2013 in Science/ Speculative Fiction

Top 5 Novels

I can’t pick an overall favourite because I loved them all for different reasons.

Connie Willis, Doomsday Book (1992)
Despite the objections of her supervisor, Mr Dunworthy, a postgraduate history student called  Kivrin insists on travelling back in time to the fourteenth century. I don’t know how a Medievalist would respond to Willis’s depiction of the period, but not being a Medievalist myself I just enjoyed it as a great story about death which managed to be entertaining and profound at the same time.

Nancy Kress, Steal across the Sky (2009)
Aliens set up a base on the moon and state their intention to atone for a crime committed against humanity by their ancestors.  This is a lovely little novel which takes the question of belief in the afterlife as its starting point. If we could prove the existence of an afterlife, how would this knowledge change us and our world?  I enjoyed it enough to forgive the ‘dead gay best-friend’, even though that’s a trope I particularly loathe.

Connie Willis, To Say Nothing of the Dog (1999)
More time-travelling historians in this charming, delightful, fluffy romance. I would definitely recommend reading Jerome K Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog) beforehand and you’ll have to leave your feminism at the front cover if you want to enjoy it fully.

Nicola Griffiths, Ammonite (1993)
But if you do want some feminist science fiction, look no further than Ammonite. A researcher travels to the mysterious planet called Jeep where a virus wiped out all the male colonists hundreds of years ago.  Somehow the remaining women have found a way to survive and reproduce. This is an intense and profound book about self-discovery.

Kage Baker, In the Garden of Iden (1997)
This is the first in Baker’s popular ‘Company’ series about cyborgs who are employed by a mysterious company to manipulate the past. It’s very funny and deadly serious at the same time.  I can’t wait to read the next one.

Continue reading

Candas Jane Dorsey, Machine Sex and Other Stories (1988)

The stories in Candas Jane Dorsey’s collection Machine Sex are melancholy and evocative. They are concerned with themes of alienation, displacement, transition and loss, but also with the importance of making connections and the possibilities that may be played out within the limits of our human lives.

The two linked stories, ‘The Prairie Warriors’ and ‘War and Rumours of War’, are set during a moment of transition at the end of old relationships and the beginning of new ones.  As part of a long tradition, a small community gives a young girl to a separatist society of female warriors.  The story is told from the perspectives of the girl and the two women who are sent to collect her. Traumatised, addicted to drugs, hostile and desperately needy, the girl finds herself faced with an entirely new set of values and ways of relating. She must decide whether to let go of her old life and take the risk of connecting with her new companions.  The story features one of the best representations of a disturbed teenager that I’ve ever come across and probably draws on Dorsey’s own life experience as a social worker.  Dorsey also identifies as a queer writer and sexuality is well-handled in her stories.  I especially liked the way ‘Prairie Warriors’ contrasts the sexually abusive patriarchal world of the town with the dynamics of the warrior society in which sexuality is not commodified.

Continue reading

childhood is a time of unrelenting terror

Quote

Take my word for it, childhood is a time of unrelenting terror. That many of us don’t remember it that way lets us recover and go on with our lives. But if you carry with you a certain fear you are helpless in the face of, that you live with but will never overcome, you probably acquired it in childhood. You may deal with it like a champ, but inside you’re cold water and you truly understand the phrase, ‘Fate worse than death’.

Pat Cadigan, ‘Introduction to Eenie, Meenie, Ipsateenie’, in Patterns, p. 22.

A SF and Pop Culture Round-up

Everyone’s been tweeting this article, I Hate Strong Female Characters. Sophia Mcdougall seems to have articulated something that a lot of people have been feeling.

On a related note, Anne Billson posted about Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the scarcity of female role models

This is an interesting post from NPR’s blog, At the Movies: The Women are Gone. It makes the important point that the lack of women in the movies has nothing to do with the popularity or income-generating potential of women-centred movies:

They put up Bridesmaids, we went. They put up Pitch Perfect, we went. They put up The Devil Wears Prada, which was in two-thousand-meryl-streeping-oh-six, and we went (and by “we,” I do not just mean women; I mean we, the humans), and all of it has led right here, right to this place. Right to the land of zippedy-doo-dah. You can apparently make an endless collection of high-priced action flops and everybody says “win some, lose some” and nobody decides that They Are Poison, but it feels like every “surprise success” about women is an anomaly and every failure is an abject lesson about how we really ought to just leave it all to The Rock.

Continue reading

Arthur C. Clarke, The City and the Stars (1956)

A billion years after the fall of the galactic empire, the city of Diaspar alone survives on the desert of a world that Earth has become.  Its people are all but immortal, their every need catered for by the city’s mysterious central computer. Living untroubled, decadent lives of leisure for hundreds of years, they then rest for hundreds more in the computer banks, until they are called forth again from the Halls of Creation. These people fear only one thing and that is the possibility of leaving the city.

Alvin is one of only a handful of “Uniques” to emerge from the Halls of Creation, a new being with no past life in Diaspar. He differs from his peers in one other crucial way; he’s desperate to find a way out of the city.  Alvin’s friends are appalled, but he gains some assistance from the city’s Jester, Khedron, a person created by the computer to keep the city from becoming too stagnant.

Continue reading

The 10 short stories that got me into reading science fiction

Some of my earliest memories are of sitting on the sofa with my Mum watching re-runs of Dr Who, Blake’s 7 and the original Star Trek.  I’m not sure if she knew I was paying attention, what with Blake’s 7 hardly being suitable viewing for a five year-old.  A few years later I was into Star Trek: The Next Generation and Quantum Leap and would try and get away with staying up late to watch The Twilight Zone and Outer Limits reboots. Then it was The X-Files, Babylon 5 and all the rest of those nineties SF shows.

Considering how much science fiction I watched on television, I was surprisingly slow to start reading the genre.  When I did eventually come to the literature of science fiction, it was through reading short stories and this is a list of the ones that have stayed with me.

Continue reading

Gardner Dozois (ed.), Best New SF7 (1992)

If the stories in 2008’s Mammoth Book of SF 21 were particularly concerned with death, annihilation and endings, the overarching theme in this collection from 1992 seems to be a questioning of the relationship between concepts of nature and normality.  Some of the best stories collected here look into the ways in which nature, as a concept, is mediated to us through narratives and then go on to interrogate the role played by science in constructing these narratives.

Take Ian R. Macleod’s ‘Grownups’, which is one of the most unsettling science fiction stories I’ve ever read. Its world looks a lot like ours, but it’s different in one crucial way; in order to become a “grown up”, all adolescents must undergo a terrifying and painful maturation process.  Once they have grown up, they can get married and have children. Each marriage includes not just a man and a woman, but a third person, known as an “uncle”, and it is the uncle who bears the children.  Two of the young people decide that they don’t want to grow-up and attempt to avoid the process altogether.  Macleod manipulates our assumptions masterfully in this story and the ending packs one heck of a punch.  It’s an allegory about the terrors of growing up, but I think it’s also about childbirth, a painful and dangerous experience that’s considered natural in our society, but which might look horrific and terrifying to an alien with a different reproductive process.  And how often do adults respond to their daughters’ fears about childbirth by telling them they’ll understand when they grow up? I’ll never forget it.

Continue reading

End of Winter Culture round-up

Continue reading

2012 Reading Round-up

2012 was more of a thinking and talking year than a reading year. I read less than I usually do and didn’t get around to writing about many of the books that I did read, though I’m still intending to write about some of them this year.  My general preference leaned towards large works of fiction, which I think indicates a desire to lose myself in stories.

Book of the Year: Alison Bechdel, Are You my Mother? (2012)

Every now and then you come across a book that changes you. For me, there is a “before Are you My Mother?” and an “after Are you My Mother?” and that’s why it’s my book of the year. This book fundamentally changed the way I think about myself and my relationship with my own mother.  There was also something empowering about reading a book that takes seriously the subject of relationships between lesbians and their mothers, a subject that mainstream heteronormative society really could not care less about.

Literary fiction

Favourite work of literary fiction: Hilary Mantel, Wolf Hall (2009)

Wolf Hall is a huge achievement in making a well-known story fresh again. I knew exactly what was going to happen and yet found myself utterly gripped from beginning to end.  I really liked Mantel’s direct style and this would be on my list of books that aspiring writers should read to see what can be done with prose. I’m looking forward to reading the sequel.

Shirley Jackson’s chilling collection The Lottery and Other Stories (1949) is another book on my “must read list” for aspiring writers, especially for aspiring writers of short fiction.  Jackson has an amazing ability to encapsulate a situation or a character in the opening paragraph and is a writer absolutely in control of her material.

Toni Morrison’s Love (2003) was another tremendous read. I’m still thinking about it months after finishing it.  Love packs a huge amount into its 202 pages: civil rights, racism, patriarchy, relationships between black men and women, the nature of good and evil and more. I’m not someone who hangs onto books as a rule, but my copies of Toni’s Morrison’s works are going nowhere.

Alice Munro’s A View from Castle Rock (2006) is a sort of fictionalised memoir which I didn’t like as much as her other short stories. I thought the historical parts imagining her family’s move from Scotland to Canada were the best, but the ending dragged a bit and wasn’t as satisfying.

The only nineteenth-century novel I read this year was George Eliot’s Middlemarch (1874). Reading it for the second time I was struck by just how funny it is, something I didn’t really notice the first time around. I still think this is one of the best novels ever written, just a beautiful book with a quietly devastating ending.

As for the rest, I enjoyed Christopher Isherwood’s Goodbye to Berlin (1939) and even managed to write a post about it.  Michele Robert’s Daughters of the House (1993) is the sort of literary prize winning book that tends to end up filling the shelves of charity shops, but I found it pretty compelling, gorgeously written, and it just about managed to avoid pretentiousness. Emma Donoghue’s Life Mask (2004) was a very entertaining historical novel about the eighteenth-century sculptor, Anne Damer, not Donoghue’s best work, but I’d recommend it as an excellent lesbian holiday read.

Science Fiction and Fantasy

Favourite Book: Gardener Dozois (ed.), The Mammoth book of Best new SF 21 (2008)

This was my favourite simply because it turned me on to a whole range of science fiction writers that I haven’t read before. I’m now looking forward to pursuing the likes of Elizabeth Bear, Nancy Kress, James Van Pelt, Alastair Reynolds, Vandana Singh and Pat Cadigan, among others.  It also contained Stephen Baxter’s ‘Last Contact’ which makes my best ever short stories list and actually took up quite a large portion of one my therapy sessions.  Like most SF anthologies this suffers from a white, male bias but the quality is very high and there was at least an attempt at showing diversity.

Samuel R. Delaney’s Tales of Neveryon (1979) was an absolute joy to read. I loved the way Delaney wove critical theory and philosophy into his story in a way that was delightful rather than pretentious and didn’t get in the way of the narrative. Check it out for an example of how to write women as people as well.

The strangest fantasy novel I read last year was Clive Barker’s Imajica (1991). It was also probably the longest at over 1,000 pages. I found it too long in the end and didn’t think the male hero quite strong enough to sustain the epic narrative, but I really liked it too, especially the take on the suppression of female divinity by patriarchal religion.

I read and enjoyed two of Iain M. Banks science fiction novels: Inversions (1998) which had a sort of Ursula Le Guinesque feel and the more straight-up space opera of Consider Phlebas (1987) the first in Banks’s ‘Culture’ series.

Ursula Le Guin’s The Telling (2000) was a strong science fiction story with a lesbian woman of colour for a protagonist – it’s not her best, but it’s very good. Her young adult novel, Voices (2009) didn’t grab me and I won’t bother reading the third book in the trilogy, but it’s well written and would make a good present for any young teenager. It was refreshing to see a female character for whom “growing up” doesn’t equal romance, but rather coming into your own and exploring the world.

As for the rest, Caitlin R Keirnan’s excellent The Red Tree (2001) was quite terrifying and had a lesbian protagonist, one to check out if you like Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House.  C.J Cheryh’s The Pride of Chanur (1981) was a bit of classic SF fun. I liked the way it imagined the arrival of humans in space from the point of view of the aliens.  Kim Stanley Robinson’s Red Mars (1992) wasn’t really my cup of tea, but I’m glad I made the effort to read it.

I was disappointed by George R. R. Martin’s A Clash of Kings (1998). It kept me reading, but it was more misogynist, racist and padded out than the first book. I mean, really, it felt like there was a rape in almost every single chapter.  Also, Cersei Lannister is one of the worst written female characters I’ve come across in some time. I may give the next book a go because I sort of want to find out what happens, but it did turn me off this series.

However, the worst book I read in this category was Celia Friedman’s Black Sun Rising (1991).  I don’t know why I persevered with this since I’m way past the age of forcing myself through books I hate, but for some reason I wanted to give it a chance.

Poetry

I only read two poetry books this year, both by lesbian poets, and I can’t choose between them in terms of my favourite.  Adrienne Rich’s An Atlas of the Difficult World (1988 – 1991) is challenging and difficult and I think one of her best collections, whereas the poems in Mary Oliver’s Dream Work (1986) are deceptively simple, but lead into disturbing territories. Both are haunting collections.

Non-Fiction          

Favourite book: Bill Bryson, A Short History of Nearly Everything (2010)

I read quite a lot of popular science books in an attempt to compensate for the appalling science, technology and maths education that I received at school.  My education may have denied me the opportunity to ever have a career in any of those areas, but I can still enjoy reading about them.  Bryson’s book puts the history of science into a narrative that is both hilarious and moving.  It’s another big book, but I tore through it in a few days.

The next best non-fiction was Mrs Robinson’s Disgrace (2012) by Kate Summerscale. This is a fascinating and often disturbing look at the position of women in the second half of the nineteenth century, when changes to divorce laws and developments in ideas about sex began to impact on British society

I read two books about Shakespeare, James Shapiro’s Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare? (2011) and Bill Bryson’s biography of Shakespeare (2012).  Shapiro’s book considers where the idea that Shakespeare didn’t write the plays attributed to him comes from. I really enjoy books that take this rather Foucauldian approach of taking a step back and instead of answering a question, unpack the politics that lead to the question being asked in the first place. Bill Bryson’s Shakespeare was a delight and puts Shakepeare’s life and works firmly back in the historical contact that produced them.  Both these books renewed my interest in Shakespeare and sense of why the plays are so important.

My least favourite non-fiction was Lyndall Gordon’s Lives like Loaded Guns: Emily Dickinson and her Family’s Feud’s(2010). This is not a criticism of the book itself, which is very good, but reading about the appalling behaviour of Emily Dickinson’s selfish, money-grabbing, narcissistic relatives really quite upset me.

Religion

I only read one book that could be called religious this year, Stephen Levine’s A Gradual Awakening (1979) which is a book about Buddhist insight meditation. I found some of it quite useful, especially the parts on mind, but it’s very ‘70s’ and got it bit weird towards the end.

Autumn Culture Round Up

I haven’t done one of these link round-ups in ages, but I’ve been inspired to get back to it by the quantity of good stuff I’ve read recently.

Continue reading

Gardner Dozois (ed.), The Mammoth Book of Best New Science Fiction 21 (2008)

This is my first encounter with the acclaimed Mammoth Book of Best New SF and I can see why its editor has won so many awards over the years. The stories selected here are of consistently high quality and offer a balanced collection of new and established writers.

On the downside, the content of issue 21 is dominated by white, male authors (25 men to 8 women) and you can see that in 2008, women writers and writers of colour were not getting the same level of attention as white, male writers. As far as I could tell (without looking everyone up) there are only two writers of colour included in this anthology! On a somewhat more positive note, the stories do feature a lot of female protagonists (16 of the 25 stories) which does at least suggest that male writers are starting to consider women as being worth writing about, which is something.

Continue reading

From Isaac Asimov to Iain M Banks: A Science Fiction reading round-up

Here, in chronological order of publication, is a round-up of science fiction books that I’ve read over the last few months.

Isaac Asimov, Foundation (1951)

This book contains almost no female characters and consists mainly of scenes set in rooms with egotistical male characters out-manoeuvring one another in psychological power games.  That doesn’t sound like something I’d enjoy does it? But, you know what? I really did, even though I can’t say exactly why.  The Galactic Empire is crumbling and a Psychohistorian called Seldon proposes to limit the oncoming dark ages before civilization returns by creating an encyclopaedia of human knowledge.   A courageous group of humans are dispatched to a remote planet called Terminus where, as the empire declines, they find themselves in conflict with other local planets. There is something compellingly amoral about Foundation in the way it cheerfully promotes the control of other planets through a combination of threat and psychological manipulation, all of which is based on the Foundation’s possession of superior technology.  It’s part of a long series and I probably will attempt at least the next couple of books. Read it for its immense influence and a sense of new ground being broken in science fiction, but don’t read it for emotional depth or decent female characters.

Ray Bradbury, The Illustrated Man (1951)

My first Ray Bradbury book, although I’d read the odd story in anthologies here and there.  Two things I gleaned from the stories in The Illustrated Man: Ray Bradbury was highly ambivalent about technology and he didn’t like children very much – check out ‘The Vedlt’ for some seriously nasty children.  These are the kind of stories that tend to feature in old episodes of The Twilight Zone: evocative, allegorical and often containing some kind of sting in the tail.  The concerns are very much the concerns of the 1950s: the threat of nuclear war, the role of religion, the implication of enormous technological advances and social changes. There’s one well-intentioned story about racism in which Mars has been colonised by African Americans, but it’s based almost entirely on racist stereotypes.  The gender politics are also those of the 1950s so forget about complex female characters.  Read it for well-written, haunting, stories, but not for its representation of women or characters of colour, or if you just really hate The Twilight Zone.

Roger Zelazny, The Dream Master (1966)

I read this because the short story it was based on, ‘He Who Shapes’, comes recommended by Ursula K Le Guin as one of the finest science fiction short stories she’s ever read. I wish I’d sought out the short story rather than read this post- Nebula win extended version, because to me it felt padded and I’m not convinced the additions benefited the story.  A “neuroparticipant” psychotherapist called Charles Render, who treats patients by working within their simulated dreams, is approached by Eileen Shallot, a blind woman who wants to become a neuroparticipant therapist herself, but who needs first to learn to ‘see’ and control a visual environment. This is another story about the possible dangers of advancing technology as well as the dangers of psychotherapy itself, questioning the role of the therapist as a puppet master who manipulates reality. It is very unsettling. The representation of Eileen now comes across as both disablist and sexist – very much a story about a disabled person desperate for a cure at any cost and unable to live a satisfying life with her impairment.  Read it for beautiful writing and imaginative power, but don’t read if you’re not in the mood to feel unsettled, or if you dislike weird endings.

C. J, Cherryh, The Pride of Chanur (1981)

My partner wrote about this book recently and I don’t have much to add to her response.  Feminist cat people in space! What more do you need to know really?  This is a bit of a straight-up space western and it’s a lot of fun to read about the arrival of humanity in space from the point of view of the aliens.  The feel of it, with its focus on interstellar commerce and ships that jump through hyper-space reminded me of Babylon 5.  This is also the first in a series of novels.  Read it for good characters and a fast-paced entertaining story, but not for psychological nuance or emotional depth.

Kim Stanley Robinson, Red Mars (1992)

Red Mars is a serious, and I mean a serious, attempt to imagine the colonization of Mars. I found the book interesting, especially in the ecological issues it raises and the ethics of planetary colonisation and terraforming, as mentioned by Godard’s Letterboxes here.  It has some passable female characters and I think I most enjoyed the sections that were told from the point of view of Russian engineer Nadia, who is a rare example of a female character whose main love in life is her work.  I really struggled with the very long section in which John Boone drives around Mars (which felt almost as long as the three-year sandstorm they were stuck in) because I couldn’t give a toss about John.  The book is weak on characters of colour, none of whom get to be point-of-view characters and who tend to be quite stereotyped. There’s a “magical negro” called “the Coyote” and a Japanese woman called Hiroko who is all spiritual and closer to nature, and has a special relationship with Mars.  I don’t know if this improves in the next two books though I can see from Wikipedia that “the Coyote” does at least get a name and that a lot of the next generation of characters are of mixed ethnicity.  I don’t think I’ll be reading  them though because while I quite enjoyed it, I feel I’ve had my fill of the world Robinson created here.  Read it you like plenty of science and politics in your science fiction, oh and detail, lots of detail.

Ursula K Le Guin, A Fisherman of the Inland Sea (1994)

I would normally give a book by Ursula an entire post, but I don’t have much to add to this review over at Randomly yours, Alex so you might as well just go and read that. It’s a nice little collection of stories, not her best and not one for readers new to her work, but to be enjoyed by fans of her Hainish Universe.

Liz Williams, Banner of Souls (2004)

“Dreams of War was hunting the remnants of men on the slopes of the Martian Olympus when she came across the herd of ghosts”.  Any book that opens with a line like that gets my attention. I wonder if Liz Williams got pissed off with 1970s utopian, feminist, science fiction because in this novel we’re presented with a dystopian matriarchy in which men have degenerated into vicious, animalistic creatures, but in which no utopia has resulted from their demise; the world Williams presents is relentlessly bleak.  If you like Gothic fiction and science fiction, it’s well worth a look because it’s very gothic indeed – check out the haunt tech, a technology that harnesses the power of the realm of the dead. Banner of Souls is readable, fantastically strange and imaginative, but low on emotional engagement and I can’t say I cared about any of the characters.  Read it for the gothic excess and interesting world-building, but not for character development.

Iain M. Banks, The Algebraist (2004)

I have a feeling this isn’t the best place to start with Iain M Banks’s science fiction and I probably would have been better off with one of the Culture novels, but although I found The Algebraist quite a challenge in places, I also really enjoyed it.  The story is set in the Ulubis system, part of a galactic civilisation ruled over by the  hierarchal, artificial intelligence-hating, society of the Mercatoria. Ulubis is cut off from the rest of galactic civilisation by an act of terrorism that destroys its artificial wormhole.  A Mercatorial star ship sets out to bring a new one, but also on his way with a fleet of ships is the psychopathic leader of a dangerous cult that seeks to take over star systems. The main character Fassin Taak is an anthropologist who studies the ancient, and notoriously touchy, Dwellers, a “slow” species who live in the clouds of gas giants.  Fassin is given the mission of finding out the truth behind a myth that the Dwellers hold the key to a secret system of wormholes that could break the control of the Mercatoria. The Algebraist is a rambling, intelligent space opera and for me felt something like what might happen if Charles Dickens had written science fiction –  exuberant, over-the-top, full of larger-than-life and grotesque characters, lots of digressions, a narrative that jumps around all over the place, and an underlying political allegory. Fassin is rather bland, but I think he’s supposed to be that kind of “everyman” and the Dwellers are the real joy in terms of characterization in the novel.  On the downside, no interesting characters of colour in here, and while there were a couple of intriguing female characters, they didn’t get much of the story. Read it if you like big, meaty, complex science fiction novels, but don’t pick it up expecting an easy, quick read.

Ursula K Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness (1969)

The Left Hand of Darkness is one of my favourite books and this must be at least the fourth time I’ve read it.  On its publication The Left Hand of Darkness was received as a groundbreaking piece of science fiction, winning the Nebula Award in 1969 and the Hugo Award in 1970.  Compelling, atmospheric, sometimes frightening, it offers the reader some exquisite world-building and a story with profound meaning.

Continue reading

Kate Wilhelm, Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang (1976)

Finding themselves faced with economic and environmental collapse on a global scale, a wealthy extended family seeks refuge in the mountains, where they hope to survive and build a new community.  When they realise that radiation and pollution have lead to high levels of infertility, they resort to using their DNA to create clones, who they intend to raise as their own children with the hope that they will be able to reproduce sexually again at some point in the future. However, as the clones grow up, it becomes apparent that they represent a different species of human and have their own ideas about how the community should develop. As you may have already guessed, it doesn’t involve returning to the old ways.

Continue reading

This Week’s Culture Round-up

Mary Doria Russell, The Sparrow (1996)

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows, Matthew 10:29-31

In 2019 a SETI programme picks up a radio transmission from near Alpha Centauri containing the sound of exquisite alien songs.   The Society of Jesus (Jesuits) decides to fund and lead an independent, scientific mission to that part of the galaxy to try and find the planet of origin.  After a few months, the Jesuits  lose contact with the expedition and the UN sends a second mission to Rakhat.   The information that they send back  threatens to bring the Jesuit order to its knees. Only one member of the first mission, Father Emilio Sandoz, has been found alive.  He has been discovered living in a state of degradation in what appears to be a brothel, and worse still, has been accused of murdering a child.  Decades later in 2059 (thanks to the speed of light) Sandoz finally arrives back on Earth, a broken man, sexually brutalised, with his hands horrifically maimed.  Under huge international and media pressure, as well as UN condemnation for taking matters into their own hands without approval, the Jesuit order decides to hold an investigation into what happened on the planet of Rakhat.

Continue reading

This week’s culture round-up

Octavia E. Butler, Parable of the Sower (1995)

To get along with God,

Consider the consequences of your behaviour

Parable of the Sower is one of the most harrowing, intense novels I’ve ever read.  I had a feeling that I shouldn’t read it while in a raw emotional state, but I picked it up one afternoon, started it and couldn’t stop.  Butler has a deceptively simple writing style that hooks you quickly and then grabs you round the throat and shakes you to your core.  I don’t think I’ve ever come across another writer who has less pity on her readers.

Continue reading

This week’s culture round-up

  • Flavorwire tells us that these are the 20 most iconic books covers ever . It’s interesting that most of the books on the list are books that middle-class adolescents are expected to read.   This is not to say they’re not iconic covers, just that someone with more mental energy than I have right now could probably say something about the politics of canon formation.
  • From the Paris Review, an article about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and the Hound of the Baskervilles .  I was such a Sherlock Holmes fan when I was a teenager.  I couldn’t start reading The Adventures without going on to read the entire series. The Hound of the Baskervilles is not my favourite, but I do like its gothic atmosphere.

Continue reading

A Babylon 5 Drinking Game

Andy and I have been rewatching Babylon 5 and have found ourselves shouting “drink” at certain moments in the show.  Thus, we discovered that a drinking game had naturally evolved from our B5 rewatch.

Take a drink when:

1. Someone says “a 1,000 years ago”.

2. Twice if it’s Delenn

3. Someone explains the Minbari caste system

4. Someone name checks Valen

5. The Minbari overeact and have a needlessly extreme/violent response to a problem

6. Twice if it’s Delenn

7. Someone says “Minbari do not lie”

8. Twice if a Minbari lies or deliberately deceives someone

9. Someone says “Minbari do not kill Minbari”

10.  Twice if a Minbari tries to kill another Minbari

11.  Lenier acts kind of stalkerish around Delenn

12.  Ambassador Kosh anwers “yes” or “no” to a question that doesn’t have a “yes” or “no” answer

13.  Ambassador Kosh is outside of his encounter suit

14. Commander Sinclair hardly blinks throughout a scene

15. Commander Sinclair blinks way too much during a scene

16. Someone uses the word “Hell”

17. Twice if they anthropomorphise hell, e.g. “Hell is coming right behind me”.

18. Three times it’s Mr Garibaldi

19. Mr Bester goads Mr Garibaldi

20. Mr Bester is prevented from telepathically scanning people

21. Someone threatens violence towards Mr Bester

22. Ivanova threatens someone with violence

23.  Twice if it’s Mr Bester

24. Someone tries to hit on Ivanova

25. Twice if it’s Talia Winters

26. Lyta Alexander’s eyes turn black … or gold

27. Someone has a really baaaaad telepathic experience

28. Marcus offers to sacrifice himself

29. Twice if Marcus succeeds in sacrificing himself

30. John Sheridan quotes his Dad

31. John Sheridan uses his quick thinking to save everyone from almost certain death

32. The League of Non-aligned Worlds are being unreasonable and difficult

33. Members of the League of Non Aligned Worlds are easily manipulated into taking a course of action

34. Londo is drunk

35. Somebody makes a joke about Spoo

36. Vir fails to dissuade Londo from a course of action

37. Mr Morden smiles ominously

38. G’Kar tries to kill Londo

39. G’Kar saves Londo’s ass

40. G’Kar makes a moving speech

41. Someone asks Stephen a simple question and he gives them far more information than they bargained for

42. Someone tells us about their religious beliefs

43. Twice if they actually have a go at defining the nature of God

44. Zack doesn’t understand something

45. Zathras says “Nobody listens to Zathras”

46. Nobody listens to Zathras

47. Wayne Alexander guest stars

48. Somebody almost gets laid

49. Somebody manages to get laid

50. A seriously disturbed human veteran of the Minbari war causes trouble on the station (e.g. tries to blow it up, attempts to assassinate someone, turns up dressed as King Arthur)

51. A down-below villain attempts to do a Cockney accent

52. There is a huge punch-up in the Zocalo

53. The station is almost destroyed

54.  The set is largely comprised of empty cardboard boxes covered with plastic wrap

55. The set is largely comprised of curtains

56. Space jazz is playing in the background

57. The same extras walk around in the background more than once

58. There are monks in the background

59. There is a Pak’ma’ra in the background

60. There is an obvious info dump that makes you cringe a little

That’s what we’ve come up with so far, but feel free to add more to the list.

This week’s culture round-up

I’m still on my SF reading binge and in the last week I have finished Ray Bradbury’s The Illustrated Man, which I liked very much, am still working my way through Iain M. Banks’s complex The Algebraist and have just started Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow. Andy and I have started rewatching Season 4 of Babylon 5.  I haven’t watched any of the new series of Dr Who because I’m scared that it might upset me.  Anyway, here are some links to things I enjoyed on the internet:

Continue reading