100 sci fi women #85: Nadia Cherneshevsky

Nadezhda Francine Cherneshevsky Red Mars, Green Mars, Blue Mars Kim Stanley Robinson

Nadia is not the most glamourous of the women who make up the First 100 on Mars.  She is a practical woman, a calm woman, someone who gets on and does. In the early days of colonisation of Mars she is described as “the universal solvent” and she remains this throughout, quietly and industriously working to bring people together. Trained working on power stations in Siberia, Nadia loves to build, to create, to solve problems. While she would rather be driving a bulldozer, she comes to build other things as well – a constitution, a political coalition, a government and even a family. Describing herself of sturdy, Russian peasant stock, she does not see herself as beautiful, but others around her find her beauty and she has two strong relationships. She is able to use sense and reason and compassion to counter and soothe some of her passionate and emotional companions. Nadia builds Underhill while helping everyone else solve all the engineering process, she builds the constitution of the free Mars and then is its first President. But Nadia also knows that sometimes you need to destroy things to build and she is not without her passions. She is distraught by the death of her first partner, the revolutionary Arkady Bogdanov during the uprisings on Mars. She faces danger during the uprisings on Mars trying to save valuable infrastructure but when the revolution calls for it, she is willing to cause the destruction of Phobos, an entire moon. Nadia is the strongest woman on Mars, she survives, she builds, and she eventually has her own daughter to pass her strength onto. And she loves jazz.

I’ve got too much work to do, you know.

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Six Sentence Review: The Twelve

2013-06-01 18.00.29The Twelve Justin Cronin

Like The Passage the first half of The Twelve is significantly better than the second, with compelling portraits of characters and strong ideas. I particularly enjoyed the return of Lawrence Grey and the beautifully painted portrait of life in the immediate aftermath of the outbreak. While the second half was not without merit, there was a level of caricature which was jarring, particularly against the very serious and emotionally compelling depictions of a number of the characters, particularly the ones we had previously met in The Passage. The critques of torture and propaganda were transparent and didn’t really go further than a very crude “these are stupid and ineffective and counterproductive” although I was interested in the use of suicide bombing as a trope. For me, the character of Horace Guilder in the second half of the book did not seem well-formed – someone with his experience and knowledge would surely have been more sensible and sophisticated, and the reasons he wasn’t were not explained. Still worth it, but hoping that the intimated final novel will be a bit tighter and more like The Passage.

100 sci fi women #78: Vyr Cossont

Following the announcement in April by Iain Banks that he has terminal cancer, it would seem that Vyr Cossont might be his last creation of a wonderful female science fiction character. I love the books of Iain Banks, with “M” and without, and am terribly sad about his sickness but I will write more about that separately. But what I did want to say here was how much I have enjoyed the women in his books – and most of his books have great women characters. In fact many of the Culture books have a female character at their centre, and these are women who are smart and capable and know how to look after themselves. They aren’t always the hero, but they are always interesting. Banks’ range of wonderful women help to add to the interest and accessibility of science fiction for women, and give us role models (even if some of them are covered in fur). It would be nice to hope that maybe the diagnosis is wrong, and that maybe we will get to meet a few more of these women in time.

Vyr Cossont, Lieutenant Commander (reserve)

The Hydrogen Sonata Iain M Banks

Vyr doesn’t really want to be a hero, or at the centre of events which might effect her entire civilisation, but she steps up when it seems that this is the case. Vyr’s passion and talents lie in music and she is driving herself slightly crazy attempting to master the incredibly difficult Hydrogen Sonata on the Antagonistic Undecagonstring when she is whisked off to undertaken tasks for which she doesn’t even understand the reason. While she was really only a Lieutenant Commander because of her music playing, as one of the few people left, she is thrust into an altogether different military role and while not enthusiastic, accepts that the job has to be done. Talented, interesting and engaging enough to have captured the attention and confidences of one of the oldest people in the universe, she also proves herself to be smart, adpatable and resourceful. She is also determined – whether it is growing additional arms in order to play an almost unplayable instrument, defying her mother or seeking to solve the mystery at the centre of her civilisation – and courageous enough to be willing to engage in any number of near-death activities. And when it is all over, she choses life and an uncertain future of potential adventure over the Sublime, and whatever that might entail.

Not so much as a by-your-fucking-leave

Six sentence review: Kushiel’s Dart

2013-04-28 10.56.31

Kushiel’s Dart  Jacqueline Carey

I found this book extremely readable, despite some doubts about some of the choices around setting and religious notions. The world of the novel has deliberate references to our own world and religious mythology but the purpose of this referentialism is not particularly clear. Despite this, the characters are engaging and the story is emotionally compelling, even if soem of the politics of the world is overly complicated and not actually that interesting. In the end, the most interesting part is the story of Phedre and her discovering of herself and her capabilities. It also comes with a fair dose of reasonably well written BDSM eroticism as Phedre’s  position as an anguisette means that she gains genuine pleasure in pain. Despite my intitial doubts, I enjoyed the ride and am looking forward to reading the second novel.

Six sentence reviews: Fallen Dragon

Fallen Dragon Peter Hamilton

I bought this in an airport when I had run out of plane reading and knew that Peter Hamilton is pretty reliable for that kind of reading – hence the cover damage. It was an entertaining read, though I thought the first half was a bit slow in parts and probably would have benefitted from being rather tightened up. Like much of the Hamilton oeuvre, Dragon has a long build up to the relatively quick pay off, so it is fortunate that much of that build up contains interesting ideas. Again, as with the other Hamilton I have read, the exploration of the power and role of corporations and economics in setting limits on things like space travel and exploration are very interesting and, as with the Commonwealth setting books, it is corporations who wield all the power.  Characterisation is a little superficial at times and I think there were aspects of Lawrence’s character in particular which weren’t well articulated. Overall, excellent for reading on planes, especially in the second half, with interesting ideas, but ultimately not a book I would ever read a second time.

Six sentence reviews: The Daylight Gate

A new method of reviewing as I seem to find myself short of time….

The Daylight Gate Jeanette Winterson

A book about witchcraft and James I, Winterson naturally managed to weave issues of class and gender into it. In fact it is a story of power – of legal power and arbitary powers, of the power of love, of supernatural power and the power of belief.  It also strongly features the manipulation of power. The characters are beautifully drawn and the story is compelling reading, even though the outcome is clear. I thought the use of Shakespeare as a character seemed unnecessary and a little contrived, but that was one of the few narrative missteps.  Enjoyed very much the short but sad time it took to consume.

Cultural round up: April and May

So yes, I have been quite slack. But I will try and make up for that now. And to start, some fun links. Here is the wonderful Lego on Hoth sequence, which manages to be both poignant and funny, as well as clever. Here are some random Star Wars mash-ups, just for fun. For the Quentin Tarantino lovers amongst us, some thoughts on how his worlds fit together, and what that means for the meta world of his movies. And last for this month, an entertaining look at how self-hating genre fans make things worse for themselves.

Now for the things I have been doing…

BOOKS

Lia Weston The Fortunes of Ruby White I was half way through the first chapter of this and dreading the effort it was going to take to finish it. It was all a bit too trite and straining to be funny but not quite making it. However, pleasingly, it became more engaging as it went along, and I actually finished it fairly quickly. It is an entertaining enough read, and certainly not taxing, but that being said, it was still a bit all over the shop with tone and approach and motivations. Without wanting to be too spoilery, there are things that the book didn’t seem to have quite worked out – was it all a con, or did people actually have powers; was Ruby doing something sensible and logical, or was she being manipulated? To me these things seemed quite confused and not in a mysterious and intriguing way, but rather more like the author was trying to have it both ways. I think taking a firmer decision about these kinds of things and being clear would have actually made a much stronger story. There was also a lot of coyness about some sex related issues – implications of things happening which lent rather a darker tone to the book, and perhaps because of this it was really ambiguous in an annoying sort of way. Mostly I think the book needed a really good editor who could have sorted things out and pushed the book in a clearer direction. A light-hearted comedy probably doesn’t need all these dark implications of prostitution and forced sex, but a darker book probably needs to be actually more explicit. This was a first novel for Weston, and while it would seem to indicate some potential at writing romantic comedy type chick lit, perhaps a bit of tougher editing next time might bring that out a little more.

Raymond E Feist At the Gates of Darkness Sometimes I think I should just stop reading Feist before I destroy all my affection for Magician and the memory of finding it a revelation when I first read it in my early teens. I think the persisting is that I might find some of that magic again, and it is true that a couple of books over the last few years have shown some sparks of it. But not this one. It isn’t a terrible book, it is just not that interesting. Some of the odd inconsistencies bothered me too – Pug can destroy building and build bridges between worlds, but he can’t do the magic to make himself invisible? I also think that the book spent most of its time setting the scene for future adventures (which I am not entirely committed to reading) and therefore was just a bit dull and expositionary. And while I really like the fact that much of the book focuses on Sandreena a powerful woman fighter, I’d like it a bit more if she didn’t spend so much time being moony about someone who treated her badly romantically. On the up side, this was short and easily read, so I didn’t need to spend too much time being irritated.

Alan Hollinghurst The Stranger’s Child This was a beautiful book to read – lovely writing, interesting and detailed characters, all with their own flaws, and a shifting perspective which allows one to see a rounded story. The prime story it seems to tell is the one of the history of homosexuality over the last century in the UK in a microcosm of the interactions of different gay men to a particular locus – a minor poet killed in World War I. It is also a story of privilege and money and the literary world and most importantly of memory and rembering, demonstrating the idea that we remember and reframe the past in a way which is most useful to us at the time. The sustaining stories within the novel are enough to get one past the disjointed nature of the narrative and the fact that some of the mos interesting parts of the story occur off-stage. The nature of a narrative which explores the challenges of memory and remembering and our own perspectives on the world means that at times there are unsatisfying gaps in explanations of characters and their motivations, but I think that needs to be embraced. The intense descriptions of the vignettes of story in each section of the book do however leave one feeling surprisingly close to the characters, and hide how little we actually see of their lives.

MUSIC

Groovin The Moo Canberra University The day didn’t start too cold but certainly ended up that way – the Old Person in my wondered how all the young women (and a few young men) in the minimal clothes would cope. But enough of my motherly concern about the cold.  The line up for the day was quite mixed, and we weren’t entirely sure what to expect early in the day. We started with Hermitude who were pretty awesome even for someone like me who doesn’t mind their style of electronica-come-hip hop (whatever the technical term may be) but wouldn’t call it my first choice in music. There were a few stand outs over the rest of the day. Parkway Drive confirmed for me that death metal is really not my thing, especially song after song of it. The Hillto Hoods had the audience on their side and were generally good, except that they totally over-played the sing a line and then stop approach. Once worked, twice was a bit ho-hum but when they were doing it for the fourth or fifth time it really made them seem like a one-trick pony performance wise. And then there was Andrew WK. My goodness. He was entirely freaky – and pretty much seemed to be playing the same song over and over again. We could only watch in fascination. The two stand outs for me were Public Enemy and the Kaiser Chiefs.

I have wanted to see Public Enemy for more years than I can count and they didn’t disappoint. They have ther performance and the music and still conveyed the energy and politics that has always been part of their music. They really are a posse – with the dudes on the stage who don’t seem to have a role other than some random crowd encouragement still seem to be a part of the whole. It was worth the cold to hear them, and they did play all the songs one hoped. At the end also they made a strong statement about tolerance and inclusivity.

The Kaiser Chiefs were also excellent – great stage show and again playing all the songs one wanted to hear. Lots of energy and an impressive display of barely missing a beat while spinning upside in the side show ride next to the stage. It seemed that some of the crowd had retreated to the tent for Digitalism (and warmth) but I thought that the Kaiser Chief were absolutely worth the frozen feet.

MOVIES

The Avengers Let me start by saying that, while this is a good super hero movie, it is still a super hero movie. Certainly not a genre buster or a radical interpretation of the notion of superheroes or anything like that. Fortuntely, I quite like superhero movies, and I like Joss Whedon’s writing, so over all this was a pleasant couple of hours. There are some definite highlights – Robert Downey Jr is in an acting class of his own in the film, possibly helped by the fact that he gets most of the best lines. If Iron Man was missing, this would not have been anywhere near as enjoyable. Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner also got some of the good line action, and Banner and Stark together were a great combination. I also found the self awareness of Captain America about his potential lameness quite good. In less impressive things, the story arc was just a touch too predictable, though I did wonder whether this was a deliberate Whedon ploy to make the most super hero-est of all super hero movies. I also found the destruction of New York just a tad distasteful – I know it has been ten years and all, but the relish with which is all got destroyed just made me feel a touch uneasy. Anyway, worth the time and money for those who like a super hero.

Monthly cultural round up: March

BOOKS

Siri Hustvedt The Summer Without Men This is quite a pleasant read, though in part I think that the various storylines don’t really gel, or at least do not coalesce in a way which makes thebook more than the sum of its parts. The most interesting parts of this for me was the contemplation of how close we live to our own insanity, when our expectations about the world are suddenly transformed, sometimes there is no place to go but insane. As the story of a woman finding her way back from this kind of traumatic break, it holds some interesting ideas about how one negotiates the world and the future. And then it wanders off into twee storylines about making teenagers like each other more through poetry. There are some interesting vignettes and some nice characters, but overall it doesn’ t quite hang together as well as it could and occasionally seems like a lot of fragments of Good Ideas have been smooshed together. But then again, maybe that is supposed to reflect the disorder of rethinking one’s life.

Alastair Reynolds The Prefect This starts of seeming like a much more straightforward novel than many of Reynolds, but this impression does not last. Beautifully rendered with textured characters, The Prefect is a clever mystery, but it also involves layers of complexity and concepts which make it on a par with other novels. It is fascinatingly dark and raises philosophical questions about what is right and reasonable and how one serves justice, and what justice even is. While it helps to have read other books in the same universe, it isn’t necessary. The world(s) of the Glitter Band are beatufiully thought out, and the book touches briefly on some of the concerns which Iain Banks’ Surface Detail explores in more depth – when should people be saved from themselves? Well worth a read – I am still yet to find a Reynolds’ which is disappointing.

FILMS

Hugo Another 3 D children’s movie – I nearly groaned. But I obviously hadn’t paid enough attention to the director (Martin Scorcese, so a favourite) or the plot. Actually, the publicity about the plot indicated “story of boy living in the walls of a train station in Paris” when in fact the film was really about film itself, but particulary the story of George Melies, the man who gave us the iconic early film image of a rocket smashing into the smiling face of the moon. While it started a little Disney-like with swirling snow and oafish authority figure chases rascally child through train station, it quickly became more interesting. It is clearly made by a man who loves and treasures the history of film and the scenes of Melies at work as a director are delightful. Beautifully cast and acted, it could occasionally have been a little faster paced – though it didn’t lose the attention of the small boys accompanying me.It provide nice vignettes of characters – and the slightly predictable or stereotyped nature of the charaters and their interactions seemed to be more about the exercise of film archetypes than a lack of originality. In fact, much of the film is a tribute to these tropes of film – the dream-within-a-dream, the dangling from the hands of a clock – the film is imbued throughout with clever little tributes to films. Even the use of iconic actors like Ben Kingsley and Christopher Lee seemed to be for their role as a symbol of film history rather than merely their acting skills. Enjoyable for the non-film lover, those who love this history of films will especially enjoy it.

MUSIC

Duran Duran Sydney Entertainment Centre I last saw Duran Duran 29 years ago when they first toured Australia. I thought it was completely amazing, my first experience of live music, so while I was very keen to go and see them again, there was a small touch of trepidation that all my teen memories would be crushed if they ended up being a bit lame. Interestingly, they referenced that tour 29 years ago – they had been the act to open the Sydney Entertainment Centre (I saw them in Adelaide at Memorial Drive). Anyway, there we were in a very diverse crowd, even if the majority were women about my age. They opened with a song from their current album, but it was soon into the old favourites.  They sounded tight, well rehearsed and professional and their multimedia show was enough to be interesting and entertaining without distracting from the band itself. It was definitely a music concert, rather than a visual spectacular. The pace in the first half of the show was a little slow and a bit stop-start and didn’t manage to carry the momentum it potentially could have. Everyone was up and dancign for old favourites, but with slightly too long/many pauses in between songs, the enthusiasm dropped for the newer, more unfamilar songs, and much of the audience was seated for these. This was overcome in the latter half where the songs flowed together better and kept you going through the newer ones. Practically all the old favourites were played, and I think there was a song from every album. There was a huge amount of energy in their performance, and some terrific versions – Wild Boys is one of my least favourite songs recorded, but the performance was fantastic. They closed with Girls on Film and Rio, and it seemed like they had enjoyed the show as much as we had. So I’ll definitely be back if they are. And the 30 year old crush on Simon Le Bon has been somewhat revived, made worse by the fact he is on Twitter.

Women of sci fi #73: Jane Aumonier

A list! Here is a list of current kick ass women on tv – there are a couple among this group of whom I am a complete fan and some ones I need to learn more about.

Jane Aumonier The Prefect Alastair Reynolds

Jane is one of the most resilient women one could encounter, with enormous personal strength. Already talented enough to be a Senior Prefect in the Glitter Band – 10,000 orbiting artificial habitats – Jane is attacked and horribly damaged. With a scarab on her neck that can kill her in milliseconds, for eleven years Jane cannot sleep, become too stressed or go within touching distance of another human without instant death. Rather than retreat into herself or allow herself to die, she becomes the Supreme Prefect and uses her ever-wakefulness to help her keep watch over the Glitter Band. Jane has intelligence and good judgement, but she also does not let her physical distance from other human let her become emotionally distant. She can take hard decisions, but will try to take the most humane decisions as well. She also knows when to let others exercise their own judgement. She is not without fear, but she does not let the fear rule her. She suffers, but this makes her better.

“You know what sometimes worries me the most? It’s not that they won’t ever be able to get it off me. I have confidence in their abilities, maybe more than they do…”

“So what’s worrying you?” asked Dreyfus softly.

“That I won’t be able to dream. What happens when you don’t dream for eleven years, Tom? Does anyone really know?”

 

Monthly Cultural Round Up: January

So, how long ago was January? Yeah, yeah, let’s just get on with it…

BOOKS

Red Mars Kim Stanley Robinson

So sure, it might turn out that I am the only science fiction fan on this planet who had not read this book, but see, I have caught up now. Anyway, I thought it was a fascinating depiction of the colonisation of Mars. It was a very thoughtful book, and the approach to issues such as terraforming (is it environmental vandalism?), socialisation, and the role of multinational corporations and conglomerates I found genuinely thought-provoking. I found the second half of the book a bit hard going at times, but this is because it is so relentlessly depressing. That does not, however, make it bad. The depictions and characterisations of the various key players were excellent, and I particularly liked the way the switch in the narrative viewpoints demonstrated how frequent it is for people to have different viewpoints and perspectives and understandings of the events around them. Engaging and fascinations, it is definitely a must read for any hard core sci fi-sociology fan.

The Hobbit JRR Tolkien

So, challenged to a Hobbit-off by my 9 yr old, I embarked on the reading of my very beautiful The Annotated Hobbita lovely birthday present from long ago. I used to lust over the book found in a tiny bookshop where my best friend worked for a time, and our other wonderful friend who hung out with us there ended up buying it for me. But that was a long time ago, and enough reminiscing. Needless to say, it has been a long time that I have owned this book, and even longer since I read The Hobbit in full. I am pretty sure I have read The Lord of the Rings twice in the meantime. Thus the humour in The Hobbit is a little surprising, particularly given the large amount of grand seriousness in LOTR. I know that LOTR is not without humour of its own, but it doesn’t infuse the whole book quite as it does The Hobbit. The Hobbit is also a much simpler tale and it is interesting to see the extent that the elves, for instance, have morphed between the two books. I must say I enjoyed The Hobbit quite a lot, and found that it moved quite quickly for the most part, although towards the end it did take a bit of time to come to a resolution. Rather like LOTR, just when you think the main action is done, a whole bunch of other things happen. Well worth revisiting, it is also a relatively quick read, worth catching up on before the film comes out at the end of the year. By the way, I did defeat the 9 yr old in The Hobbit-off.

MOVIES

The Adventures of Tin Tin

Confession: I am not really a Tin Tin fan. I was always an Asterix girl. And I have been known to wince in horror when my small boys demand that I read various Tin Tins aloud. Especially when I get to the cringe-worthy depictions of “orientals” and the like. This didn’t mean I wasn’t interested to see the film, but it gives you a perspective on my view of the film. And actually, I rather enjoyed it. I found it pleasantly entertaining, without being word changing. It also wasn’t offensive. I am no fan of 3D, but I actually found the use of 3D quite good – not just annoying and gimicky, but well and cleverly used, and quite beautifully rendered. There are some fantastic scenes – the car chase and the crane fight in particular, and during these in particular the 3D really shines, as does the clever animation. The story could have been paced up in parts, but, really, it is Tin Tin, so how much can you do. For reasonably inoffensive family entertainment, I think Tin Tin meets the ticket quite well. Just don’t expect anything world-changing.

Footloose

So I guess I only saw this because I was on a plane. But hey, for a remake it isn’t bad. The young people are pretty and relatively competent in their roles, the dancing and the music are good. It does not stray far from the original with some scenes, particularly the dance ones, being almost shot for shot (not sure how I remember this after all this time). But the changes I don’t quite understand. HOW CAN IT BE FOOTLOOSE WITHOUT THE CAR SURFING SCENE?!? I kept waiting, but it disappointed me… Oh and I think the lead is better looking than Kevin Bacon, in a bland sort of way, but I am not sure he will ever achieve the same cult status.

Moneyball

For all the talk of this being an Oscar contender and Brad Pitt’s performance being outstanding and blah blah, I just didn’t see it. To me this was your stock-standard hero journey – hero takes chance, no one understands!, encounters setback, fights through and YAY wins. No surprises at all and utterly formulaic. You could pretty much predict every twist. With cute father-daughter relationship thrown in for extra pathos (Daddy, will you lose your job? *cue tear). The thing about the film I found most interesting, and also disturbing, was the entire discourse about baseball players which was interestingly taken for granted by the narrative. There was absolutely no compunction about the treatment of these people, because they are people, as tools or chess pieces, which could be traded, sacrificed or just thrown away. In fact the entire film revolves around the idea of treating people just so. Athletes as widgets in a factory process. Slightly horrifying really.