The Blurred Line Between Life and Story

Radiance
Catherynne M. Valente
Hachette
March 2016

Radiance_smHeadline news 1858: Conrad Wernyhora and Carlotta Xanthea launch a rocket, by cannon, into space. By cannon! Can you imagine anything more majestic, more magnificent, more momentously transcendent, than space travel via cannon? The world of Radiance is not the world we know, bound by practical concepts of physics and fusion, but the fantasy of a world we wish could have been. It takes Georges Méliès’s A Trip to the Moon and asks, “What if?” We step back in time, mid-1800s, when the technology of modernity started to bloom. A few tweaks, a snip here, a mod there, and we step forward again.

Behold, the moving image!, but now Hollywood has colonised the moon, and the planets and remaining satellites wave the national flags of pre-WW1 powers. An enforcement of patent law means that colour film and sound have never caught on, and a vaudevillian aesthetic permeates the cultural form. To say that Radiance is set in a sumptuous, theatrical solar system of luscious impossibilities is to put it lightly. Continue reading

Space Zombies!

Illuminae
The Illuminae Files_01
Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
Allen & Unwin
October 2015
$19.95

Illuminae_smIlluminae is a visual wonder piece of science fiction narration. It straddles the undefined landscape between novel and graphic novel in a way that is almost cinematic in its execution. Rather than a story told in a series of words, what we have are words presented as in a dossier; “found” documents (e.g., chat room logs, mission reports, narrated surveillance footage) that show the bloody unfolding of one corporation’s ruthless attack on another. We’ve stumbled upon someone’s dirty little (well-documented) secret, the kind of dirty secret that the most cynical of us assume that all corporations must have, and we can only hold our breathe as the carnage accelerates, and ask, “Will they get away with it?”

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Justice for All

Ancillary Justice
Imperial Radch
Ann Leckie
Orbit Books
Oct 2013

ancilI started reading science fiction with a copy of ‘Ringworld’ by Larry Niven that my brother owned. I went on to read the classics: Asimov, Clarke, Silverberg. When I attended the science fiction/Fantasy fan club meeting at university, I argued strongly on the side of SF in the debates ‘What is better, SF or fantasy?’ Clearly, it’s science fiction! Duh. Why is this even a thing? Though this was that days before Harry Potter and Mieville; I might have to concede defeat on those fronts.

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Her Young Smile is Radiant in the Spotlight

Only Ever Yours
Louse O'Neill
Quercus
2015

only_ever_yoursImagine a world where women are pitted against each other, forced to comply with nigh unattainable standards of beauty and behaviour, and live their lives entirely according to the whims of men who treat them with nothing but contempt. Oh sorry, you don’t need to imagine. That’s our reality*. Louise O’Neill’s Only Ever Yours** is our reality up to eleven.  I’ll say it now: massive trigger warnings for eating disorders, shaming of women’s sexuality, rape culture, misogyny, domestic violence and toxic masculinity.  As someone who, like most women, has struggled with body image (etc.), I was not terribly affected, but I cannot speak for other readers and potential readers.

freida is entering the final year of School.  She is 16, and with her 29 classmates she has spent the last twelve years of her life in a routine of maintaining stringent beauty standards, learning proper feminine behaviours, and being rated weekly on her appearance by her peers as well as total strangers.  In the future earth of freida’s birth, sex-selective abortion almost led to the extinction of the human race.  It was decided that women must be designed and educated to become the mothers of future generations.  But, since men need more than just wifely companionship, a large number of concubines are also required.  freida’s destiny is to become either one of ten companions, a concubine, or a chastity–a celibate teacher for girls at the School. Continue reading

Close Your Eyes, Pay the Price for Your Paradise

The Heart Goes Last
Margaret Atwood
Bloomsbury
24 September 2015
hardcover

the_heart_goes_lastMargaret Atwood’s latest novel is an incisive critique of our current society.  Neoliberalism and the prison industrial complex, as well as nostalgia for a non-existent, rosy mid-20th century, all cop a wry humoured nudging.  Not a bashing; Atwood would never be so unsubtle.

Charmaine and Stan are at their wits’ end.  Struggling to get by in the depths of an economic depression and a society barely holding itself together, they live in their car and can see no way out of their deepening poverty.  Fortunately, they are eligible to participate in a well funded social experiment, the Positron Project.  They will be provided with a house, with employment, and with the safety of a gated community, in return for spending every second month as prisoners in the Positron Prison. Continue reading

Imagine All the People

Arcadia
Iain Pears
Allen & Unwin
August 2015

arcadiaIain Pears’ latest novel, Arcadia is not one story but many.  Taking place over several different timelines, with multiple interlocking characters and plots, it is an ambitious and wide-scoped piece.  Pears has also worked to create a complementary app to assist readers in their journey through the book.  Unfortunately, I was unable to access this app on my Android phone for whatever reason, so instead of taking the option of choosing my own adventure through the story, I was more or less forced to read it straight through as it appears in the book.  A perfectly fine way to read any novel, but one that did not take full advantage of Arcadia’s possibilities.

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Behold the Deluge as the Levees Break

The Water Knife
Paolo Bacigalupi
Science Fiction
Hachette
June 2015
Paperback

the_water_knifeFor someone who quite enjoys science fiction movies, I sure don’t like thinking about the future. It’s scary, it’s worrying, and in order to live my life without being cripplingly depressed I do have to become one of those head-in-sand people about some things. This is especially the case when it comes to near future climate change fiction, a genre I pointedly avoid. But it’s not just earth futures; it’s space as well, that unfathomably huge universe. Nothing against space personally, I just don’t need an existential crisis right now. Thanks.

Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Water Knife, then, was a book I took up hesitantly for fear it would just upset me. Set in water-starved Arizona in a future where the United States has all but dissolved and swathes of people are fleeing death by dehydration, it is a grim view of the future indeed. The powers of Nevada, California and Arizona vie for drips of the Colorado river. Ruthless Angel, employed by Nevada, arrives in Arizona to chase up rumours that a new water source has been found. Lucy, a journalist, is chasing similar leads in her quest to uncover the truth behind Phoenix’s ever-increasing bodycount. Maria, a Texan refugee, tries to eke out a living selling water, fighting to survive Phoenix’s dangerous underworld. The plots of these three characters intertwine as they are all embroiled in the desparation and violence of a city in its death throes.

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On the Banners, Visions of the Future

HARD TO BE A GOD
Arkady & Boris Strugatsky , translated by Olena Bormaschenko
Gollancz, RRP $22.99
June 2015

HardToBeAGod_smOlena Bormaschenko’s translation of Arkady and Boris Strugatsky’s Hard to Be a God represents the second translation of the Russian sci-fi classic into English.  As much is discussed in the forward to the book, by Ken MacLeod, who admits to an abortive first attempt to read the novel back in 1977.  Admittedly not a reader of much sci-fi myself*, I had never heard of Hard to Be a God before receiving it for review.  I am certainly glad for the new translation, if MacLeod’s criticisms are accurate.  Bormaschenko’s edition is a clear and easily readable one.  Indeed, in terms of translation my only quibble is with the use of rather twee insults and phrases at times.  However, since the book was written in the 1960s, this is likely an accurate reflection of how it reads in Russian.

Hard to Be a God is the rather Star Trekish tale of a future earth man living undercover as an observer on a planet and in a feudal kingdom.  Because of the similarities of this planet’s feudal culture to Earth’s European middle ages, Anton and several other historians are there to note social development and… stuff.  Unfortunately, what Anton sees unfolding does not follow the progression his historical studies have prepared him for.  Instead, he finds the unmistakeable signs of fascism emerging.

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Vagrancy in a Post-Apocalyptic Landscape

THE VAGRANT
Peter Newman
Harper Collins, RRP29.99
April 2015

Vagrant

An unnamed man makes an illegal drug deal in a post-apocalyptic city, no sooner has he walked away from the deal than he is betrayed, such is our first introduction to the character The Vagrant in Peter Newman’s debut science fiction novel.* Thankfully The Vagrant has enough tricks up his sleeves that he continues on if not unscathed then at least free to continue his journey. Lucky, really, or else the novel would have been several hundred pages shorter than what it was. Continue reading

Transformation Through The Words Of Desire

Book cover for The Adventures of Holly White and the Incredible Sex Machine by Krissy KneenTHE ADVENTURES OF HOLLY WHITE AND THE INCREDIBLE SEX MACHINE
Krissy Kneen
Text Publishing, April 2015, RRP $29.99

I confess. I adore Angela Carter. I adore her overblown, pretentious style mixed with her joyous embrace of the lewd and taboo. I adore that even when she failed, you know that she failed with every ounce of inspiration on the page. And yet, I was initially hesitant to read The Adventures of Holly White and the Incredible Sex Machine, a book influenced by Carter’s least accessible book, The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman; a book that exhausts me just at the thought of cracking the cover.

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Upside Down Miss Jane

MR. SQUIGGLE AND FRIENDSsquig

Dir. Virginia Lumsden Perf. Norman Hetherington. Australian Broadcasting Corporation 1959-1999. Television.

Down near the bottom of my resume, it reads:

“November 1979: Contributing television graphic artist, Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC)” Continue reading

Ingsoc

NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOURfeliz

Orwell, George (Signet Classic, January 1961, ISBN 9780451524935)

I receive a letter from Centrelink explaining that when I lodge next fortnight’s form I need to “negotiate a new Activity Agreement”.

When I go in that fortnight, they tell me again that we need to negotiate a new Activity Agreement. Continue reading

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