Superheroes have lives outside of superheroing. Of course they do; you see it occasionally in the movies (my main source of superheroness): the occasi...moreSuperheroes have lives outside of superheroing. Of course they do; you see it occasionally in the movies (my main source of superheroness): the occasional lover, usually getting into danger and needing rescuing; wise parents/parental figures; smartass friends...
Then you get movies like The Incredibles, where superheroes have to stop superheroing and try being normal. And how well does that go? (I love that movie.)
Supurbia takes the middle line. Superheroes be heroic, AND they have lives. How do you prevent their loved ones from being kidnapped by the arch-nemesis? Put them all on one normal suburban street and hope that no one cracks the code, of course. Here you have wives and husbands and kids and lovers... and while the superheroes are off saving the world, they're at home. Watching the news. Worrying. Talking to each other. Maybe organising themselves to help you. Maybe being exasperated or afraid or angry. (Or high.)
I love this comic. I like the variety of families, I like the way the characters interact, I like the way the superheroes are problematised (they are far, far from perfect individuals in the way they interact with those nearest and dearest). I'm still not at the point where I can comment fully on the art, but what I noticed I liked - the women are differentiated! - and it by no means got in the way of enjoying the story, which for me as newbie comic readers is an important aspect.
Recently I've been really getting into the history of the women's suffrage movement in Britain. There are professional reasons for this, but the reali...moreRecently I've been really getting into the history of the women's suffrage movement in Britain. There are professional reasons for this, but the reality is it's been a simmering interest for a very long time. I don't remember what grade it was, but I know I did a research essay on Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst at school - to my teacher's complete not-surprise - and was quite inspired. It was probably the first time I had felt that voting was actually something I ought to be interested in. And every now and then when I get discouraged by Australian politics and wonder whether it's worth voting... well, I remember that although it was easier in Australia, women all over the world fought incredibly hard to get someone like me the opportunity to cast a ballot. Who the heck am I to throw that back in their historical faces?
One of the books I got in a rash of purchasing last year was Sylvia Pankhurst: A Life in Radical Politics. I knew Sylvia had fallen out with her mother and sister, and she went on to form her own (somewhat amusingly named) suffrage organisation, ELFS (East London Federation of Suffragettes). Thanks to a biography of Emmeline Pankhurst I knew a bit more about her politics, and her daring/disgraceful child out of wedlock. I also knew, although I don't remember why, that she was incredibly important to mid-century Ethiopia, of all (seemingly surprising) places. There is, though, a whole lot more to her than these nuggets.
Mary Davis states right out that her intention is not to write a standard biography. Instead, she is aiming to look particularly at feminism and socialism in Britain in the first half of the 20th century via Sylvia. (She calls her Sylvia throughout, and justifies this with pointing that there were four Pankhursts active at the same time as suffragettes, and Sylvia was not the most famous. She also acknowledges that this is a problematic choice, which delighted me for its frankness.) What this book does then is look first at the development of the WSPU (created by Emmeline and Christable Pankhurst, Sylvia also involved); and then how/why Sylvia broke away as her socialist views conflicted with her increasingly right-wing mother and sister. Sylvia worked to meld her feminism and socialism, although this was incredibly difficult - a whole bunch of trade unions wanted nothing to do with feminism or helping oppressed women. As in so many cases, some of the oppressed don't want to change the system; they want to get to the top of it and take advantage of it. When women eventually got the right to vote (some in 1917, all in 1928) Sylvia was changing her focus to the proletariat - she was a firm supporter, early on, of the Russian Revolution, and was involved in the Communist Party (well, one of).
Socialism and feminism were, if not acceptable causes, at least ones that other people clearly identified with. But Sylvia was also committed to more intriguing causes, which had fewer proponents in Britain at least: like anti-racism, anti-imperialism and anti-facism. Her newspaper was apparently the first in Britain to have a black journalist write for it. She spoke out on Ethiopia's behalf when Italy invaded. These things got her some flak, as can be imagined, in Britain. But Ethiopia invited her to live there in the 1950s, and Addis Ababa has a street named after her, and her son still lives there (or did in 1999 when the book was published).
I love a good bio. Sometimes they can wander aimlessly, and sometimes they can focus too much on one aspect of a life. Davis' approach seems, to me, to be the best of both worlds. It doesn't pretend to be exhaustive; it does focus on one aspect, but that's the whole point. And I really liked that it pointed out some aspects of British history, too, like bits of labour history that don't often make it into mainstream historical narratives. In fact this is pretty much a checklist for the history of oppression: workers and women and black people are all covered, and all shown to have vital and real histories. Who knew? This book is a really great way into these areas of history, especially the suffrage/socialism aspect (and it's only 120 pages long!).(less)
Sometimes I forget how much I love reworkings of fairy tales. How crazy is that?
Ever since my mother (I think?) gave me a lovely little collection of...moreSometimes I forget how much I love reworkings of fairy tales. How crazy is that?
Ever since my mother (I think?) gave me a lovely little collection of twisted fairy tales - I have no idea what it was called, whether they were all by the same person, or whatever - I have been passionate about people taking well worn stories and twisting them. Sometimes slightly, sometimes extremely. But, it turns out, I forget this. And then I read Troll's Eye View, and I remember... because sometimes the villain is absolutely the most interesting character, and sometimes they're not actually a villain if you look at them a certain way. And I read To Spin a Darker Stair, and the prose is wondrous and the stories gripping.
But then I forget. And I have something like Paula Guran's anthology Once Upon a Time: New Fairy Tales sitting there waiting... waiting... waiting to be read, and when I finally get around to reading the first one I think, why have I been waiting so long?
Maybe having written this, I am less likely to forget in future. I can hope.
I enjoyed every story in this anthology; some more than most, but there wasn't a one that I flicked through impatiently. There's a great range of stories. Yoon Ha Lee, whom I'm just discovering, brings a Korean-inspired story in "The Coin of Heart's Desire" that fits into the "be careful what you wish for" zone; Cinda Williams Chima brings native American folklore into a "gritty industrial landscape" a little bit like Charles de Lint. Angela Slatter turns a princess into a bird in a story of revenge, while Priya Sharma, in "Egg," wonders about all those stories where all the woman wants is a child... There are retellings, too: Genevieve Valentine plays with "The Snow Queen," Jane Yolen and Ekaterina Sedia take "Sleeping Beauty" in two completely different directions (Sedia does it better, I think); Tanith Lee uses the one about the dancing princesses. Richard Bowes brings a sardonic Puss in Boots into the world of social media and Caitlin R Kiernan takes Little Red Riding Hood into space. Cory Skerry smashes "Beauty and the Beast" and AC Wise makes "The Six Swans" a rather darker story about desire and selfishness. Perhaps most profound is Erzebet Yellowboy, whose story means I will never, ever view the (step)mother in Snow White in the same way again.
This is a glorious anthology - one that you could sit down and read cover to cover, or dip in and out of.(less)
I have been a fan of Robert Holdstock for a while, both for the Mythago Wood series and his Merlin/Jason and the Argonauts books, which I still haven'...moreI have been a fan of Robert Holdstock for a while, both for the Mythago Wood series and his Merlin/Jason and the Argonauts books, which I still haven't finished... oops... I've had this book on my shelf for a very long time, and as part of my effort to deplete the TBR pile I've finally got around to it.
Interestingly, this reminded me of two books. Firstly, the idea of a planet with weird time distortions of course calls to mind Dan Simmons' Hyperion Cantos; this came first, and I can't help wondering about influence. Secondly, there's also a similarity to Kress' Steal Across the Sky, this time in its attitude toward the alien. Aliens were a means to an end for Kress, allowing her to explore different aspects of humanity or society; VanderZande's World allows Holdstock to do the same. The people are there because of the time winds that rips ng things from the past and the future and deposits them in the present (and presumably other times as well, but let's not think too hard about that)... but this oddity is mostly just a vehicle for Holdstock to explore humanity.
Humanity have settled on this world partly to explore, and learn to understand the time winds, and partly to colonise. The first is the focus of the story, although the second is touched on and is one of the most interesting issues. The main narrative focuses on a rifter - a man whose purpose is to investigate the stuff appearing after the time wind has blown through. His world starts to go a bit pear-shaped when a new recruit joins his team. Holdstock is interested in how people deal with stress, and how this impacts on relationships, and gradually reveals more of Leo's life and issues. Of course, things aren't even as normal-life complex as they initially appear, and Holdstock makes the issues of the past come through in such a way that makes complete sense with what has already been revealed.
Alongside this narrative, Holdstock gives tantalising hints at the world he imagines. It would be human-compatible, but its organic life creates pollens that are toxic. There are two responses to this issue (well, three, because there are also the people who don't bother to try and settle there): the colonists who are hoping to eventually evolve to the point of unassisted survival; and the manchanged, colonists who have artificially intervened into themselves in order to live without assistance now. The hostility between them is barely examined, but adds depth to the overall narrative as well as depressing believability.
The one problem I had with this book was about the last 20 pages. They felt rushed and forced, and wrapped up an issue in a way that neither felt integral nor necessary. So that left a slightly sour taste in my mouth, which is unfortunate given I enjoyed the rest of it.(less)
This book is definitely not one for beginners. Lefebvre assumes some knowledge of both the Revolution itself and the the late 18th century in Europe m...moreThis book is definitely not one for beginners. Lefebvre assumes some knowledge of both the Revolution itself and the the late 18th century in Europe more generally, and if you either have no knowledge or aren't quick on your feet when dealing with names and politics - well, this will be a hard book to read. Me, I'm pretty good on the French side of things, and that's the only way I managed to read this without feeling like a complete idiot. There's also no glossary, so woe betide the reader that misses a term that was explained early on... or wasn't explained at all and you're just meant to understand it, but maybe don't.
One of the most awesome aspects of the book is the very fact that it places the Revolution in its broader European context. I had no idea of the Austrian/Prussian/Russian machinations that were going on at the same time as they were posturing about and around France; the controversy over Poland in particular made me realise just how much I have always viewed the French Revolution in isolation. That is, I know that the American Revolution had an impact, and so on; but I had forgotten that of course those countries who eventually invaded had other things on their mind than just an annoying neighbour. This is a common failing of mine, I have realised. So Lefebvre's insistence on providing a really broad context - much broader than I would have thought necessary, with the internal politicking of Pitt etc - makes this a quite remarkable part of revolutionary historiography.
The most annoying thing about this is that it is part one of two. And this translator did not, apparently, do part 2 - which incorporates the Terror, and Thermidor, and Danton being his most awesome. Still, Lefebvre does give a succinct overview of the issues leading to the Revolution, as well as description of the early years. Perhaps the most amusing aspect is that he appears not to like anyone. He doesn't seem to like the proletariat (as he terms them), nor the peasants, and the bourgeoisie quite often come in for disapproval. And let's not talk about the aristocracy. The other thing of note for those of us who've done history more recently and have been forced to deal with issues of historiography and the post-modern/post-structuralist turn is Lefebvre's utter conviction that his interpretation of events is right. In fact, it's not even a conviction - that would suggest it was something he had given thought to. No; this is just the facts, and that's all there is. Which is very appealing, if a little dangerous in the 21st century.
The translation is superb; there was no point at which I thought that it was convoluted or messy. (less)
There are interesting parallels between this and Mary Doria Russell's The Sparrow. Both deal with humanity's contact with aliens, and with the repercu...moreThere are interesting parallels between this and Mary Doria Russell's The Sparrow. Both deal with humanity's contact with aliens, and with the repercussions for humanity especially in the realm of religion. There are vast differences, of course - how contact is achieved, the type of people involved, and so on. I think Russell's is better, overall; I appreciated the characters more, and I think it's overall a more sober look at the repercussions for humanity. But I also think the two books are trying to do different things, and Kress has achieved something impressive in her novel.
Aliens have contacted humanity with the sole intention of Atoning for some crime they committed against us… ten thousand years ago. They don't reveal what that crime is, nor how they intend to atone for it. Instead, they talk to anyone who can get the bandwidth to reach the moon, and set up a boring website asking for volunteers to act as Witnesses. Predictably, they get millions of applicants, of whom 21 are chosen to go to seven different planets - planets inhabited by the descendants of humanity kidnapped ten thousand years ago (cue Stargate music). This, however, is not the crime. Almost the first half of the novel focusses on Cam and Lucca, Witnesses sent to a binary planet system to live with their many-times-removed cousins in order to discover the thing that they will 'know when they see it', according to the Atoners. Intriguingly, numerous chapters are also given to one of those whom the Witnesses interact with, providing an at time painful glimpse into the arrogance and cluelessness of one Witness. Slight spoiler, which really isn't: they discover the thing. They don't really know it when they first see it. But, as the blurb promises - or threatens - the knowledge does change them, and at least some people back on Earth. The rest of the novel is working through the repercussions of that knowledge, this time largely switching focus to other Witnesses, and only occasionally returning to Cam and Lucca. And, similar to Kim Stanley Robinson so gloriously in 2312, chapters are punctuated with ephemera: conversation transcripts, Oprah interviews, advertisements, etc. These add a wonderful verisimilitude to the world that Kress imagines, only a decade away from now: many thing similar (yes, Oprah; also internet trolls); and some different. Kress throws in some lovely SF-ish moments - just enough to be incongruent, to remind the reader that this is not today.
What this book is not is an alien contact story. Yes, it deals with first contact, and yes the aliens are pivotal. But that's exactly what they are: a pivot, a lever, a fulcrum. They are a point about which the plot revolves, but not the focus. They are almost completely opaque and don't exist as characters at all. Rather, the focus is on humanity: how humans react, how humans interact. For an SF novel involving aliens and space travel this is a distinctly earthly novel. It's also a bit depressing, but perhaps that's a reflection of a near-future novel published in 2009. That's not to say that it's without hope, but… it's not especially upbeat. Nonetheless, I did enjoy it overall. As mentioned above, Kress deals with the repercussions of the Witness discoveries on religion, as well as on other aspects of society. For this, and the fact that she treats religion seriously (even if it is only through Catholicism, which isn't completely representative of Christianity let alone all religions on the planet… perhaps it is the most prevalent religion in the US, where it's largely set? I don't know), definite kudos. I still think Russell did it in a more nuanced manner, but it was also more of a focus for Russell than for Kress, who is writing a story that's closer to thriller than philosophical treatise, whereas Russell is the opposite. And Kress does what I presume she set out to do: write an engaging, enjoyable, intriguing novel that combines off-beat characters - not all of whom are likeable - with a plot that keeps you flicking pages (I read it in a day…) and, cliches ahoy, a serious kicker at the end. (less)