Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016: Book #3

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016 BadgeTitle: Nightsiders (Twelve Planets #1)

Author: Sue Isle

Publisher and Year: Twelfth Planet Press, 2011

Genre: science fiction, dystopia, young adult

 

Nightsiders - coverBlurb from Goodreads:

In a future world of extreme climate change, Perth, Western Australia’s capital city, has been abandoned. Most people were evacuated to the East by the late ’30s and organised infrastructure and services have gone.

A few thousand obstinate and independent souls cling to the city and to the southern towns. Living mostly by night to endure the fierce temperatures, they are creating a new culture in defiance of official expectations. A teenage girl stolen from her family as a child; a troupe of street actors who affect their new culture with memories of the old; a boy born into the wrong body; and a teacher who is pushed into the role of guide tell the story of The Nightside.

 

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


 

This book is the first of the Twelve Planets, single author collections produced by Twelfth Planet Press and is a strong start to such a unique project. This collection by Sue Isle features four interwoven stories, each complete in its own way and each contributing to a larger sense of a dystopian future Australia. This world is painted so vividly and I join the chorus of others who hope that the author may venture back into this universe with a novel at some stage.

The Painted Girl

What I most appreciated about this story is that we’re introduced to the world of Nightside through the eyes of Kyra who is both young and confused. In some ways her understanding of the world around her is solid and broad, but in other ways there are many unknowns and her naivety shows. I appreciated that Kyra’s understanding of things centred around rules – but that where you were and who you were engaging with meant the rules may be different. I also liked that it is kindness, that Kyra reached out to Alicia that motivated the girl from the Drainers to help her in turn when Nerina turned against her.

This story is a subtle introduction to post apocalyptic Perth, called the Nightside because only the Drainers walk the day time any longer. The story that Isle has written presents both harsh realities of a broken-down society post apocalypse but also connection and hope, how people come together and work together too. Of particular note is the idea of choice, for Kyra, who has had so little choice in her life. The notion of choice is what lingers after this story has finished. The Painted Girl is a fantastic introduction to this world and its stories.

Nation of the Night

This was one of my favourite stories of the collection. Ash is such an interesting character and following his journey to pursue self-hood was powerful. In the present day, pursuit of identity presentation and representation, aspects of gender and the sexed body are fraught and difficult to achieve. In this story Isle explores what it may look like for a transgendered person in a post-apocalyptic society, where medical care is much more scarce and choices seem both more and less limited.

What really stayed with me was the difference between the present I am reading from, and the present in which Ash finds himself. Although many of the difficulties that exist outside the book in the present day, still exist in some form for Ash, the simple acceptance of him by Prof. Daniel, the doctor and those he meets in Melbourne. The question is only around his capacity to make adult decisions about himself, his body and his life – not interrogating the truth of his experience of self and gender. Such a sharp commentary on the state of things here in my present as a reader.

My only criticism with this story was that although the journey to Melbourne and home again was described as difficult that didn’t really seem to be the case. Instead, it was that Ash was an outsider in Melbourne, even as a temporary visitor that seemed more difficult to navigate – the lack of accommodation, lack of familiarity with the city and it’s particular rules. Additionally, even the constraints on the doctor in doing the favour for Ash in performing the surgery, what was possible and what his recovery would look like.

I appreciated the New Zealand family and their point of view that Ash met. Their experience and point of view provided more context as to the Eastern States and how the evacuation from the West had affected them. How, the city was trying to keep people out because of overcrowding and limited resources, how some people were lesser than others as immigrants and what the effect of this was. How, Nightside might seem like a better life to some if you found you couldn’t keep things together in Melbourne. That juxtaposition of difficulty and nod to the idea of the grass being greener on the other side was well done I thought. I found myself wanting to know what happened to the family as Ash headed home back to Perth, ending the story.

Paper Dragons

One of the themes that I thought this story highlighted, was the nature of interdependency, connection and reliance on others for shared wellbeing. The Elders rely on others to help support them, and they in turn provide support, care and knowledge. I am curious as to how Tom’s play troupe came together and why it holds such importance in their small community – there seems like there’s a story there. Not that I dispute the importance of story and community in a society like Nightside, just it seems interesting that it is prominent and held with such respect alongside survival activities – as though it is of equal importance. The why of that is interesting to me and I wish that had been explored more.

Although it’s suggested that the pages that Shani finds of a screenplay could stir up more trouble than they are worth (is the title a reflection of this I wonder?), the trouble itself doesn’t really manifest. Although the Elders do leave their houses and come to see the play – but I’m never sure what actually makes this play different from the rest put on by Tom’s troupe – why is it that the youngsters putting on the play is what shifts the balance and awakens the Elders somewhat?

I feel like this is a story of questions, that this is a story that provokes but doesn’t satisfy and that is perhaps one of the points. So much is unknown, by the youngsters, so much is forgotten or painful to the Elders, what they create together is the in-between. This is an intriguing story and I loved that we got to see Ash again, back from Melbourne and happier in himself and also accepted by the others.

 The Schoolteacher’s Tale

My other stand out favourite from the collection. I loved the way that we started the book with a confused young girl, who introduced the reader to Nightside, and that the collection ends with the story of Miss Wakeling an old woman adapting for a the future and being confronted with the need for change. I love that Shani and Itch are getting married, and have sought out the Aboriginal Elders out on the fringe of the Nightside, specifically because they see the importance of change and growing together, sharing knowledge and moving forward. There was so much hope in this story, and so much suggestion of coming together in a way that hadn’t happened before. I also love that the notion of knowledge and school and what education is useful in a dystopian future? This was such a great ending to the collection and also seemed like a beginning. I would love a novel from Miss Wakeling’s point of view about her journey out to the sea.

Overall 

There was so much to enjoy about these stories, diverse characters and situations, points of view, parallels to the present day that were nicely pointed. I loved that both Melbourne and Perth were so recognisable to me! I love that the apocalypse has already prompted adaptive changes from the inhabitants of Nightside – the children see better in the dark for example. There are so many women here and they are simply capable and interesting in their own way – even Nerina who is cast as perhaps the only unlikable character in the book. I almost didn’t notice this because it just seemed so normal and comfortable to read – and then I remembered how rare that is. Also, I love that this is not a gritty story of horror-survival but one of massive change, but still with community at its heart. I just want to reiterate how  much I’d love a novel from this world, it’s so interesting and I want to spend more time here.

Ever since I started my part time job I’ve been powering through podcasts like there’s no tomorrow, it’s been grand actually. I also have a plan for when I’m working less (and stop entirely) that involves long walks and podcasts; that too will be grand. I talked a while back about podcasts I’d fallen in love with – but that was all the way back in October. Time for an update!

Galactic Suburbia IconGalactic Suburbia

There’s a strange, wonderful thing that happens when you start listening to the back catalogue of a podcast that has been running as long as Galactic Suburbia has been. I started out listening to all of 2015, then I finished that and went back to 2014 and then just yesterday finished 2013. I love all the episodes and look forward to them every fortnight, but recently I particularly enjoyed episode #135, the Star Wars VII Spoilerific – it was glorious. What I noticed was the progression of conversation, the way certain topics resurface – but in a new light, for new reasons, and how conversations that were more recent draw on conversations from past episodes. The whole effect is like getting to appreciate the many layers of something and see them individually and as a whole. It’s been rather marvellous I have to say.

I’ve never really been focused on reading from the same year of publication or for awards (my own experience of awards related organisation broke me for quite a long time, much longer than I’d have thought, I’m hoping that’s mostly done with). Until last year that is where I started to get the idea of what that excitement of reading in the year of publication was. Very possibly I’ll read more books published in 2016 in 2016 than I’ve achieved in any other year! I’ve also managed to go back and fill gaps on previous award shortlists and winners that I’m interested in – taking advantage of the time passed, recommendations given and reviews posted. I’m reaping the rewards from this massively.

Outer Alliance IconThe Outer Alliance

I’ve been exploring Tor.com lately and this is one of the things I discovered, my plan is  mainly to listen to the episodes with guests who sound interesting, or who I admire or who are on my reading list. I’m not certain if this podcast has ended or is on hiatus (or something else), entirely. However, so far I’ve listened to episode #50 talking about Glittership with Keffy Kehrli and that’s another on my list of things to look up and try. I also listened to episode #47, an interview with Susan Jane Bigelow – who is on my to-read list thanks to Fangirl Happy Hour. Those were minutes of listening well spent, I loved friendly style of Julia’s interviewing and am especially supportive of her idea that there should be more space cats. I definitely added more to my reading list, such as (Angel in the Attic by Rebecca Tregaron) from this podcast and look forward to listening to more past episodes in the catalogue.

Midnight in Karachi BannerMidnight in Karachi

Also from Tor.com and on my ‘try this’ list for quite a while. Another one where to start off with, I’ll look particularly to listen to authors I admire or those who are on my to-read list. I listened to Midnight in Karachi and fell in love with Mahvesh Murad’s interviewing style and the intelligence and eloquence that are hallmarks of this podcast. So far, I’ve listened to episode #11 her interview with Genevieve Valentine (and added The Girls of the Kingfisher Club to my reading list), episode #13 and her interview with Nnedi Okorafor, episode #15 with Frances Hardinge, episode 17 with Naomi Novik, and episode 19 with Daniel José Older. Such awesome guests and interviews so far!

Tea & Jeopardy IconTea & Jeopardy

I also listened to a bunch of the back catalogue of Tea & Jeopardy because it’s short, sweet, thoroughly entertaining and light hearted. Also I was in the mood for a bit of a story which comes with this podcast. I listened to episode #3 with writer Paul Cornell, episode #4 with literary agent Jennifer Udden, and episode #5 with SFX editor Dave Bradley. I’m so charmed by this show.

Sheep Might Fly IconSheep Might Fly

A new podcast! And a new favourite! First episode with Tansy Rayner Roberts reading her fiction starting with part 1 of Fake Geek Girl from Review of Australian Fiction, Volume 14, Issue 4. I am hooked!

Fangirl Happy Hour IconFangirl Happy Hour

This was my best podcast discovery of 2015 and I just keep wanting to hug it. Recent episodes I’ve listened to include episode #31 – High Five Awards 2015, episode #32 – No Fucks Given 2016 and the 2016 Hugo Season Quick Shot. I was getting all excited about participating in the Hugo Awards this year, but the exchange rate is so terrible that I can’t afford the supporting membership to enable that. Maybe next year instead. I’ve held off on episodes 33 and 34 because I have homework first. Namely, watching Jessica Jones and reading Binti by Nnedi Okorafor. Also have to decide how much I care about Agent Carter season 2 spoilers.


 

So that’s what I’ve been listening to! This isn’t all the podcasts I’m following, but it’s the ones I’ve listened to in the past week or so.  If you have any recommendations based on these that you think I’d particularly enjoy, let know in the comments :)

It’s finally time to talk about what my enquiry for 2016  will be.

If you’re new to my blog and have no idea what I mean by theme, it refers to my personal practice of engaging in a gentle year long enquiry that is more subconscious and occurs in the background rather than involving overt and specific actions over the course of the year. It’s about a guiding idea of focus and thoughtfulness – I wrote about this in more detail if you are interested.

Monarch Butterfly Chrysalis by Kim C Smith - 2014

Monarch Butterfly Chrysalis by Kim C Smith – 2014

My theme is Chrysalis, like what butterfly pupae go through as part of their metamorphosis. Unusually, I’ve had this word since late December last year, after a conversation with one of my best friends – she mentioned it idly but that tiny little inner bell I associate with intuition, pinged and I took note. Interestingly, at the time I didn’t realise that I’d spoken about butterflies and transformation when I wrote about Becoming in February last year. Chrysalis seems fitting and feels right because it’s not a dramatic change from Becoming, it’s more of a transition to a different enquiry, a shifting of focus ever so slightly. I’m still in the process of, I’m not done yet, transformation is incomplete and I’m not ready to emerge.

On @Dilettantiquity’s advice when we had our annual theme conversation (and this year we’ve pledged to vidchat much more frequently), I looked up Chrysalis on wikipdedia and youtube. What I learned reinforced how well this theme fits for the year ahead. This is not a theme I’m excited about per se, it’s a theme that feels like a warm blanket, it feels like a nest, and like self-protection and self-care. Given how grinding last year was, this makes sense to me. Given the likelihood that this year will be similar in several respects, this also makes sense to me. I’m especially enchanted by the association of the cast off skin hardening, something like armour and becoming somewhat metallic in appearance.

If last year was a much more inward year than I expected, then this one is presenting itself as more inward focusing still. I’m okay with that, up to a point and I’ve put in place gentle steps to avoid feeling lonely and cut off socially when things are hard later on. I expect I’ll remain very low in social energy throughout the year, but that easy social activity with people I’m close to in low-stress settings will be a world of good. And so I’ve asked people to gently check in with me and make socialising easy if they can. I feel like I’ve already given my future self a huge gift by having this conversation with some of my closest friends in Melbourne, because right now I have the forethought and the energy to put it in place, and later I expect I’ll value this previous effort and hopefully I and my beloved friendships will reap those rewards. It is pretty clear to me that I am a person in ebb at the moment, rather than flow or abundance. This is all good and well, part of balance.

Even in an inwardly focused year, there are aspects of my life that I’d like to put some energy into, that I hope I’ll learn something about through my enquiry. Chrysalis will be interesting – I have no idea what to expect from it, and just because my associations with it suggest self-protection and self-care and so on, the actuality may look vastly different. There’s always something amazing and unexpected that occurs as a result of letting the enquiry just be there in the background working away at your subconscious. Still, here are some things that are important to me that I’m putting energy towards this year.

Reading, Media and Fandom

Although I was so very exhausted at the end of last year, I also found a lot of joy and solace in reading, in media – especially podcasts and feeling more connected to fandom in general than I have for several years. I’m really hoping to continue to nurture this! I wrote about reading goals I have, they’re very similar to those I had last year where I’m seeking to improve on some aspects but not using these as a stick to beat myself with. I’m focusing not just on number goals but on participation, community and sharing. Yay bookclubs!

I want to continue to listen to and revel in the podcasts I’ve fallen in love with – they helped me through last year so much! Also, they’re the perfect motivation to go for a good long walk which I need help with, so yay! I also want to enjoy the reading and blogging projects I’ve instigated, because the projects themselves are super awesome, and I adore the people I’ll be doing them with. I enjoyed reviewing books I was reading massively last year. It was so much fun and I felt much more connected to what I was reading!  I want to continue with a similar level of reviewing here, but I’m also giving myself permission to review directly on Goodreads for some books too if that’s what I want.

I use reading for stress relief, for pleasure and leisure and as part of my bedtime routine – those things mean that I do read fiction throughout the year, not just study books and it’s been one of my best mechanisms for self-care for several years although its importance to me is something I’ve sometimes taken for granted.

Midwifery - art, science, care - quoteMidwifery

I just want to do well. I want to do well, I want to learn. I want to be the best midwife I can be. I want to regain my confidence on prac. I want to explore how to rework an essay from last year into a piece I can submit somewhere as a formal publication piece. How do people actually learn to do this? I’m halfway through my second undergraduate and I have no idea. I want to pass all my units with good marks. And along with regaining confidence, I want to impress the hospitals I’ll be doing pracs at while I’m there – and I must remember to ask for recommendations ahead of third year and interview preparation stuff. Also I’ll have my halfway degree review this semester and I must  somehow get past being petrified about it. I’m so passionate about midwifery and feminism, their importance to healthcare, to women, and to families. I want this so much it *hurts*. Although this is second on my list behind reading, it’s one of my key priorities for the year and everything else needs to work around it.

Self Care and Development

A slight change in focus for this topic this year. I want to focus on self-care and resources to shore up my own resilience to stress and difficulty. I’m looking less at things that are about pushing my boundaries and painful growth – they may happen anyway, but I’m not going searching for it, it’s not an overt priority. So, gentleness, small things, joyful things, connection, health.

I want to maintain connection and the chance to be social with loved ones this year, I expect this will be hard with scheduling between classes, prac, assessment, exams and energy levels. But I’m doing what I can to promote the success of this by asking for help from those I’m close to in Melbourne so that catching up is as easy as possible. I also want to go to Continuum, I’ve got my supporting membership – just need to make it full and I’m good to go! Bonus if I can stay in the hotel for at least a couple of nights, but that’s wishful and a bonus. Going to the convention last year was one of the best things about the year and I hope this year yields similar joy.

I want my partners to have a better year in all the same ways I want to have a better year – less stress that is hard to manage, less mental health concern and more coping. Less energy needed for coping. I want to smile seeing them enjoying things more and I want to do everything I can to contribute to their joy. I love our household and I want it to continue to be the haven and sanctuary that we rely on and trust each other with. I want to do fun house things and enjoy family rituals around events/times of the year that add to whimsical joy. I want there to be more photos of me, more photos of us together – there are no recent photos of us together and since it makes me feel sad, I’d like to remedy this.

I want to do some de-cluttering and organising of my stuff that’s still packed (mainly because I don’t have bookshelves, but not entirely). I might ask for help from someone to come and keep me company while I do it (I don’t mind doing it and I don’t think it will be emotionally hard, just company during would be a great impetus to get it done. I would like to come across bookshelves that I like and work for the small amount of space I have in my room for them – I want to unpack some of my books so I can read them. This is about my bedroom as an optimal nest, for relaxing and quiet time, but also study, depending on what’s needed.

I want to try and get to some Wheeler Centre events and other easily accessible and cheap/free things throughout the year in Melbourne. I enjoyed this when I was able to manage it last year and it made me feel more connected to my beloved city and less like I had to miss out on everything because of budget. I’ve already booked in for some things in February and March that I’m looking forward to as well, so this is on track already. Melbourne-ness, I want to enjoy it, because I am so in love with this city.

Health stuff, I just want to do the best I can and gently followthrough on things as needed. I’m dealing with some reflux stuff that’s unpleasant, but my doctor is awesome so I’m in great hands. The rheumatologist at the Royal Melbourne has been great and is happy to provide specialist support even though I don’t need much to help manage and improve what is possible with my hypermobility – I don’t have anything that would qualify as a chronic health issue with any degree of seriousness – the steps I’m taking is to keep it that way. My pain is very manageable and fatigue is rare.

I want to increase my activity levels, not just for the physical benefits, but also to find ways of prompting the emotional benefits. I enjoy walking and would like to see how I go with swimming – I find exertion triggering/distressing and I’m aiming to avoid dealing with that bucket of stuff at present. My plan is to use podcasts to help with motivation for walks – I am really enjoying listening to them and short of an actual person to talk to, they’re excellent company for walking. Also, there is a huge and beautiful park local to me that I can also take better advantage of. Plus, zoo visits – I have a membership and enjoy casual visits to see what’s happening and changing with the zoo. Plus, walking distance from my house so actually pleasurable excercise!

Image of a series of vertical book spines showing the twelve planet books in various colours. Header text white on transparent black overlies the image with the title 'A Journey Through the Twelve Planets'.I want to continue to keep up my blogging efforts, both here and my ‘5 things a day’ effort on my Dreamwidth journal. I’m looking forward to the blogging review projects that I’m involved in like the Journey Through the Twelve Planets, I’ve wanted to do something like these for ages so they’re definitely a priority in this area. I also want to review books and write about fannish things if the mood strikes. I want to talk about movies and television, about podcasts and new-to-me stuff! I want to try and host the DUFC once, I want to write about feminism pretty much at all, and same about midwifery if possible. I want to blog about cooking and family thoughts – poly stuff and budget stuff. I have a bunch of ideas noted down – hopefully I’ll find some time to write about them. And if not, that’s okay too.

I would like to make it back to Perth this year, to see partners, chosen family and friends – and I’d like it to be any other time than Summer. I am hoping to have Kaneda over here for our 19th anniversary – I didn’t get to see him at all in 2015. I’d also like to make a to visit other friends who live elsewhere – Adelaide, Sydney or Brisbane maybe? This is a wishful thing as it’s not likely possible with budget constraints, but I’m making space for it. I want to spend a few days with Mum – I didn’t manage that at all last year mainly because of study things and related stress, plus work. I’d also love to do a few days away in regional Victoria by myself on the cheap as part of my plan for self care – I’ve figured out that in a bunch of ways I need to be away from home for it to be a holiday, preferably where I don’t have to make my own food.

Also, I still want to get my license. I want to get past this. I want it because it will make prac and followthrough things easier, it will give me the chance to apply to do the continuity of care program prac next year for my course. It will give me a sense of achievement to have *finally* done it. I still want to take a mini-road trip by myself to celebrate. I think the way to get through this is to do a couple of lessons about passing the test. In the meantime, I need to encourage Ral and Fox to take me out driving so I can get comfortable with my own sense of competency again. This is one of the harder goals I have for this year, but I really want to get it done this time.

Cooking

This focus is as  much on framing as anything. My major household contribution is around management of meal planning and food decisions, and a hefty chunk of the cooking. Mostly I enjoy this! Some days it’s a bit harder. There’s a lot I enjoy about cooking and I’ve discovered I really like trying new recipes. I also like revisiting familiar ones and just *knowing* what they’ll give me. Sometimes I’m creatively minded to make up something to cook, but it’s not how I operate generally at present. So I’d like to continue to have meal planning work for us, to minimise groceries needed and food wasted. I’d like to continue to have lunches for uni/work easily organised. I’m encouraging Fox to cook more often this year and I’m aiming to get him confident with stir fries, soups and basic stews/casseroles. I would like to keep trying new recipes, but also spread out the rotation of familiar recipes that we liked and that worked well for us in the past couple of years.

I’d like to have people over for dinner as part of my easy socialising desires – especially if on those nights I can encourage Ral and Fox to cook sometimes. Maybe I’m also interested in a monthly dinner that is a general social invite alla the Friday Night Meatballs concept, although I can’t imagine preparing the same dish every single Friday, and maybe Sunday night would work better schedule wise given it would be almost Fox’s weekend and a chance for something easy/low key to be really lovely. The key is ease and connection. I want to increase the amount of meals we eat that are vegetarian and vegan, but again, I don’t want this to be a stick to beat myself with. I want to continue making our own stock – it’s such a time-saver and makes the dishes we cook taste better – the bone broths especially, but there’s no reason not to have veggie stock given it’s largely made out of scraps, so less waste. I also want to see if I can manage one preserving effort of some description this year, although honestly this is a bonus goal.


So that’s my current thinking with Chrysalis – it’s very me focused, and very much looking at ways to promote my sense of wellbeing while managing my obligations and commitments. This focus feels right to me, as at present I still feel too close to burnout for comfort, I’m still exhausted, still feeling acute stress and not ready for everything to start again. But, I will do the best I can – I am surrounded by the most amazing partners, chosen family and friends. Plus, I’m not afraid of asking for help or seeking support where it’s available. I want to get through this year whole, I want to avoid feeling burned out and damaged if that’s at all possible given how intense second semester will be. I want to appreciate the many small moments of joy and use them to help me through the harder bits.

A final note, a huge thank you to Kim C. Smith over at Nature is my Therapy for letting me use her gorgeous photo of the monarch butterfly chrysalis as part of my post. She has some incredible nature photography that’s well worth a look.

 

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016 Badge

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016: Book #2

Escape YA Bookclub Profile ImageEscape Club Bookclub: January

Title: Illuminae (The Illuminae Files #1)

Author: Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2016

Genre: Young adult, dystopia, science fiction

Blurb from Goodreads:

The year is 2575, and two rival megacorporations are at war over a planet that’s little more than an ice-covered speck at the edge of the universe. Too bad nobody thought to warn the people living on it. With enemy fire raining down on them, Kady and Ezra—who are barely even talking to each other—are forced to fight their way onto an evacuating fleet, with an enemy warship in hot pursuit.

But their problems are just getting started. A deadly plague has broken out and is mutating, with terrifying results; the fleet’s AI, which should be protecting them, may actually be their enemy; and nobody in charge will say what’s really going on. As Kady hacks into a tangled web of data to find the truth, it’s clear only one person can help her bring it all to light: the ex-boyfriend she swore she’d never speak to again.

Told through a fascinating dossier of hacked documents—including emails, schematics, military files, IMs, medical reports, interviews, and more—Illuminae is the first book in a heart-stopping, high-octane trilogy about lives interrupted, the price of truth, and the courage of everyday heroes.

Illuminae - coverMy Review:

What an interesting format this book comes in! I was engaged by the confidential file release style of storytelling, it was interesting and let the story unfold in an unusual way. I will say that it is not very accessible, the art is gorgeous but hard to appreciate if you’re not great at holding books, or reading it on a phone screen (as I was). There were sections I skipped because I couldn’t zoom in to read some of the artistic text. However, I enjoyed the story so much that it didn’t do much to take away from the experience for me. I think this is perhaps something that the publisher would do well to consider for the future books – please keep the art, but please make it more accessible.

I really liked Kady as a protagonist, she was an interesting mix of typical teenage angst mixed with the trauma of having her whole life fall apart, both when the illegal colony was attacked and at several points while on the ship. This is an intense read – the suspense of the story is gripping and at times I found I needed to either put it down for a bit or keep reading because of the story intensity. I was so invested in finding out what happened, what was happening as the story unfolded. I thought it raised some interesting notions about AI, about hacking and government, transparency, authority and ethics in crisis situations.

I didn’t much care for Kady’s boyfriend, at no point did he come across as anything other than a jock that was largely incapable of an original thought, if not for Kady. However, that said the way in which the romance was portrayed, the having broken apart but finding that the circumstance and familiarity amidst horror drew them back together made sense to me. And, it also makes sense to me, that the crisis being all it was drew them even closer and more attached as time went on – especially given they were separated by being on different ships and so couldn’t physically get to one another (or grate on one another) in person.

The ethics of the story are complex (and spoilery).

— (spoilers) —

While Kady has a strong sense of the moral right and good thing to do, I think that the story provides good context for the other points of view. Is it the fact that the AI destroyed a ship in accordance with its programming to preserve the best chance of survival for the fleet based on its own logical deduction without human input, or the destruction of the ship itself that is the crime? Is it both? I appreciated that there was no obvious easy answer and that while Kady didn’t grapple with this herself so much, other people did and their points of view are presented as part of the documentation that tells the story.

— (end spoilers) —

Interestingly, the worldbuilding for this book is minimal – which works for the story. There is an illegal colony, there are ships in space – it’s a big area of space, and there’s a station the ships head toward the long way around because of damage to technology. We know little more about the greater context of the society (societies?) on a larger scale, how government and business and politics work, what races and factions are involved. It’s largely a mystery and while I wondered about it while reading, it’s not relevant to the story. Only what is relevant to the story and immediate situation is shared and it works to emphasise the insular nature of the tiny fleet clinging to survival.

The story could seem implausible, outlandish. However, I was reminded both of ‘Alien’ and also ‘Gravity’ while I was reading – and those descriptions could easily be applied to both of those media. What is also similar is the quality of the storytelling and how compelling it is – my suspension of disbelief was thoroughly engaged and I was absolutely caught up in the action, heart in mouth right to the end. And then I felt like I’d lost a friend because it was just ended and there was no more.

The book draws on tropes, the chosen one succeeding against the odds is probably the most gratuitous one. However, overall I think it executes the use of them reasonably well, and pink haired teenagers are hardly an unusual concept – it just seemed to be part of who Kady was and the authors successfully brought her to life for me, where perhaps in other situations the make up of her character might have annoyed or disappointed me more. The character relationships are presented as heteronormative, people as cisgendered and no one appeared to have any kind of disability. Similarly, I don’t recall any discussion of race and so the default may be assumed as ‘white’ given nothing is done to subvert or draw attention to this fact. Having noted these things and that I hope future books address these points. I also hope we get to see more of Kady in the books to come – I’ll be avidly looking forward to more in this series.

This year, I’m calling my reading commitments what they are: goals. This approach worked really well for me last year and I’m already so excited about the reading I’m going to be doing this year! My goals have evolved rather than changed dramatically, some things look the same and other things are different,  but all draw on the same themes. Namely, I don’t tend to go for exclusive reading challenges, or incredibly time pressured ones.

I like challenges that encourage me to read more, to enjoy reading, and to try things I might otherwise have missed. I have also long admired the friends of mine who’ve done re-reads and reviewing challenges around those so I’m going to take on my own this year! I am not including any study related reading goals this year. It was heavy going last year and I barely had time to think let alone do much beyond shoving things in my bibliography for assessment pieces, and that’s not the kind of sharing I’m interested in.

Goodreads Reading Challenge 2016Overall Reading Goal:

Once again I’ve input my overall reading goal for 2016 into Goodreads as 75. I managed this last year, but it was a bit of a push at the end. This year might look similar by then – we’ll see. It seems to be enough of a stretch without making me feel bad about not reading enough.

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016:Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016 Badge

I signed up again! I love this challenge! Last year I read and reviewed 17 books. This year building on that, (and because of related goals), I’m aiming to read and review 15 books (at least). I love that this challenge is so flexible, it invites you to read more Australian women and does so at very small commitments – 4, 6, or 10 books as suggestions. It invites you to review the books you read because reviews of women’s work is drastically under represented and reviews help authors (and publishers) do well. This challenge seeks to correct a bias in the best possible way, by creating something fun and inviting people to form a community and participate. The challenge has been running for several years and every time the number of people participating grows, the number of books read and reviewed grows, the number of Australian women authors discovered, rediscovered and recommended grows. I highly recommend it as a nice reading challenge starting off point, also because Australian women produce books of exceptional quality.

Read with Diversity in Mind

I want to continue to improve reading diversely, Australian Indigenous writers, writers from non-white backgrounds and ethnicities, writers with disabilities – and a broader spectrum of writers within this umbrella too, writers who are not cisgendered and writers who are not straight but identify as some flavour of queer. I usually manage a smattering of these and I want that to continue and to continue that in a more conscious way even if I don’t manage to improve my numbers of diverse authors read this year. This also relates to reading stories with diverse voices, not just reading authors with these traits. Although, I will always focus on stories that aren’t appropriative as part of this.

Participate in Bookclubs

This is a new thing, but I’ve been dabbling and I’m really enjoying it! So, I’m going to include it as part of my goals this year, basically just to participate. I like these as a chance to read books that are likely already on my ever expanding ‘to-read’ list, or to add them if they should be there. Plus, the chance to see what other people thought about books and think about my own reading critically, but in community.

Escape YA Bookclub

This is the YA bookclub run by Marianne de Pierres. I really enjoyed participating last year, although I only got to a couple of the books (and still plan to read some). It was also enjoyable to read more YA fiction which I haven’t read much of in recent years, but actually really enjoy.

Vaginal Fantasy Bookclub

This is Felicia Day’s bookclub and it’s been running for a while and is hugely popular. The books read for the club are romance novels, though often with a speculative bent and those are the ones I’m aiming to participate with. There’s a monthly vid hangout stream to join in with too which I’m looking forward to having read this month’s book Radiance by Grace Draven.

Our Shared Shelf Bookclub

This is the new bookclub run by Emma Watson. This bookclub is about feminism. It’s just beginning and I’ll be interested to see what books are read – I have high hopes for it being a thoughtful and intersectional selection. The enthusiasm for the club is enjoyable too.

Sword and Laser Bookclub

This one I found through VF and I’m pretty excited to join in – it looks like a great opportunity to find out about books I might have missed, and a prompt to read ones I’ve got sitting on my ‘to-read’ list already. Currently, 693 – how am I ever going to get this number to go down (so I can add to it with wild abandon again of course!)?

Image of a series of vertical book spines showing the twelve planet books in various colours. Header text white on transparent black overlies the image with the title 'A Journey Through the Twelve Planets'.Undertake and Manage the Journey Through Twelve Planets Reading Challenge

Steph and I realised via Twitter that we both planned to read the Twelve Planets short story collections by Australian women authors produced by Twelfth Planet Press this year. So, we decided to do it together and review them! Then we decided to make it a challenge so others could join in if they liked! We’ve just created a separate blog space to collate all the reviews, plus do interviews and giveaways and the like. If you’re interested, you can join in for the whole twelve books (one a month), or just join in with the books you’re most interested in. Also if you previously reviewed any of the books, we’ll happily include your reviews when we’re rounding them up!

Undertake another Secret Unannouced Reading Project (SURP)

I won’t say much about this right now as it’s a group project and we’re still working out how this is going to look. This is a project that will likely extend into next year as well though, that’s worth mentioning now. It’s a rereading group project and I’m ridiculously excited about it. I can’t wait to say more!

Unpack and Read Some of My Physical Books

This is recycled from last year, I still want to do it. In order to do this, I need bookshelves but I haven’t found any that are what I want  and/or affordable (a mixture of a dilemma). I have very little space for a bookshelf in any case, so it would be a selective unpacking, or a rotating one. Or something. Suggestions that are good for narrow spaces, in dark wood and cheap available in Melbourne very much appreciated (No wider than your standard Billy bookscase, and bonus if it’s skinnier and taller (I have a step ladder!)

Image of a series of vertical book spines showing the twelve planet books in various colours. Header text white on transparent black overlies the image with the title 'A Journey Through the Twelve Planets'.Here’s to the beginning of an exciting year and a Journey Through the Twelve Planets!

Steph and I have put together a blog to collate reviews plus any other interviews, giveaways and extra content throughout the year. We’ve started things off by talking a little about what led us to take on this challenge.

Our reviews of the first collection Nightsiders by Sue Isle will be going up at the end of the month, and then at the end of each month thereafter. You can join in at any time, feel free to join us for the entire challenge, or or at any point throughout the year if some books interest you more than others. Additionally, if you’ve previously reviewed any books in the collection, link us as we progress and we’ll include your reviews with the others.

It’s taken longer than I wanted to get to this point where writing was possible. But that happens sometimes and I just needed to go with it. Last week I had my annual conversation with @dilettantiquity about our theme stuff. We have a unique insight and understanding of each other in part because we are so very very different, but there are strong similarities too. I love our relationship and even if this is the only conversation we manage in a year (and recently this has been the case), it is one of the best conversations I’ll have all year. Guaranteed.

Often when we talk, it’s to sort out what maybe the year ahead will bring – a theme for the new year can sometimes be elusive. This time for us, we needed much of the time to talk through the year we’d just been through and what our 2015 enquiry had looked like at the end of things. For me, at the start of the conversation, I didn’t know at all. And then we talked it through, and it all became clearer and now, I can write about it.

First of all, I have such an appreciation for me of January 2015 writing about Becoming for the first time, being so optimistic, hopeful and determined. I love that person, she’s ace! The year I hoped for was so far from what actually happened, so many things about the aims I put forth to focus on yielded unexpected results – some involved no results at all, some were merely different, and others changed me.

Mostly what I can describe 2015 as is, a continuous grind that never, ever let up. When I wrote up my end of year meme post for my Dreamwidth journal, I was struck that there were few really big good things. There was my first baby catch back in January, and Continuum in June, getting a part time job that is actually pretty great in September so more money for the last part of the year in our budget, and Christmas with chosen family in December. They’re moderately big, big compared to everything else, but not that big.

The continual good things were my partners, especially Ral and Fox and our determination to have a good life together as a family and household. That was easier only on some days and mostly just hard because of circumstances. We worked hard at managing on one income between three of us, and that income is not an easy one because Fox is pretty much at the end of his tether with this job, but we need it and so he perseveres. Med school for Ral seems to be an unusual method of torture that tries to talk you out of something you’re passionate about, good at, really worked hard to do, and yet get there and it’s like walking on broken glass the whole time. He perseveres too amidst several difficulties, and despite being awful this year was less awful for him than last which is a win. I’m so very proud of them and I love my Bat and Fox so very much. 

Baturday Fox cub close up

We balanced focusing on making sure all the essentials were paid for first, with then afterwards trying to say yes to each other for little things and treats – a game, a cheap dinner out, a new piece of clothing/shoes/my favourite moisturiser. We also focused a lot on kindness with each other, on making home safe and a haven for each other, on being there for each other and sharing the load – being flexible with that because coping varied considerably. We did the best we could and mostly it worked, most of the time – I think that sounds like faint praise when really given everything that we dealt with, it was pretty wondrous.

So Becoming as an enquiry was less about my journey around midwifery and taking on the qualities and actions of a new qualification and career, less around personal self expression and surety. Instead, it was more about Becoming a household that is even more tightly knit, and one that makes do and works hard at that. It was about Becoming more familiar (and less) with dealing with the effects of mental illness and what that looks like as something ongoing without resorting to blame or resentment. Becoming was about making space – in that way of pouring energy into spacemaking to facilitate home, safety and care. And it was also about my Becoming a midwife and being rattled around in that journey throughout the year – it was gruelling and my confidence remains quite shaken.

Essentially this was a much more inward facing year than I’d originally anticipated – I thought it would be more outward projecting. Inwardly there was lots of digging deep for more energy, for coping, for life administration, for health matters, for mental health (mine and partners), for emotional labour, domestic management, for balancing it all. That’s mostly what I remember, constantly steeling myself and seeking to dig deeper. But I managed. We managed. We all came through it, more or less in one piece. We know that eventually it won’t be this hard and that things will be better. In the meantime, we keep digging in and doing the best we can.

Looking more specifically at aims I had or goals I wanted to achieve:

Reading, Media and Fandom

My biggest area of success last year – by far! And an expansion in scope! I already wrote my wrap up post about my reading commitments from the beginning of last year. They went really well overall. I met my overall reading goal of 75 books (although some of them were shorter). There was more diversity although not as much as I’d have liked. I joined a site as a reviewer and have been enjoying the process of reviewing ARCs – it’s a little different than simply reading for pleasure, but I enjoyed it massively and reviewed much more often than I have any other year.

From Ashes Into Light cover Beast's Garden cover Hexomancy cover

I did more tracking of my non-fiction reading for uni – in short it was a lot. I posted some of it, but unless I have the energy to comment on the things it’s just a bibliography, and while pretty, isn’t that interesting. I absolutely wowed myself with reading and reviewing 17 books for the Australian Women Writers Challenge too! I also had a huge number of books on my ‘favourites’ for the year which was awesome and I also got to write an end of year wrap up for those.

A Trifle Dead - cover The Dreamer's Pool - cover The Disappearance of Ember Crow - coverVision in Silver - cover Ancillary Sword - cover

Mythmaker coverMy favourite movies of the year included Mad Max: Fury Road and Star Wars: The Force Awakens, both movies that just… elated me on a feminist and fan level in so many ways! Is this what it looks like when you get to be the target audience?

There was also some great television that I watched, new to me but mostly not new in 2015. My favourite was Steven Universe, just everything about it in every way. Followed by Librarians and Elementary both wonderful, as was Rizzoli and Isles, Major Crimes and Castle. I’ve also finally started on Agent Carter, Supergirl and Jessica Jones and am also really enjoying Tea Leoni in Madam Secretary.

This was also the year that I got back into podcasts in a huge way! I’ve long meant to get back to listening to Galactic Suburbia regularly and they introduced me to Fangirl Happy Hour which I am so delighted with I can’t even describe. I just want to be friends with both of the hosts and talk about All The Things! Fangirl led me to Tea & Jeopardy and Rocket Talk both of which I am also enjoying immensely. Thanks to all of these I experienced the great book recommendation deluge of 2015, my current ‘to-read’ list stands at 687 at the time of writing and I think it actually doubled this year.


Shifting Shadows - cover
Cranky Ladies of History - coverPrudence - coverThe Price You Pay is Red - coverThe Long and Silent Ever After - cover The Bloody Little Slipper - cover

 

 

 

 

Midwifery

I worked so hard last year on this degree, on this new career I am pursuing. I am so passionate about it and determined. I want to be the best midwife I can be. It was a hard year, but I got really good marks overall. However, my end of semester prac didn’t work out and I have to repeat that which added a year to the degree. This meant a lighter second semester – although honestly it didn’t feel like it. The experience of needing to repeat a unit, especially given the reasons was hard to deal with and has left me really raw. The gravity of what I’m taking on continues to gr

ow inside my head and heart but I also still have the sense that I can really do this, that this is possible. I’m still really enjoying the anatomy and science aspect of things, working hard and doing well. I’m excelling in the cultural studies/sociology side of things though several of the topics were gruelling.

We dealt with hard topics termination, abortion, pregnancy loss – all of these early and late and the contextual reasoning, the medical side, the legal side, the emotional side – as carers and looking at women’s perspectives. We looked at medicines and their impact, their benefits and always the weighing of benefits against side effects. I also learned fascinating things, like the formation of an embryo and its layers, what happens in the first 2 weeks, 8 weeks of life, when congenital abnormalities are most likely to surface, why and the effects depending on what happens. We spent a lot of time on breastfeeding, but equally, as much time on choice and supporting women who don’t breastfeed. Much of the time was spent looking at all the ways in which the whole idea of how infant feeding happens in modern society is a no-win game no matter what. And my heart goes out to all women feeding their babies, however they do so because there seems no way in which it is not a loaded choice – pretty much every day. I hope I am equal to supporting and encouraging women given all of the context. We looked more deeply into pre-eclampsia, gestational diabetes, blood disorders other disorders and issues related to pregnancy including vaccinations, preventable diseases and their effect on pregnancy/infants and sexual health impacts.

I’m impressed with my cohort – we all work so very hard. Their dedication is as obvious as my own and I think any one of them will be amazing midwives. I do wish I wasn’t the only outward/overt feminist. It was a huge year – so much to learn, question, agree and disagree with – this is really barely skimming the surface.

Cooking

Another area of overt success – for the most part. I did a lot of cooking and mostly it was focused specifically on family meals and everyday eating. This included more concentrated effort on taking lunches to uni/work – which was mostly successful too. Having said that we did have some amazing feasts with friends over. I got to try a bunch of new recipes, added new favourites to my rotation and encouraged Fox to continue learning to cook. He had quite a stressful year so this was a very small target between us, but I think he did really well – he cooked pretty regularly and became more confident in the dishes he was able to produce. Making our own stock continued to be one of the best things for making easy food – I can only imagine how many litres of it we went through – maybe 50L ish each for chicken, beef and vegetable?

I did use more of the cookbooks I have – I cooked a little from Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Italian Cooking, but not nearly as much as I want to. We spent a concentrated month doing a bunch of dishes from Land of Plenty by Fuscia Dunlop and that was absolutely outstanding. I’m so in love with Sichuan food! I cooked a bit from Jamie Oliver’s older books but sometimes he and I disagree on what is ‘simple’ and ‘easy’ (I’m sure I’m not alone in this). The downside of using the physical books is that it’s not as easy to put into my meal plan (a google to-do list of no frills and all awesomeness). I mean, I put the name, the title and the page in there – but it’s not as easy to click through and see if we need any last minute shopping items.

Meal planning was the big success this year, it’s one of the ways in which we got through the leanest fortnights budget wise, and still managed to eat good and interesting food. Previously Ral and Fox struggled to plan ahead food and didn’t much see the point, but seeing the difference it made to our grocery spending, and the reduction in stress because most of the decisions were already made, most of the shopping already done was pretty convincing. We fell away from it in the last couple of months of the year – but given exams, assessments and illness it’s not surprising. Also I think it’s a little different in Summer and we haven’t quite gotten the knack of it – it’s improving in the most recent iteration.

I was delighted to discover the awesomeness of Instagram (you can find me as the usual username there) and regularly photographed the meals I made. It was a delight and I’ve got such a great visual record of how much effort I put into cooking, and the joy that yielded as far as delicious eating is concerned. I spent a little of the year doing more bread-making as well as making my own creme-fraiche. I also made a batch of preserved lemons. Tiny forays into preserving, but ones I’m pleased with, and I hope to continue improving this.

Homemade Pizza with Slow Cooked Broccoli and Buffalo Mozzarella - Oct 2015 http://www.transcendancing.net/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/Sichuan-Feast-Gung-Pow-Chicken-and-Sichuanese-Green-Beans-Nov-2015.jpg Petits Pois à la Française Redux Quinoa, Broccolini, Snowpea and Cashew Salad - Nov 2015 http://www.transcendancing.net/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/Sichuan-Feast-Gung-Pow-Chicken-and-Sichuanese-Green-Beans-Nov-2015.jpg Fish and Chips in Summer - Dec 2015Fish and Chips in Summer - Dec 2015

Blogging

I blogged awesomely last year! I maintained my streak of ‘5 Things About Today’ posts on my Dreamwidth journal – I’m well into the 400s now! I also posted more regularly here, mostly book reviews, but I posted an update on my theme and also on meal planning/budget stuff. Plus I hosted the Down Under Feminists Carnival. I’d have liked more energy to write about feminism stuff, media stuff, and feel like I could write more about midwifery but those things needed too much energy that I just didn’t have. And there will be time again for them later. I’m proud of my efforts – I sincerely met this goal even if there were topical aspects I wanted to cover more.

Self Development

Oh this topic. This largely is what gave in the year just gone. I just didn’t have energy leftover for a bunch of this. I didn’t get my license – I was just too stressed to get over the humps. I need to get comfortable with being familiar with driving again – I’m not driving often enough at present for that. I also think I need to do a driving lesson or two on passing the test. I know I’m a competent driver, but actually doing the test is just a stress barrier I’ve noped out of several times. I still want all the things I wanted at the beginning of last year regarding having my license, but it just didn’t happen.

Unexpectedly, I ended up with a job in September! I’m doing similar stuff to what I’ve done before – content management for websites. The organisation is as far from government and public service as is possible and I’m loving it because of that. I like the perks of this style of organisation – an ad agency. They’re actively seeking to retain people so we have free drinks and snacks, a coffee cart on the floor with super cheap and amazing coffee. Plus everyone is enthusiastic and works hard – it’s actually really nice to be around. I get to feel competent and valued, plus earn money to contribute to the household! I’ve been doing that mostly part time but with chunks of full time and it may continue ad hoc throughout the year until I hit the point of study where I just don’t have a day free to do that any more – we’ll see. I’d like to keep doing it as long as possible as the extra money makes a huge difference right now. Working has meant I could replace clothes and shoes that badly needed replacing, I got a portable air-conditioner for my room – the heat sink of the house which has meant dealing with the heat this Summer just that much easier. Mostly it’s gone on groceries of the non-meal-planning kind, because that fell away when I had less time, and that too is worthwhile and a luxury.

SeClouded Leopard Close Uplf-expression and letting myself be myself. I think this took a hit this year, but there were things. I got my hair cut short and am enjoying it immensely. I replaced clothes and while my style is still a little bit all over the place, I like the clothes I have and have acquired – especially my dresses with POCKETS! I bought more things with cats on them to wear! If I was a cat, I’d be this cat.

I didn’t do dancing, yoga or Pilates, but I did do a reasonable amount of walking – not as much as I’d liked. I visited the zoo quite a lot. Sexuality largely wasn’t a priority – mostly I expect because of stress. But I love my partners and feel loved by them in return. Actually, we all had a hard year last year which seems uncanny given the number of us.

Socialising

I did manage social stuff this year, I made a concerted effort and it paid off. I felt like I still missed opportunities to enjoy time with friends and loved ones, but I also know how limited my energy was. I am grateful for the wonderful people in my life, I have the best friends both here in Melbourne and elsewhere, I treasure you all so very much.

Community stuff, it really didn’t happen – something had to give and I just noped out of this in the end. There is only so  much time and energy – I am not doing so well in having enough energy for myself and those immediate in my life, so it isn’t realistic to think I can volunteer extra time and energy. Actually, I expect this will just have to wait until I’m no longer studying.


How to conclude after all of that? An epic post if ever there was one, but I feel like in writing this I’m properly putting 2015 to rest. And that’s necessary because it’s time to embark on my theme for 2016, which is less of a clear beginning and more of a transition. But for a genuine transition to take place, there has to be reflection, evaluation, an accounting to oneself, an awareness of how far you’ve come, who you are at the end of all this and how to face forward for the future. If you’ve gotten all the way to the end of this thank you, it means a lot. Next will be the reveal of my 2016 theme, but that post is still percolating. Finally, if you’ve done any kind of new year theme, focus, word, resolution write up, please let me know – I’d love to read it. Also, if you want to do something but are not sure how, feel free to comment and ask me, I’m happy to talk about it and share thoughts.