us about your favourite Australian ghost story OR your favourite female vampire.

Paul Kincaid in the LA Review of Books suggests that SF is tired. Reviewer, heal thyself? He also talks on this subject at the Coode Street Podcast.

Aurealis Awards reminder: submit your books and stories now.

What Culture Have we Consumed?

Alisa: Soft Apocalypse, Will McIntosh, SportsNight (& Newsroom)

Tansy: Sea Hearts, Margo Lanagan; Marvel Heralds; Outer Alliance Episode 24 Changing the Conversation with Julia Rios, Nnedi Okorafor, Jim C Hines & Sofia Samatar.

Alex: Battleship; The Forever War, Joe Haldemann; City of Illusions, Ursula le Guin; The Shapes of their Hearts, Melissa Scott; Nova, Samuel Delaney

Please send feedback to us at galacticsuburbia@gmail.com, 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!

City of Illusions

Fulfilment of my desire to read all of Ursula le Guin’s work continues apace, but this did not actually move me towards my goal… since as soon as I opened it I realised that I had read it before (in a double with Rocannon’s World). However, my memory being what it is, I couldn’t remember details, so I just kept on reading.

City kinda fits into the Hainish cycle, but doesn’t really. It’s set on an Earth that has been a part of the League of All Worlds – the general background for the Hainish novels – but Something Has Happened, far back in the past, such that humanity now appears to exist solely in isolated enclaves that have little to do with each other, let alone to do with an interplanetary society. Some of the Hainish novels mention an Enemy approaching, and there is rumour of an enemy on Earth too, but their connection, if any – ?

The novels begins with a strange man wandering out of the Forest into the clearing of Zove’s House, which is something that just doesn’t happen. Additionally, he has weird eyes, as shown by the cover there – yes, like a cat. (Note: I think the blurb accompanying this edition is atrociously misleading.) He is taken in, and taught to live as a man, because despite being fully grown he has no language or any other capabilities beyond those of an infant. They give him a name: Falk, meaning yellow. Eventually Falk leaves, in the manner of young men who feel they have a quest to complete, and his travels take him to various parts of the world – meeting new people, most of whom are far less welcoming than his original sponsors, and eventually getting to the city of the Shing, who may or may not be enemies. And there he learns a secret….

I like this story a lot, for all it’s not my favourite. I always enjoy le Guin’s imagined future societies, and the things she sees continuing: here, for example, the Older Canon, Taoism, and the Younger Canon, which appears to be bits of the Bible; bits and pieces of technology; occasional random names (Kansas!). Her people are often sketches but for all that they generally feel real; Parth, Falk’s main teacher, is only in the story for the first 25 pages, but she is vital and vibrant and alive. The plot is also sparse; I have been known to describe le Guin’s work as exquisite pencil drawings, especially when compared to the lavish oil paintings of much modern fantasy. Anyway, the story certainly doesn’t fill in all of the details of Falk’s learning or his quest: after 11 pages, she skips five years – I can well imagine some authors taking the first book of a novel to fill in that time with everything he learnt! There are some clever twists along the way, but I don’t really think they’re the main point, somehow. The story is definitely important, but ultimately I think it is the vehicle for demonstrating Falk’s character, how he changes and develops and deals with situations.

An interesting part of the le Guin canon, for sure.

Galactic Suburbia 58

In which we pore over the Ditmar ballot, Alex makes Tansy squirm about her nominations, Alisa makes Alex say ‘sexytimes’ more than once, and we take on the hard-hitting issues of the day: plagiarism, pirates and mommy porn. You can get us from iTunes or Galactic Suburbia.


Ditmar shortlist

Shirley Jackson shortlist
featuring Deborah B

Stephenie Meyer moves into film production and who can blame her?

Story Siren & Plagiarism: Smart Bitches presents the story. Kristi’s apology.

MindMeld looks at great SF reads for teenage girls. But what KIND of teenage girls?

What Culture Have we Consumed?
Alisa: Feed by Mira Grant
Alex: By Light Alone, Adam Roberts; Lathe of Heaven, Ursula le Guin; In the Mouth of the Whale, Paul McAuley; Among Others, Jo Walton;
Tansy: Womanthology, The Pirates! Band of Misfits

Feedback: Fifty Shades of Grey

Interview with the author

Mommy porn

COMPETITION – SHOWTIME – What’s your favourite vampire?

Please send feedback to us at galacticsuburbia@gmail.com, 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!

The Lathe of Heaven

And so my le Guin adventure continues…

Sooo… not my favourite le Guin. Which is sad, which is itself silly, since I half expect every new le Guin to become my new favourite!

The premise here is that George, a remarkably ordinary man, has the ability to have what he terms effective dreams: dreams that alter reality. He doesn’t always dream effectively, but when he does he can’t control it. And it’s driving him mad, because he doesn’t want to have this ability. Thus, drugs, and then therapy. However, that’s when things go even less as George would want them to, because his psychiatrist Haber discovers the ability and… well. ‘Manipulation’ has such ominous overtones, but it’s appropriate here.

Objectively, there is little about this book that ought to work, in some senses. For a start, George Orr is a nobody. He doesn’t want to be a villain or a hero. In fact, there are several long sections of the book where the incredible normal-ness, average-ness, and boring-ness of George are analysed in depth, with some interesting discussion about whether his being so very very average is actually quite amazing. I really like George’s normality, and I can imagine that choosing to put this amazing ability into the hands of Mr Boring was actually quite a radical choice for le Guin (it also made me think of Deb Biancott’s Bad Power set of stories, where people get powers without having any desire to have them). Haber is another sort of character altogether, and a deeply unpleasant one at that. But still we don’t get very much insight into Haber – not whether his actions are motivated by greed or misguided altruism or what. We only see him through George, and George is a fairly ignorant observer.

Then there’s the narrative. There isn’t really very much plot, as such, for the simple reason that the world keeps changing. There can’t be much continuity, even in George’s own life, when he keeps changing fundamental aspects of the world itself. And this is disturbing and uncomfortable and a rather confronting narrative device. Of course, part of the point I suppose is to demonstrate that ‘changing the world’ isn’t as easy as it sounds; Haber thinks it will be simple to make things better, but chaos theory tells us that changing one thing can have immeasurable consequences… and when you throw in the added difficulties of everything being mediated through George’s unconscious mind, well. Hello havoc. Essentially the narrative consists of George and his quest to be normal, please.

I thought the explorations of George as Mr Average were a really interesting aspect of the novel, because in some ways it seemed to be interrogating the idea of the hero, in life as well as in literature, and also of course pointing out that the idea of ‘average’ is entirely a construction: no one should actually sit completely at the midpoint of any measures. I was absorbed by le Guin’s awfully relentless exploration of dream-logic and what it would do to the world next. But – apparently The Times declared this book should be “read again and again.” I’m not convinced it has that much re-readability, for me.