Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016: Book #8

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016 BadgeTitle: Showtime (Twelve Planets #5)

Author: Narelle M. Harris

Publisher and Year: Twelfth Planet Press, 2012

Genre: speculative fiction, urban fantasy, fantasy, horror

 

 

 

 

Showtime - coverBlurb from Goodreads:

Family drama can be found anywhere: in kitchens, in cafes. Derelict hotels, showground rides. Even dungeons far below ruined Hungarian castles. (Okay, especially in Hungarian dungeons.)

Old family fights can go on forever, especially if you’re undead. If an opportunity came to save someone else’s family, the way you couldn’t save your own, would you take it?

Your family might include ghosts, or zombies, or vampires. Maybe they just have allergies. Nobody’s perfect.

Family history can weigh on the present like a stone. But the thing about families is, you can’t escape them. Not ever. And mostly, you don’t want to.

My review:

This review is presented as part of my contribution to the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016, and as part of the Journey Through the Twelve Planets Reading Challenge


And here is the  moment you’ve all been waiting for, I found a horror story that was truly chilling but that I really enjoyed reading and loved the hell out of! Maybe I can do this reading horror thing afterall! Showtime is the fifth collection in the Twelve Planets project orchestrated by Twelfth Planet Press and it is another fine addition to the series. I really enjoyed this book and the stories. I must also report that much to my amusement when I was reading the introduction, it reminded me of Seanan McGuire’s voice/tone well before I knew she did actually write the introduction. I was reminded quite strongly of interviews I’ve listened to recently, her voice was incredibly strong in my mind. I laughed out loud when I realised that it really was McGuire speaking.

Stalemate

This story has the honour of being the horror story that could, and did chill me in my reading of it, and yet utterly thrill me too. On the surface I could really empathise with both mother and daughter and the confrontation they were having, the difficulty in both needing each other, dealing with each other’s foibles and the frustration involved. And then there’s a twist and it’s not a simple confrontation at all. I can’t say much more without spoiling things, but I only saw part of the twist coming but it came back for seconds and was brilliant. The writing of this story was very tight and both the character of Helen and her mother Olivia came alive in my mind as I read.

What is particularly interesting for me on a personal level about this story is that I was truly chilled by it, but not scared – and didn’t struggle with reading it at all. This is quite unexpected for me as I’m quite susceptible to horror and as part of this project I’m quite gingerly picking my pathway through what horror I can actually read, without suffering, and more importantly: enjoy reading. This story absolutely meets those measures.

Thrall

This story is such a great play on so much of vampire fiction in all directions, it was amusing on quite a dark level and I enjoyed it thoroughly. Erzsebet was brilliant and delightfully cunning in the way she came to deal with the vampire she and her family were bound to. I laughed several times listening to a frustrated vampire recount the difficulty in engaging and dealing with the modern world – being mistaken for a ‘Granny groper’ while trying to poach a victim for her blood, all captured on smartphone. I think that this is one of my favourite was This was a great shift in tone from the previous story and was an excellent ‘unicorn chaser’.

The Truth About Brains

So, I have a thing about zombies. I hate them. I hate them with every fibre of my being. And yet, every so often, something comes along and I like it *despite* the zombies in it counting against it. This is one such story. Kids, siblings and antics including unexpected accidents and zombification, otherwise known as, messing with magic when you should know better. And yet, at the end of the day parents are there to pick up the pieces, and fix things – albeit in unexpected ways. I was so surprised to laugh at this story, it was so charming. Again, subverting what is both funny, horrific, and involves genuinely touching family themes.

Showtime

I’m in the middle of reading Harris’ novel The Opposite of Life at the moment which I am enjoying a lot and this story revisits those characters in a lovely vignette that emphasises the friendship between Gary and Lissa, who for various reasons around nostalgia, decide to go to the Melbourne Royal Show. Instead of the woodchipping demonstration, they find the haunted house and old enemies causing trouble. Lissa being Lissa steps in and Gary backs her up against the monsters. I could absolutely imagine these two doing this pretty much anywhere they turn up together, planning a quiet afternoon doing something and hanging out, saving someone’s life instead. I particularly liked the conversation between Lissa and the little girl she saved about bravery and acknowledging the child’s truth directly to her. It’s a tiny thing but I one I appreciated a lot.

I really enjoyed this collection a lot, as a whole I think – I can’t actually pick a favourite story from it, they are all excellent! I love the central theme of family that runs throughout the book. Although none of the stories are connected directly, they all resonate with that same thematic element of family exploring the joys and tribulations of dealing with family, all with a supernatural twist. As an exploration of family themes, I’m hard pressed to think of a book that does a better job of considering some of the difficult concepts shared here, mother and daughter love that is as fraught as the love is deep, that frustration and love that comes from being a sibling and finding your younger brother annoying as hell – and yet, you don’t really want him dead. Being the matriarch of a line and being done with old curses, wanting freedom and hope for your family into the future, and supporting a child’s bravery and truth, appreciating chosen family in friendship. Congratulations to Harris and Twelfth Planet Press on such a well rounded read that demonstrates Harris’ talent so well.

Gifted Thief - coverARC Review:

Title: Gifted Thief (Highland Magic #1) 

Author: Helen Harper

Publisher and Year: Createspace Independent Publishing Platform, 2016

Genre: urban fantasy, fantasy

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

Orphan. Runaway. Thief.

Since the moment I was ripped from my mother’s womb, I’ve been an outcast amongst my own kind. The Sidhe might possess magical Gifts, unbelievable wealth and unfathomable power but I don’t want a thing to do with them. I ran away from their lands in the Highlands of Scotland when I was eleven years old and I’ve never looked back. I don’t need a Clan. I’ve got my own family of highly skilled thieves who mean more to me than any Sidhe ever could.

Unfortunately for me, the playboy heir to the Moncrieffe Clan has something I desperately need. To get it back, I’m going to have to plunge myself back into that world, no matter what the consequences may be. I suppose it’s just as well I have sense of humour. I think I’m going to need it.

My Review:

An eARC of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

I really liked the premise of this story, I found Integrity to be an engaging protagonist overall. I am quite interested to follow through reading the series to find out what happens – the mystery of the series has me successfully hooked. The writing is quite clunky and I agree with other reviews that mention that it throws you into things without the benefit of some worldbuilding/background that would contextualise things a little better. I want a clearer view of the landscape the protagonist is in.

I love thief stories as much as I love stories about the fae and the sidhe, so this book absolutely pressed my buttons! I think it delivered what it promised generally, but definitely did not exceed expectations. Of particular note, I loved the group of friends – their camaraderie was believable and went a long way to me warming to the story overall. I liked Integrity’s confidence but at other times she irked me – I’m not sure if this is her character or the writing. Her sense of humour I appreciated but thought the execution was clumsy.

Actually, that really sums up my whole  review: the premise and story were great and hooked me, the execution was clumsy and I’m hoping that these improve for subsequent books. I love urban fantasy, particularly when there’s a unique take on it, and this book certainly provides that, but it wasn’t as satisfying as I was hoping. I didn’t fall in love with it. I did like it, and liked it enough to keep reading.

Central Station - coverARC Review:

Title: Central Station

Author: Lavie Tidhar

Publisher and Year: Tachyon Publications, 2016

Genre: science fiction, mosaic novel

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

A worldwide diaspora has left a quarter of a million people at the foot of a space station. Cultures collide in real life and virtual reality. The city is literally a weed, its growth left unchecked. Life is cheap, and data is cheaper.

When Boris Chong returns to Tel Aviv from Mars, much has changed. Boris’s ex-lover is raising a strangely familiar child who can tap into the datastream of a mind with the touch of a finger. His cousin is infatuated with a robotnik—a damaged cyborg soldier who might as well be begging for parts. His father is terminally-ill with a multigenerational mind-plague. And a hunted data-vampire has followed Boris to where she is forbidden to return.

Rising above them is Central Station, the interplanetary hub between all things: the constantly shifting Tel Aviv; a powerful virtual arena, and the space colonies where humanity has gone to escape the ravages of poverty and war. Everything is connected by the Others, powerful alien entities who, through the Conversation—a shifting, flowing stream of consciousness—are just the beginning of irrevocable change.

At Central Station, humans and machines continue to adapt, thrive…and even evolve.

 

My Review:

An eARC of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

This book is a series of stories, they connect to give you a bigger sense of the place, Central Station. The stories connect, but the connections are not obvious, the whole novel is an exercise in subtlety. I liked it and appreciated it, but I didn’t fall in love with it. I loved the array of characters, cultures, real and imagined from the robotniks with their robotic religion, to the description of a futuristic Tel Aviv that was so vivid, I could almost see it.

I am a person who really thrives plot to link and align the concepts being explored – I want to see those not just through the characters eyes, but in the way that fits in with a bigger narrative. That said, the mosaic format was executed beautifully and the characters each fully realised and bursting from the page. These characters evoke emotion, from the weight of ancestral memory being passed along each generation becoming something of a curse, to the way it feels to be unable to connect to the central data stream in a society that is embedded in shared data. What if you’re a vampire who feeds on that data, bleeding it dry from others? There’s such complexity offered in this book, I don’t think my words can do it justice.

Reading this book is an experience, and trying to review it is difficult, it defies words on the page – you need to be in the pages of the book, immersed and experiencing it. Telling someone about it later doesn’t seem to convey what is truly excellent about the book. And it is excellent. I enjoyed it a lot… but I wasn’t immersed in it, I didn’t fall in love with it. I’m still not sure why, because I love the Central Station that the author imagines, but that was my favourite part more than anything else.

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016: Book #7

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016 BadgeTitle: Bad Power by Deborah Biancotti (Twelve Planets #4

Author: Deborah Biancotti

Publisher and Year: Twelfth Planet Press, 2011

Genre: speculative fiction, mystery, crime, urban fantasy

 

 

Bad Power - coverBlurb from Goodreads:

Hate superheroes?
Yeah. They probably hate you, too.

‘There are two kinds of people with lawyers on tap, Mr Grey. The powerful and the corrupt.’
‘Thank you.’
‘For implying you’re powerful?’
‘For imagining those are two different groups.’

From Crawford Award nominee Deborah Biancotti comes this sinister short story suite, a pocketbook police procedural, set in a world where the victories are only relative, and the defeats are absolute. Bad Power celebrates the worst kind of powers both supernatural and otherwise, in the interlinked tales of five people — and how far they’ll go.

If you like Haven and Heroes, you’ll love Bad Power.

My review:

This review is presented as part of my contribution to the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016, and as part of the Journey Through the Twelve Planets Reading Challenge


I can positively say that the anthologies that utilise a shared universe in which to tell stories in a collection is one of my favourite ways to read short stories (whether novelettes, short stories, flash pieces, or novellas). Biancotti has delivered a very tight collection that weaves together beautifully. I almost didn’t like this collection much until I realised that I’d have lapped up every moment if it was in television form – and it’s like something clicked for me and I was in love.

I feel like in some ways these stories explore the idea of super-powers and the assumption that these encourage the emergence of heroes who do good in the world. Biancotti explores a more realistic and somewhat darker exploration of the idea of powers  – we’re all individuals after all, and not all of us are Superman, Wonder Woman or Batman. It’s not even like we’re all villains either – Biancotti deftly melts away the archetypes that go with the presentation of stories involving super powers and explores instead the ordinary ways of corruption, of getting by and are more about capitalism than making a difference to others. This is truly a unique exploration of super powers and a thorough dressing down of the idea of the super hero.

I would like to read more stories featuring Detective Palmer, who threads each of the stories, although I think they tie together in ways that are much more satisfying than her appearance alone. Her character interests me and her adventures in law enforcement, the weird cases she catches appeals to me a lot. She leaps of the page in a way that I love best from characters I read.

I think in this case I can’t look at the stories individually because it was only when I thought of them together in context that these stories came together as they were supposed to for me. I think this is partly that I’m less familiar with crime reading overall, especially gritty crime that tends toward the dark – this much more closely matches my television watching habits so that’s partly the lens through which I’m considering my review.

I didn’t find myself feeling sympathetic towards Grey or Webb as characters, the personality of Webb’s mother was quite chilling. I’m really sad that the old woman ended up dead – I was really taken with her character, and yet her death had weight and meaning for me as a reader – I missed her. It won’t surprise anyone who knows me that Crossing the Bridge was my favourite story of the collection – it brought a fulmination to Palmer’s character in connection with a character we’re newly introduced to, but who represents  the idea of optimism and that just because several people with powers are evil, jerks or simply opportunistic and amoral if otherwise benign, not everyone is and occasionally you get someone who really does want to make a difference, and has the power to do.

This is my first introduction to Biancotti’s work actually, and I really enjoyed the read. However, it is unlike anything else I’ve read before and sometimes that lack of familiarity meant I found it harder to slide into the story and immerse myself. I’m not much of a crime reader – particularly where it’s darker and a bit more gritty. However, the speculative element to this story really rounded it out for me as an experience I could really enjoy and trust in the individual narratives and their connection to one another to show me a good time.

Bad Power is another fantastic addition to the Twelve Planets series by Twelfth Planet Press and truly shows the versatility of the Press in the work it produces while maintaining a consistently high quality calibre of stories published. I have a not so secret hope that Biancotti may return to this universe, and in particular the character of Detective Palmer as I’d enjoy being able to continue reading about her adventures. That to me is really a sign of how much I enjoyed this collection – the world and its characters living beyond the reading of the last page.

 

All the Birds in the Sky - coverSword and Laser Bookclub: March

Title: All the Birds in the Sky

Author: Charlie Jane Anders

Publisher: Tor Books, 2016

Genre: Young adult, dystopia, urban fantasy, fantasy

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

Childhood friends Patricia Delfine and Laurence Armstead didn’t expect to see each other again, after parting ways under mysterious circumstances during high school. After all, the development of magical powers and the invention of a two-second time machine could hardly fail to alarm one’s peers and families.

But now they’re both adults, living in the hipster mecca San Francisco, and the planet is falling apart around them. Laurence is an engineering genius who’s working with a group that aims to avert catastrophic breakdown through technological intervention into the changing global climate. Patricia is a graduate of Eltisley Maze, the hidden academy for the world’s magically gifted, and works with a small band of other magicians to secretly repair the world’s ever-growing ailments. Little do they realize that something bigger than either of them, something begun years ago in their youth, is determined to bring them together–to either save the world, or plunge it into a new dark ages.

A deeply magical, darkly funny examination of life, love, and the apocalypse.

 

My Review:

I really enjoyed this book, I enjoyed the easy-reading start that matched up with the age and experience of the children involved and how gradually as they became older and more complex, so did the writing and the story. I’m also a fan of near future stuff that is hopeful as well as cautionary and I thought Anders balanced this well. Plus, it was great to read a story that looked at the intersection of magic and science as necessary for fixing global catastrophe and also at the ideas of balance, giving too much, taking too much, and giving up too soon.

I felt like all the key elements of the story were also reflected in the relationship between Patricia and Laurence, up to and including their imperfect friendship, and that imperfection and their ability to fail one another made them seem particularly real as protagonists to me. Also, I really appreciated the resolution of the book where AI Peregrine (one of my favourite parts of the book) was joined with the tree – how two all encompassing entities were still after connection in the end. I love that kind of message.

I adored the quirky descriptions of San Francisco, I was reminded why it’s a place I’d love to visit someday! Plus, across the book there were so many characters and it was nice to just enjoy that not all of them were white, or middle class, and straight. It was pretty subtle, as it should be – especially where queerness or poverty or whiteness aren’t critical to the story. Most reviews for this book struggle to put it into words, and I have to agree with that – it’s enjoyable and whimsical, playful and serious with genuine depth. But there were still some loose story ends that I wasn’t really satisfied with, plus there seemed to be too little information about Patricia and Laurances respective specialised schooling once they parted ways – given the way the story went I’d have thought there would be some time spent on that. Overall, this was a satisfying stand alone read, it’s wonderfully speculative without being overladen or heavy handed and would suit those who enjoy stand alone novels, modern fantasy with no medieval anything in sight, and those who aren’t necessarily particular fans of speculative fiction.

Every Heart a Doorway - coverARC Review:

Title: Every Heart a Doorway

Author: Seanan McGuire

Publisher and Year: Tor, 2016

Genre: fantasy, young adult, new adult

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children
No Solicitations
No Visitors
No Quests

Children have always disappeared under the right conditions; slipping through the shadows under a bed or at the back of a wardrobe, tumbling down rabbit holes and into old wells, and emerging somewhere… else.

But magical lands have little need for used-up miracle children.

Nancy tumbled once, but now she’s back. The things she’s experienced… they change a person. The children under Miss West’s care understand all too well. And each of them is seeking a way back to their own fantasy world.

But Nancy’s arrival marks a change at the Home. There’s a darkness just around each corner, and when tragedy strikes, it’s up to Nancy and her new-found schoolmates to get to the heart of the matter.

No matter the cost.

 

My Review:

An eARC of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

How have I not read any of Seanan McGure’s work before?! Especially given my love of urban fantasy?! In any case, this was my first foray into McGuire’s work and I could not put the book down. Every Heart a Doorway is simply magnificent and is an instant favourite for 2016, without question.

Every Heart a Doorway has one of the most interesting fantasy premises I’ve come across in a long time and it’s beautifully executed. The world building for the story is sublime and I want to read so many more stories set in this universe! Not only were the setting and world building engaging, the characters leapt off the page and brought the story to life for me. I could imagine their voices, the way they looked, everything so clearly.

My heart went out to Nancy and I was particularly taken by her experience having tumbled into a world that wasn’t sunshine and rainbows, as some of the worlds in the books were described, but one that is more silent, deeper and a bit darker. I am absolutely a fan of sunshine, unicorns and rainbows without question, but my experience of that is enhanced when there is shadow and darkness to the lightheartedness. I also love how well McGuire demonstrates that sunshine and rainbows do not inherently equal benevolence or fairness, and that the darker or creepier worlds are not necessarily malevolent or evil.

What especially struck me about this novella, and I think it’s an aspect that makes this particularly good reading for young/new adults is the way in which Nancy experiences isolation and difficulty with her family after she returns from her world. Nancy’s experience parallels the experience of many who are struggling personally with something that their families don’t or can’t understand. Across the experiences of other characters in the novel like Kade, Jack, Jill and Sumi, the concept of family and the relationship with family as being complex, fraught and difficult on several levels is explored including having family, not having family, being loved and wanted, or unwanted and misunderstood by family.

Additionally, the novella includes a spectrum of characters with different experiences, not all of them are white, one is asexual and another is transgender, and this too mirrors the experience of people reading who want to see themselves in fiction, and see how other characters think about their lives, feelings and experiences and process them. I sincerely wish I had a book like this for when I was growing up, I needed this book growing up and I needed it now to look back on my past and growing up and the impact of being misunderstood and out of place on me. That profound sense of not belonging so much that you lose yourself in fantasy trying to cope – for the characters in the story that’s more literal than metaphorical but it really hit home for me. Wanting to belong and trying to find that place, finding it and losing it, trying to find a new sense of home and belonging afterwards. This story is profound on several levels.

I also love the overt feminism of the story in considering why there are so many more girls than boys who go through secret doors into hidden worlds. The idea of boys being too loud to be easily missed, and the expectations and assumptions about how boys play and what will happen to them versus the way in which we seek to protect girls, but also how we impose upon them a silence and stillness that means that it is easier for them to be misplaced, should they find a door and go wandering. This is a pointed commentary and it draws on the generalisations bound up in traditional gender roles reflecting not only a bitter truth contained within, but also the constraint that is imposed upon people to be, to not be, to conform a certain way.

I have no criticisms to level at this novella, as one reviewer put it: it’s damn near perfect. It packs an emotional punch, it’s beautifully written, the length is accessible – it’s neither too long nor too short and it leaves you wanting more. I am my own doorway, I am the only one who gets to choose my story and I make the decisions that govern my narrative. Every Heart a Doorway will stay with me for the rest of my life.

 

 

Steal the Sky ARC Review:

Title: Steal the Sky

Author: Megan O’Keefe

Publisher and Year: Angry Robot Books, 2016

Genre: fantasy, steampunk

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

Detan Honding, a wanted conman of noble birth and ignoble tongue, has found himself in the oasis city of Aransa. He and his trusted companion Tibs may have pulled off one too many cons against the city’s elite and need to make a quick escape. They set their sights on their biggest heist yet—the gorgeous airship of the exiled commodore Thratia.

But in the middle of his scheme, a face changer known as a doppel starts murdering key members of Aransa’s government. The sudden paranoia makes Detan’s plans of stealing Thratia’s ship that much harder. And with this sudden power vacuum, Thratia can solidify her power and wreak havoc against the Empire. But the doppel isn’t working for Thratia and has her own intentions. Did Detan accidentally walk into a revolution and a crusade? He has to be careful—there’s a reason most people think he’s dead. And if his dangerous secret gets revealed, he has a lot more to worry about than a stolen airship.

My Review:

An eARC of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

This is a great novel filled with the grand adventures of an anti-hero with unlikely allies, amidst a fantasy-steampunk setting. The worldbuilding in this novel is fantastic, I really got a sense of the city of Aransa and its surrounds. Another reviewer commented that in some ways, this book reminded them of ‘Firefly’ – the doomed-but-fabled television series, and I have to say I can see the resemblance. It’s not exactly a space western but it is a fantasy-steampunk-western and so it has that similar feel about it.

At first it was Ripka whom I liked best – although I was thrown for a bit with the doppelganger impersonation of her for a bit. I liked Tibs immediately and was glad that we got a nice chunk of his story in this book and not just a focus on Detan. It took me a little bit for Detan, the main protagonist to grow on me, but he’s such an interesting contradiction of personality and the way he interacts with the story makes it twisty and fascinating. About the only character who had little impact on me was Thratia – as a villain she was a little two-dimensional and the other characters’ fear of her didn’t quite translate to me as the reader – maybe this will become more apparent with time, but I feel like her history is what made her scary, not her present activities in Aransa. Those who came after Detan from the Empire were more villainous than Thratia, who by comparison was just coldly political with an amoral streak.

I got a sense that in this first book we’ve barely begun to scratch the surface of those who are talented with sellium gas, and the ends to which those in power would seek to use and so it would seem, abuse, them. They were the real villains of the story and there’s some nice seeds of an epic story being told in this book. In this particular story, the focus is on Detan’s interactions with Pelkaia, the doppel. Pelkaia is highly skilled with her talents in using sellium, with a background in its use before it was commandeered as a protected resource for the Empire – all those talented with sellium are required to work in that industry, no choice involved and no way out (save death or injury). Pelkaia rebels against his, having worked the system herself and also lost her son to what she thought was an accident. The loss of her son compels Pelkaia to revenge, which is what has her cross paths with Detan, impersonate Ripka and seek to steal from Thratia.

This story had great layers to it – from the heist of the airship, Detan’s history, Pelkaia’s revenge for the death of her son, and how these all ultimately link together, there’s a lot to enjoy! Also, lots to dig into and it’s got great scope as a series – I’m really looking forward to the next book! If you enjoyed ‘Firefly’, like steampunk in your fantasy, or like adventure stories, heist stories, or stories about loyalty then this is well worth your time.

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016: Book #6

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016 BadgeTitle: Thief of Lives (Twelve Planets #3)

Author: Lucy Sussex

Publisher and Year: Twelfth Planet Press, 2011

Genre: fantasy, urban fantasy, collection, anthology

 

Thief of Lies - coverBlurb from Goodreads:

Why are certain subjects so difficult to talk about?
What is justice?
Why do writers think that other people’s lives are fair game?
And what do we really know about the first chemist?

A story about history, women, science (and also the demonic); a crime story, based upon a true crime; a realist satire of the supposedly sex-savvy; and a story exploring lies, and the space between the real and the unreal. Welcome to the worlds of Lucy Sussex, and to her many varied modes.

 

My review:

This review is presented as part of my contribution to the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016, and as part of the Journey Through the Twelve Planets Reading Challenge


Another really solid addition to the Twelve Planets collection by Twelfth Planet Press. This book wasn’t my favourite, but Sussex has been on my ‘to read’ list in my head for quite a while so I’m pleased to finally read some of her work. Overall I enjoyed this collection, but I didn’t fall into it the way I did with both Nightsiders and Love and Romanpunk. I do think this is a great introduction to Sussex’s work and her talent across different genres and styles of writing.

Alchemy

The first story in the collection is Alchemy, and it’s my favourite of the collection. I love Tapputi’s character, her quiet strength and being utterly grounded in her world. I love the observation of her throughout her life by Azuzel and how drawn he his to her and the potential he sees in her in a history-making sense. This is a story that I think demonstrates boundaries really well – in a kind of abstract but also literal sense. Azuzel makes an offer, after observing Tapput, she refuses and he respects her decision. He returns to observe her, still drawn to her ‘once in a generation’ mind and offers again – years later, and respects her again and possibly more when she still refuses. I definitely got the sense of Azuzel as an immortal entity wafting throughout time and history acting, interacting, observing but lacking earthly substance without that alchemical connection. Stories like this one are amongst those I particularly enjoy – the connection (romantic or not) between an otherworldly character and a worldly character (using broad definitions), it just presses a big emotional satisfaction button for me.

Fountain of Justice

Fountain of Justice was an interesting story, and it didn’t really work for me but I did like Meg’s character. The story didn’t quite fulfil the premise for me, although I was engaged by the ideas behind the story – all of them separately were interesting, but I don’t feel like they came together as a whole in the end.  I did love the idea of the fountain being the agent of justice, and also that sometimes needs must and the official rules and version of things may be different from certain truths.

The Subject of O

The Subject of O is a story where I loved the premise and enjoyed the story but it didn’t get under my skin and it didn’t stay with me. On the surface, lots about this story is my jam – female sexuality, invisibility and uncovering the ordinary in society. But while I loved the way Petra considered female sexuality and orgasms, and the truth around communicating them (or not) with the person you’re having sex with, it was a bit meh for me. Maybe it’s simply that this is a subject in which I’ve thought and thought and over-thought, or that I’m not sure. It also occurs to me that the story is intended to be satirical and that tends to be hit and miss for me.

Thief of Lives

Thief of Lives is an ‘Inception-like’ story, it’s the story in which the title of the collection is taken from, and features a book of the same name within. That part tickles me quite a lot. Actually, I really loved the dark and urban style fantasy involved here and I think my real complaint with this story is that it was merely a taste and I wanted a novel with these characters, with this universe. It was really engaging although at times hard to follow, but overall really satisfying.

 


*A note for those tracking numbers, the 5th book I read for the Australian Women Writers Challenge was ‘Innocence Lost’ by Patty Jansen, but since I didn’t enjoy it I’ve only reviewed it on Goodreads.

 

How does one write about women and equal rights in 2016? It’s traditional to start these posts off with a celebratory phrase, but also a cautionary one.

It feels like we’re still saying the same things over time and again. How do you stand up again on March 8 and say “Happy International Women’s Day, we have so much to celebrate, and so much work yet to be done”, again?

My eternal optimism at least, grows tired. Rallying cries and motivational statements abound but at least for me this year, they’re equal parts inspiring and heartening as they are tired, and somewhat depressing. What do I even mean by this?

Well, I’m never going to fail to be astounded and inspired by the boundless enthusiasm of those who bring new energy to this fight, to this journey for equality. I’m also never going to lose my abiding respect and admiration for those who keep speaking out, speaking up about equality for years – seemingly tireless.

But. And it’s a big one. It’s still the same stuff and it seems like overall so little has shifted. The conversation about women, about equality is still one where many of us are jumping up and down to emphasise the importance of intersectionality. We’re adamant about the importance of less white women speaking for a supposedly global homogenous population of women – we’re not homogenous, and equality looks like many different things across global groups. But how are we making it possible for women from across different cultural groups and ethnicities to speak and be heard? Also, what about making the voices of women who have disabilities – visible and invisible, heard? Or simply, what about making it possible, without a huge cost of energy, for those people with disabilities to attend events without going three rounds with organisers about the realities of accessibility?

Globally we’re still divided on the importance of trans* and non-gender-binary people’s experience of oppression – and I’m not the only one who is just so tired of explaining why this is relevant to women, to equality and yes, to International Women’s Day. For all the visibility of something like IWD, there remains so much invisibility for various women, and people whose experiences are reflective or related to the kind of equality sought by, represented by International Women’s Day.

The theme for IWD 2016 is ‘Pledge for Parity’. It’s a worthy theme, more nuanced than some I’ve seen. And it encompasses so much – parity in terms of equal pay, equal representation in leadership, business, politics, policy, health, technology, and science. Also, parity in the experience of safety in homes and society at large, equality in recognition for talent and achievement, in publishing and critique, in creation of art, music and performance. Parity also relates to choice, and ditching the trap of ‘having it all’ instead for the idea that you can choose for yourself, and what you choose should be respected. Parity means being able to choose the work you do, the contributions you make to society, your choice to parent, your choice of partnership and around family experiences, around community and culture. And recognising also… choice does not occur in a vacuum. Until we address the surrounding culture – at every level, globally – choices will continue to be informed by the same limitations to equality we currently experience.

My underlying point to these statements is of course that, women no matter their background or ability, trans* and non-gender-binary people, do actually have a right to expect their societies to reflect their lives and also to be liveable for them. This is fundamentally about changing societies, not accommodations reluctantly made by existing monolithic societies. And therein lies my fatigue around the conversation about feminism, intersectionality and equality; because this is the conversation we’re not really having. Right now we can only point directly to where minority groups lack equality, preferably in hard statistics because who can trust personal stories and experiences – who can trust one hundred (thousand) of them?

Even then, caveats are necessary to recognise that of course not everything is bad, not everyone from various groups is contributing to the harm (and isn’t that statement the crux of missing the whole point?). The moment we point to an aspect of society that needs to shift and change, the need for others to comment and derail the conversation to become about everything the conversation was not about occurs every time. I’m not the only one fatigued by that first or second comment to any discussion I initiate or participate in that requires the acknowledgement that often really does boil down to ‘#notallmen’.

Going back to the idea various individuals have that they’re not personally contributing to the harm, the most frustrating thing about this is simply that: they are. We all are in our way – that’s what it means to live in an unequal society. I am frustrated because I can never get past the defensiveness and the need for ego stroking here. It often seems impossible to get to the next point which is: we all contribute to the harm an unequal society imposes on others, but we also all have the ability to become aware of this and to contribute to changes that will result in a society that becomes more equal. And no, there is no immediate ‘do it once and you’re done’ fix. It’s incremental, it’s ongoing and glacial. It’s what we mean when we say that feminism and the fight for equality is like emptying the ocean with a teaspoon.

The challenge remains that: we’re still trying to work out how to do this. It’s like trying to ‘see air’ without changing the context under which you’re ‘seeing’ it. That’s the conversation that it seems like we’re still not *quite* having. Although my optimism is leaking through here when I say that, a conversation of that kind on a global level seems closer than ever before. But not close enough.

So here’s my toast to *all* women, all trans*, all non-gender-binary people, all those with disabilities visible and invisible, for their hard work, dedication, belief in the seemingly impossible, their trust in me and in others, their hope, their hard and thankless work to create change. Here’s my toast to the discoverers, the ground-breakers, the thinkers, creatives, performers, scientists, musicians, mathematicians, surveyors, engineers, astronomers, dreamers, artists, health professionals, carers, cleaners, parents, lovers, writers, politicians, cooks, the daring, the innocent, the cynical, the brave, the injured, the fearful, those who are struggling. Here’s to immigrants and refugees, asylum seekers and those who grab with both hands any chance for survival, to create a safer life for themselves and their families. Although we are still so far from equality, your bravery, compassion, and optimism humbles me and together I assert that a future of equality is possible, because we cannot be dissuaded and our number swells day by day.

2016 presents itself in an unusual way, in that there are actually several movies being released this year that I want to see. It seems like forever since that’s happened! Anyway, I thought I’d share an (incomplete) list of movies I’m looking forward to this year (assuming they’re all actually going to release this year). Pretty much geeky and speculative content entirely. Also, all Hollywood releases – this is a list that can be described as ‘low hanging fruit’ being comprised of what I’ve actually heard of. Please feel free to link me to indie and world cinema things that would be worth following up – I don’t have a rec avenue for these generally so suggestions are welcome. So with caveats and qualifiers aside, a bunch of trailers:

Deadpool

I have to be one of the few people in my circle who hasn’t seen this yet, but I really can’t wait! I’m so looking forward to this – I have been since I saw the concept thing that Reynolds did several years back championing this movie’s cause. I don’t know why I’m so into this movie, but I blame a bunch of it on being a fan of Reynolds.

Zootopia

This film looks awesome, and I’m cautiously hopeful that it will be as good as all the critcs seem to think it is so far, given it has 98% on Rotten Tomatoes. That’s from 131 reviews at the time of writing this – not bad at all in my opinion.

Through the Looking Glass

I really enjoyed the first movie, I adored it. I love the sound that is suggested musically by this trailer – the trailer really did just grab me and I want to be in the cinema watching this. I am quite sad to watch it knowing that it was one of Rickman’s last roles before his death, but will enjoy his magnificent voice all the more because of this I suspect.

Ghostbusters

I’m just so excited about this in a way I never was about the originals (Bill Murrary notwithstanding). Whatever Kate McKinnon is doing in this? She fucking nailed it – I want to watch this on the strength of her alone, I’m all ‘shut up and take my money!’ about this.

Finding Dory

Maybe the only thing I need to say about this  movie is the fact that Dory was my favourite character from Finding Nemo. A whole movie ab out Dory? I’m there.

Suicide Squad

Not sure why I’m drawn to this, but I am. I am hoping that it’s not another Sucker Punch. That’s probably too much to hope for, but I do really enjoy Will Smith in pretty much anything he’s in.

Hail, Caesar!

I know there’s a new trailer for this, but I like this one better. This looks like the kind of Coen brothers film that I might actually like – the charming ones! Like The Hudsucker Proxy. The trailer charms me and I just really want to like it. A friend had a theory about Coen brothers’ films, that they take in turns as the lead for a project and that informs the tone of the movie. Whichever brother it is that does the occasional charming films: those are the ones I like. This one looks like one of those.

Captain America: Civil War

I’ve been enjoying the Marvel movies more and more actually – not because they’re actually especially good exactly. But I love series. I love the unfolding of story and how it’s kind of all linked together and part of the same universe. Aside from that, I blame Fangirl Happy Hour for how excited I am about this film pretty  much entirely,  I’m sure they will not be sorry about this 😛

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Actually this one I’m only interested in Wonder Woman. But yes, I am interested enough to watch the whole thing just for her. Desperately hoping that it’s actually decent and not just two hours of gratuitous man-pain (aka most Batman and Superman movies).

Star Trek: Beyond

I don’t have high hopes for this (and I haven’t managed to watch the previous one yet if I’m honest). But, I always want to hope? And I love Zoe Quinn… I’m probably asking too much for this. I also love the director for their work on the Fast and Furious movies – but I can’t see how that won’t contribute to the movie missing the whole point of Star Trek. We’re re-watching Voyager at the moment and the best episodes invariably seem to be the ones that don’t involve action based conflict at all, but ideas conflict that requires deep thinking to resolve, and may not have a ‘right’ answer. I’m sure the action will be pretty, but I’m not sure it will be a Star Trek film, not really.

X-Men: Apocalypse

I don’t know how I haven’t seen the most recent one before this movie, but it’s on my list to watch soon. I am looking forward to this, mostly because despite everything I continue to be an X-Men fan. I want to be more hopeful than I am.

Star Wars: Rogue One

No trailer for this, but I enjoyed The Force Awakens so much that I’m already excited about this!

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

It feels like forever since the last Harry Potter movie came out. I’m so ready to return to this universe! Also, MAGICAL CREATURES!

It’s honestly unlikely I *can* attend the cinema for all of these, but I’m hopeful that the ones I’m pining most for I can make it, *fingers crossed*. In any case, I’m sure there’s disappointment and delight ahead and it will be interesting to see what happens where. Also reiterating, the list isn’t comprehensive – it’s from a list I made up off the top of my head a couple of weeks ago. Feel free to suggest others with trailer links if they exist! Especially if they’re Indie or World cinema based.