100 sci fi women #82: Captain Curtana

Captain Curtana Terminal World Alastair Reynolds

Curtana is a tall, dark-skinned woman who is self-possessed, smart and not afraid of action. She is the captain of the Painted Lady, a dirigible which floats above a post-apocalyptic landscape filled with dangerous raiders who think nothing of launching themselves from their own craft onto hers intent on destruction and mayhem. While she inherited her captaincy in part from her father, she is an exceptional pilot and captain, possibly the best of the dirigible city called the Swarm. She is comfortable both out alone with her craft scouting the world for goods and enemies, or back in the fleet dealing with its complex politics – though she would always rather just be flying her ship. She is extremely loyal to her godfather, the leader of the Swarm, but not blindly so – she tells him what she thinks, calls him on his mistakes and challenges his decisions if she disagrees.She is a person of deep integrity who is willing to put aside historical differences and risk her life and her ship to save the lives of people to whom she owes nothing. She is brave – both in her convictions and in her actions and will stay aboard a burning airship if it means the possibility of saving other lives – and she keeps a cool calm head when faced with danger. Her decisions are made from a place of consideration – she listens to those she trusts and weighs their information. While she has a partner who she loves very much, she neither sacrifices her captaincy or asks him to put his aside for them to be together – instead enjoying the time they can be together while both living their own lives and carrying out their own missions. Curtana is a woman you would want beside you in a tricky situation and whose judgement you would trust every time.

“I’m a good captain,” he confessed to Quillon once, “but she’s better than me. Always will be. That’s no condemnation of my own abilities, though. It’s just that she’s Curtana and the rest of us aren’t. There’s only one Mother Goddess, and there’s only one Curtana…”

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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?”

 

Cultural Round Up: October

I’m getting in early this month. My link for today is for the non-fiction afficiando – the countdown of the Top 100 Feminist Non-Fiction books. Much food for thought in there.

BOOKS

Chasm City Alastair Reynolds  This book has reinforced and totally confirmed me as a complete Alastair Reynolds fan. A stand-alone book set in the universe of the Revelation Space trilogy, it is engrossing and compelling. It draws on the fictional world of those books, but is easily accessible read alone, or could be read as a precursor. It took me a couple of chapters to really get engaged, but after that it was absolutely page turning. It explores very cleverly concepts of identity and memory, as well as privilege and boredom, madness, ambition and redemption. The writing is really taut and the characterisations completely engaging. It isn’t always an easy read, but it certainly is a compelling one. The idea of psychotic dolphins driven to madness and giant goldfish held for ever in some kind of stasis are amongst the fascinating science fiction images the novel generates. And the intelligence behind the writing is palpable. For any thinking science fiction fan, it is an absolute must-read.

TELEVISION

Rome Season 2 ep 1-8 [Some spoilers] Like the first season, this season is wildly uneven. I am yet to watch the final two episodes, but up until that point there have been episodes which have been totally engrossing and ones which were almost unwatchable. The bout of rape and torture across a couple of early episodes was frankly gratuitous and it took me a while to come back to it after that. I think it is sad they changed the Octavian actor – the earlier Octavian was one of my favourite characters, but his replacement is very unlikable. Which leaves one with few characters to actually like. It is slightly disturbing when you find Mark Antony one of the most attractive of the people you are viewing. It was nice to have actual battle scenes which were quite impressive, and the scene where Pullo kills Cicero is an absolute classic. However, it is a watch-with-caution affair, and I can’t say I’ll be rushing to a repeat viewing.

The Slap  ep 1-4 This is well-made, believably scripted drama, to a point. It has been well-casted, and the performances are terrific. However, and it is a big however, it feels all a bit stereotyped. Violent Greek man echoing his violent father; career woman who never wanted babies gets pregnant and dilemma ensues; hippie parents lax with discipline; young girl with father issues fixated on older man; over-bearing Greek mother, blah blah blah. The over-determination of the characters makes it feel all a bit contrived. It veers from feeling intensely real in parts, to some stereotyped display of archetypes in others. And again with the unlikeable characters. If the situation wasn’t so over-determined, it might feel a bit more convincing. And yet, somehow it remains quite compelling, particularly as I am interested to see how it will resolve itself. I will admit I have read the book. I don’t think though that the series has encouraged me to remedy this.

ART

The Big Draw National Portrait Gallery This was not so much an exhibition as an interactive day of activities. We took small boys along to check it out. We participated in three activities – building 3D “drawings” using cornstarch foam pieces, drawing to music and making a collaborative drawing with coloured dots. These were all fun, well-organised and had people to assist and lots of equipment available. Interestingly, there were almost as many adults and children building sculptures (see mine below) and the drawing to music was actually dominated by adults who actually had some talent (unlike myself).

While the activities were well organised, less good was signage or direction to other activities. I knew that according to the brochure there were other activities in other areas, but without helpful signs one felt a bit unsure about where to go. In the end we headed home after a couple of hours filled with these three activities, but I hope that if the Portrait Gallery does this next year (which I hope it does) it might be a little more directive about where one can (and should) go!

Cultural Round Up: March

For the observers of culture, here is today’s link – but you have to like the Bronte sisters…. With thanks to the always entertaining Jen_Bennett.

So March involved the flying to the US and back, which will give you a clue as to why there are museum/art reviews from New York. Due to the excess of plane movie watching, they shall be entitled to a separate post, and I’ll stick with the fundamentals here.

Books

Redemption Ark Alastair Reynolds I do love Alastair Reynolds. After first reading him only a year ago, I have become a firm convert. Proselytizer even. Redemption Ark does not disappoint. it introduces new fantastic women characters to the series and captures the dilemmas and challenges of doing the right thing, but not always in the right way. It is interesting how this book is explores means-versus-ends arguments, and captures the intricacies of people politics on both a large and small scale. These books aren’t always easy, but this series is well worth the effort.

The Temporal Void Peter Hamilton As above, this is the second book of a trilogy. Perfect plane reading – unlike Reynolds this is easy, enjoyable reading where the main challenge is trying to keep track of all the characters. I still find the story within the story the most entertaining part of this book, and I must say the last couple of chapters do pack a fairly significant emotional punch.  It also quite interesting in some of the morally ambiguous territory it wandered into, and the dilemmas the characters faced.  The fact that, having just finished, I am very keen to go out and get the next one, even if it is still in Big Size edition, is testament to how page turning this was.

Art

Andy Warhol: Motion Pictures Museum of Modern Art

This exhibition was primarily of the 4ish minute screen tests which Warhol did of friends and acquaintances. These were curated brilliantly, surrounding you on the walls, giant silent black and white faces which were still or engaged in some minor activity. There was the unmoving intensity of Susan Sontag and the slightly crazy glint in Dennis Hopper’s eye. The exhibition also showed Kiss and Sleep (which I did not watch in its entirety), as well as the descriptively named Blow Job, which again featured only a face – but it was still clear that it was aptly named. I think the screen tests worked well to capture a sense of the personalities of those being filmed, as well as being beautiful to look at. If intense.

Quilts: Masterworks from the American Folk Museum

This is a seriously awesome exhibition, leading me to think many thoughts about craft and the place of women’s art and craftsmanship. The quilts were incredibly impressive, demonstrating enormous levels of skill and artistry.  It is interesting how we have boxed “craft” and, in viewing it as a women’s domain, have reduced its status in comparison to other areas of art. The detail in the quilts was impressive and the collection that was presented was excellent as it demonstrated a wide variety of styles and fabrics. If by some miracle I got to go to New York again after May, I would definitely be heading to the Museum to see the second half of the exhibition.

 


Monthly Cultural Round Up: May

There was a concentrated amount of work travel this month which again added to the cultural consumption – flying to Perth and back in a day provided time to watch two movies and read a novel, albeit a short one.

Books

The Crying of Lot 49 Thomas Pynchon This was a Twitter prompted re-read as was being read by k_o_o and naomieve. I also believe that I last read it over 20 years ago, so well overdue for a reread. With all its strange flights of fancy, I though the most interesting thing I took from it this time was its take on the nature of knowledge and reality and illusion. What can we really know about what is real? How can we know that we don’t just live inside an enormous constructed reality? That what we perceive to be real may just be an elaborate hoax. It is also fascinating on the nature of consumerism, conspiracy and art – for a little book it manages to traverse a lot of distance. It prompts me to try and actually finish V at some point.

Absolution Gap Alastair Reynolds My first Alastair Reynolds novel, I discovered a couple of chapters in, on a plane, that it in fact was the third of a trilogy. But it had prompted my interest, and seemed self-contained enough to keep going – plus I was on a plane with nothing else to read and the threat of Two and a Half Men so I kept going. My first comment would be that I definitely enjoyed it enough to read more of his books. It has a bit of a dark Iain M Banks feel to it, and some interesting ideas about the nature of post-humanity and its implications. I did think there were a few things which were slightly too strongly telegraphed and could be spotted a fair distance off, but overall interesting and interestingly written.

Films

Invictus I had heard fairly luke-warm things about this film, and then of course I saw it on a plane, which doesn’t exactly show it at its best. I didn’t think it was bad. I though Morgan Freeman did a very convincing job as Nelson Mandela and I thought Matt Damon handled the South African accent and the rugby reasonably well. My biggest criticism is that it was a bit trite. The kind of sense that the whole rugby world cup victory broke down all these unbreakable barriers and everyone lived happily ever after just completely and blithely ignored the reality of South Africa today. For me in overstatement, the film lost some of its impact. I was also a bit annoyed by the Mandela-is-taken-in-by-rugby-and-stops-caring-about-trade trope that went on a little bit in the film. The most interesting thing though was the way it demonstrated that Mandela was a master semiotician, and I found that really interesting.

The Blind Side So, to make it two football films in one day, I saw The Blind Side on the plane going in the opposite direction on the same day as Invictus. I must admit I was pleasantly surprised by it, as I  had assumed it would be a lot more schmaltzy and emotionally manipulative than it was. As it was, it was quite a reasonable plane film which did explore some interesting ideas about race and the nature of family and protectiveness, without really moving away from fairly well-worn territory. Sandra Bullock was good, but not so amazing that it doesn’t make me wonder about the paucity of female roles in the year if that made her an Academy Award winner.

Music

Groovin’ The Moo

So we spent a very pleasant and sunny Sunday afternoon at Canberra Uni for Groovin’ the Moo…and a somewhat colder Sunday evening. Kisschasy were much as they were at the Big Day Out, with a little early swearing to prove their rock credibility; British India were much more impressive and, as I didn’t know their stuff particularly well before hand they won themselves a convert. Tegan and Sara were fun, Lisa Mitchell less so. Empire of the Sun were visually spectacular and musically exciting and Vampire Weekend were wonderful bouncy fun. After them, Silverchair opened with three dirgy songs, and it was such a downer after Vampire Weekend that people started leaving…including, after another song or two, us. Full marks to organisers as well: everything went smoothly and it was all pretty well organised and enjoyable.

100 Sci Fi women #42: Aura/Rashmika Els

Two characters from books in a row. Shock! We will return to the televisual women soon.

Aura/Rashmika Els  Absolution Gap Alastair Reynolds

Aura is a baby, ripped from her mother’s womb and implanted in another; operated on before born to implant devices which allow her to communicate with her mother; filled with impossible knowledge; a baby a man allows himself to be killed painfully in order to ensure she survives. But for me, it is as Rashmika Els that I really love her. She is willing to challenge orthodoxies and write polite letters to scientists she knows will probably never answer her. As a teenager she leaves her home alone and sets out on an epic journey to try and find out the truth. Her special skill, her ability to unfailingly tell when someone is telling the truth, takes her to places she didn’t expect to go. She is put in a position where, ultimately, she has to make a choice on which the fate of a planet, and, potentially, the universe, rests. But the most interesting thing about Aura is that, despite the masses of alien information she has had conveyed into her infant brain, despite this ability to understand when people speak the truth, despite the fact that many adults treat her word as gospel, her judgement is not always perfect. And she comes to understand and see this, and ultimately is willing to defer, at times, to those who might in fact know better. A rare talent for a girl who is born to believe she is one of the most important people in the universe.

She thrashed her head into the damp landscape of her pillow, smelling her own days-old sweat worked into the yellow fabric during sleepless, voice-tormented nights such as this. All she wanted was for the voice to silence itself; all she wanted was a return to the old simplicities, where all she had to worry about was the imposition of her own self-righteous convictions.