Books read in February 2013

Firstly, I have a confession to make:

Despite my best intentions, I’m having serious time management issues at the moment, not to mention some other stresses like my cat needing part of his tail amputated this week, so I’m not going to worry too much about doing more individual AWW2013 reviews until after June.

Yes, you may judge me.

February’s books!

Persuasion Jane Austen Classic
The Wire: Urban Decay and American Television Tiffany Potter and C W Marshall (eds) Non fiction (television)
My Life as a Book Janet Tajishan Middle school
The Daughters of Juarez: A true story of serial murder south of the border Teresa Rodrigues, Diana Montane with Lisa Pulitzer True crime
Scattered: The inside story of ice in Australia Malcolm Knox True crime Australian
Frantic Katherine Howell Crime Australian, AWW2013
First Family: Abigail and John Adams Joseph J Ellis History
The Darkest Hour Katherine Howell Crime Australian, AWW2013
Cold Justice Katherine Howell Crime Australian, AWW2013
Violent Exposure Katherine Howell Crime Australian, AWW2013
Stealing Parker Miranda Keneally YA
Mistress of the Art of Death Ariana Franklin Crime

Good news, everyone!  It only took me, like, 45 minutes to figure out how to get my table to paste!  I wish I could remember how I did it last month.  I think I just went ctrl+v and it appeared.

WordPress, I am side-eyeing you so hard.

Anyway, highlights!  Actually, this is almost a whole month of highlights!

  • Obviously, after For Darkness Shows the Stars last month, I had to read Persuasion.  It was an odd experience, because the first time I read it, I swallowed without question the widespread belief among Austen fans that Captain Wentworth is her greatest non-Darcy hero.  This time, I kept feeling like he was a bit of a jerk, spending a lot of the book being deliberately cruel to Anne, and really only taking notice of her when she becomes appealing to other men.  
  • The Wire: Urban Decay and American Television was a highly frustrating book of essays about, yes, The Wire.  And urban decay.  And American television.  Frustrating because these are proper academic essays, yet they repeatedly failed at feminism and intersectionality.Like the essay on The Wire‘s depictions of African-American motherhood, which didn’t mention Kima and Cheryl, or the essay that acknowledges that Zenobia is a girl (and a very feminine girl, too, I note, whose delinquency is marked by using her comb as a weapon), but for the purposes of this essay she’s a boy?  It was weirdly tone deaf, especially when there’s a lot of academic writing about the erasure of black femininity.  The book also describes Rhonda Pearlman in sexist clichés (married to her job!), and barely mentions Kima at all.  Some poor editing there, imho.
  • My Life as a Book is a middle-grade novel about a high spirited kid — verging on having behavioural problems — and the summer he spends attending learning camp, befriending the teacher’s pet and uncovering a mystery in his own past.It was very charming, but also frustrating, in that I just wanted more of everything.  In some ways, brevity is the natural condition of an MG novel, but this was also explicitly aimed at non-readers — the margins are full of cartoons illustrating the meaning of the more difficult words — so it was especially pronounced.  But I thoroughly enjoyed it, and got quite teary at the end.
  • I’ve been interested in learning more about the Juarez murders for years, so I finally ordered The Daughters of Juarez from BookDepository in January.  I chose it because it was the only English book on the subject written by a Latina, which I hoped would make it less exploitative than some of the other titles seemed.  And certainly I’ve seen worse writing about violent murders of women, but even with three female authors, there was a lot of emphasis on the slim bodies and full lips of the victims, even the ones in their early teens.That aside, it was a good, clear look at the murders, the investigations and the politics that enabled one and impeded the other.  And, although the author is herself American, she doesn’t let the USA or capitalism off the hook, highlighting the role played by free trade agreements and US companies in creating conditions ripe for the economic and sexual exploitation of women.
  • Scattered: the story of ice in Australia — more true crime!  Sometimes I have a hankering.  It’s a bit shameful, yes.  Anyway, this is a look at methamphetamine from a number of points of view — casual users, addicts, victims of ice-related crime, police, cooks.  The only point of view not represented is that of the kingpins responsible for overseeing the manufacture and sale of large quantities, and I’m guessing they weren’t much for talking.  It’s an interesting book that argues that, while users of other drugs generally commit crimes only when in need of money for another fix, there seems to be a particular link between meth use and violence.
  • First Family: Abigail and John Adams was a fairly light biography of the only Founding Father I can name, and his marriage.  (Okay, there was also Jefferson … and Washington … Lincoln wasn’t a Founding Father, was he?  He was a few generations later.  Um … Benjamin Franklin?)As you can see, I’m a relative novice when it comes to the US revolution — I had appendicitis the week we covered it at school — but this was easy to follow, and a good overall introduction to some interesting people.  I’m pretty sure I bought the Kindle when I was in Boston last year, and reading it made me desperately want to go back.
  • Stealing Parker was a recommendation from Amie Kaufman at our writers’ retreat last weekend.    It’s a short (but not light!) story of a nice southern Christian girl whose life falls apart when her mother moves out … with another woman.  Ostracised by her friends and church, Parker sets out to prove her heterosexuality beyond a doubt — until she falls for the new assistant baseball coach.  Who is also a teacher.I found Parker a likeable character, full of flaws — a product of her time, ie, now, she truly believes that boys have no feelings about sex except desire, and they can’t be hurt by her unintentional cruelty — but charming as she fumbles her way towards adulthood.  The novel is primarily concerned with sex, religion and friendship, and I liked that, although Parker’s church is depicted as being thoroughly homophobic and unpleasant, she attends another one which is welcoming and open.Sometimes I take a look at Amazon reviews to see if people are Being Wrong about a book, and how.  Here, I was expecting one-star reviews from Christians who objected to the sex, swearing and gayness.  Instead, there were a bunch of five-stars from Christians praising it, and a heap of one-star reviews complaining that the heroine was Christian and talked too much about God.
  • Mistress of the Art of Death is a medieval mystery about a cheerfully anachronistic female doctor who is sent, along with her Jewish and Muslim colleagues, to investigate a serial killer in 12th century Cambridge.  I really enjoyed Adelia’s adventures, the critical eye she casts over Henry II’s England, and her general competence.I was less keen on the love interest, who is, IMO, a pig.  It rather annoyed me that a character who has dedicated her life to chastity and intellect even needed a love interest, but the story was quite interesting when she found her chastity being challenged by gasp attraction.  But by the time it was revealed that sex with the love interest can heal psychological trauma, I was pretty eyerolly.However, the rest of the book was good, and the series is quite short, the author having died a couple of years ago, so I’ve ordered the next two books from Brotherhood Books.

Finally, I read a whole lot of Katherine Howell’s Ella Marconi series, and enjoyed them quite a bit, even though I found myself increasingly frustrated by certain niggles.  Said niggles:

  • Marconi’s Sydney is still very white, straight and middle class.  I was quite shocked when two gay couples turned up in the fourth book, and working class people tend to be red herrings and criminals.  With the exception of Marconi herself, the vast proportion of characters are Anglo-Saxons.  We’ve had one Asian character in four books. 
  • Marconi has a boyfriend!  Only he doesn’t like the time she dedicates to work!  Even though he himself is a police detective!  So he gets really passive-aggressive!  WE’VE SEEN THIS STORY SO MANY TIMES AND IT DOESN’T GET ANY LESS ANNOYING!
  • I’m beginning to have serious doubts about the New South Wales ambulance service in general, and those paramedics stationed at The Rocks in particular.  Staff attrition rates due to arrest and prosecution for minor crimes must be massive.
  • There’s a character in the second book whose entire purpose is to be unpleasant to the paramedic protagonist.  To the point where, if this was real life, she’d be sacked for unprofessional behaviour and bullying.  (The protagonist is in love with this character’s fiance.  Who is himself a player of mindgames, and undeserving of the protagonist’s love, but they wind up married in a future book, so.)  The fiancee is materialistic, manipulative, selfish and generally cruel.  When this type turns up in Asian dramas, my BFF calls them “Robot Girlfriends”, and that’s what this character is — she’s a robot programmed to make the heroine look good.  It’s a cheap trick.
  • A character in the fourth book does something so stupid, unethical and wrong that I spent the entire book waiting for him to face the consequences … and he didn’t.

With all these complaints, why did I keep reading?  And why am I planning to keep going with the rest of the series?  Basically, Howell constructs a really good mystery.  Her endings are a bit rushed and whiplashy, but the plots themselves are great.

If my list of whinges has put you off, I will still recommend Cold Justice, the third book in the series, just for being a really nice, multi-layered mystery.  It has the annoying love interest for Marconi, and really needed another chapter where everyone lines up to kick a particular antagonist in the balls over and over again, but it was a good read, and for once, the involvement of the paramedics didn’t seem contrived.

A tale of two Sydneys: P M Newton and Katherine Howell

But first!  A digression!

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Hashtag: AWW2013 The Australian Women Writers 2013 Challenge is an attempt to support the work of Australia’s female authors, and to redress the gender imbalance in reviewing.

I originally wasn’t going to do it, because I figured I was flat-out just reading an acceptable number of Australian authors of any gender in 2013.  Last year, 19 out of 140 books were written by Australians, a piddling 13.57%.  Shameful.

But my good friend Mel at Subversive Reader has been pursuing the challenge with great dedication, so I got curious and started reading the hash tag.  And then I started reading the reviews.  And then I thought, what the hell, this project has given me lots of ideas for what to read next — I might as well throw my hat in the ring.

(Yes, and if Mel jumped off a cliff often enough, I might start thinking there was something in that, too.)

Time constraints mean that I don’t review many individual books any more, but I’m going to make more of an effort.  Therefore, I present two Sydney-based crime novels by Australian women!

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Okay, I’m cheating here.  I read The Old School in November 2012, while I was travelling in America.  I had grabbed a paperback to read while planes were taking off and landing, figuring that if I didn’t like it, I could leave it behind for some passenger or flight attendant who might enjoy it more.

Not only did I like The Old School, but it’s still on my mind three months later.  It had a vivid sense of time and place, and a really fantastic heroine in Detective Nhu “Ned” Kelly.

Time and place: Sydney, 1992.  Bill Clinton is in the White House.  The High Court has just overturned the legal fiction of terra nullius with the Mabo ruling, establishing precedent for Aborigianal land rights.

The heroine: Ned is the daughter of an Irish-Australian and a Vietnamese woman he met while serving in the war.  Her parents were murdered when she was young, and she and her sister were raised by their eccentric paternal aunt, who doesn’t make a secret of the fact she wishes her nieces were just a little more, you know, white.  As an adult, Ned is career-minded, ambitious and somewhat resentful of senior officers’ expectation that she be their token minority (a role that falls by the wayside when she reveals she speaks no Vietnamese).  (So good was the portrayal of the pressures and micro-aggressions Ned faces that I was really shocked to learn that the author is in fact white.)

This is the status quo when the bodies of two women are discovered in the foundation of a building that Ned’s father constructed in the late ’70s.  One was an Aboriginal activist whose inability to swallow bullshit and play nice with the patriarchy earned her a lot of enemies.  The other was a Vietnamese refugee who may have had links with the Viet Cong.

Probably the weakest link in the novel is that Ned wasn’t transferred to other duties right away, but it does make sense that she would want to prove herself, and that her mentor would give her the chance.

Despite that, it’s a fantastic, intricate mystery that covers espionage and war crimes in Vietnam, police abuse of Aborigines in Sydney, and the way past sins can still damage families.  And the culture, the awkward fumbling steps towards inclusivity that in my family we called political correctness, is portrayed vividly.  Late in the book, events take place with Paul Keating’s famous Redfern speech as the backdrop, assimilating all the themes beautifully.  I was really excited to learn that there’s going to be a second book about Ned.

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It was Mel who put me onto Howell with her review of the third novel in the series, Cold Justice.  I used to be able to read series out of order, but somehow I just can’t do it any more … but luckily (from every perspective except that of my bank account) Amazon has the first book in the series in Kindle format for $5.32.  And having finished it, I’m now sternly telling myself that buying book 2 for $12.88 is stupid, when I can get the next two books from the library.  I just have to brave the heat … and the wrath of Terry Deary.  Yeah, that’ll keep me up at night.  (Here, have a rebuttal as a palate cleanser.)

Anyway, I totally am going to brave the heat as soon as I’ve finished my lunch, so obviously I enjoyed Frantic.  Like The Old School, it’s a police procedural set in Sydney with predominantly female protagonists.  After that, they diverge.

For one thing, Frantic occupies a Sydney which is much whiter and more middle class than The Old School.  The detective, Ella Marconi, is presumably of Italian descent, but everyone else appears to be of Anglo-Saxon background.  It’s almost jarring, especially as Frantic was written and set in 2007. 

Additionally, it has two heroines.  The narrative is divided between Ella Marconi, a police detective whose inability to play politics stands between her and promotion, and Sophie Phillips, a paramedic.  Sophie is a competent, clever person, unable to understand why her husband, a police officer, has become uncommunicative, even hostile.  In the space of a few days, a series of bank robberies are linked to the police,  husband is shot and her ten-month-old son is kidnapped.

Splitting the narrative gives us Sophie’s highly emotional, increasingly irrational response, and also Ella’s more distant perspective.  I came out feeling like I didn’t know Ella as well as I knew Sophie, but I understand the series features a different set of paramedics in each book, but Ella is a constant.  I’m hoping this means that Ella’s character will unfold over time.

I like the conceit of involving paramedics in the story, because it meant even the routine moments of Sophie’s life and job were fraught with tension.  Howell is a former paramedic herself, and while I can’t judge as to accuracy, it certainly felt realistic.  (At the same time, I think Howell was right to avoid anything was clichéd as a crime-fighting ambo.)  We got to see crime scenes from several perspectives, while the two women’s different and sometimes conflicting agendas meant we got to have fun with unreliable narrators.

I have to confess that, even though it was a fantastic, pacy read, Frantic is not as layered or thoughtful as The Old School.  But if you enjoy a solid procedural, and I do, it’s an entertaining way to spend a few train journeys.

Books read in January 2013

You know, I really don’t think it was necessary for WordPress to become more like Tumblr.

Anyway, I am aiming to blog more frequently this year, while also meeting my various other commitments.  It’s totally doable.  Really.

Accordingly, my monthly list of books will be going here instead of on Dreamwidth.  That way we’re guaranteed at least one post a month, and I swear I’ll get back to the Malory Towers posts as soon as real life stops making demands of me.  Why, I just spent the last half hour staring at my cat as he slept under a bench in the backyard!  YOU HAVE NO IDEA OF THE PRESSURES THAT I’M UNDER!

The books I read last month:

Title  Author  Genre Aussie?
Love and Romanpunk Tansy Rayner Roberts Fantasy Australian
The Sacred Art of Stealing Christopher Brookmyre Crime
Captain Marvel – Volume 1: In Pursuit of Flight Kelly Sue Deconnick Comic
Thief of Lives Lucy Sussex Fantasy Australian
Losers in Space John Barnes YA SF
Furious Improvisation: How the WPA and a Cast of Thousands Made High Art Out of Desperate Times Susan Quinn History
For the Thrill of it: Leopold, Loeb and the Murder that Shocked America Simon Baatz True crime
One Con Glory Sarah Kuhn Romance
For Darkness Shows the Stars Diana Peterfreund YA SF
Among the Unnamed Stars Diana Peterfreund

…Okay, I did not expect it to past like that! But hey, look how organised it all is!  I wonder why it didn’t get the genre of the last book?

Anyway, this was a pretty good month! Two Australian authors! A nice range of genres!  Some really good books!

Particular recommendations:

  • I already blogged about Love and Romanpunk by Tansy Rayner Roberts; 
  • The Sacred Art of Stealing was the selection for my RL book club, and it was amazing.  Scottish crime/farce/social commentary/comedy that rewards close attention — I had to go back and read the first few chapters when I was finished — and was generally fun to read.  And it came in the middle of a series!  Well, it’s the middle book in a trilogy that forms part of a loose series.  I didn’t even hate the phonetic dialogue, which is usually a major turn-off for me.
  • Captain Marvel vol 1: In Pursuit of Flight – lots of people have been talking the new Captain Marvel series up since it started, and it turned out I’d read a lot of this via Tumblr posts.  I know nothing at all about the previous Captain Marvel mythos, or about Carol Danvers, the character who takes on the title at the beginning of the story, but I really enjoyed this.  It kept returning to the role of female soldiers and aviators in the 20th century, with a neat twist and a forgivable villain, and loads and loads of different kinds of women in different kinds of roles.
  • I enjoy theatrical history, social history and books about the Depression, so Furious Improvisation was pretty much a winner for me.  (It makes me a bit sad that most of the popular histories of the Depression are American, but that’s the way it goes, y’know?)  It’s a well-written look at the period of the New Deal, and the unpopular choice to direct government funds towards live theater.  Because actors, stagehands, directors, they all need to eat too, y’know?  And along the way, some terrible theatre is produced, as well as some groundbreaking, game-changing stuff like Orson Welles’ Voodoo Macbeth, the first professional production of Shakespeare with an all-black cast.  (Things which should also be the subject of a book in their own right!)
  • For Darkness Shows the Stars is a retelling of Jane Austen’s Persuasion as YA science fiction.  Set in New Zealand, no less, although I didn’t pick that up until I read the prequel novella, Among the Unnamed Stars, even though I did notice that the heroine is a woman of colour.  I thought the transplant worked remarkably well, taking the basic situation of Persuasion — a young woman in a position of privilege turns down a chance to make a new life with a man from a lower class, and instead takes on the duties her feckless relatives ignore, and putting it in a post-dystopic environment.  (I say post-dystopic because it’s a major theme that the issues faced by earlier generations are falling away, and a new industrial revolution is taking place.)  I appreciated the many riffs on Austen, but I also liked the book in its own right.

Less to my taste:

  • Thief of Lives is a slightly disjointed short story collection.  I liked the stories individually, but they didn’t work for me together.  I was amused to realise that Lucy Sussex is also the editor of She’s Fantastical!, an anthology of feminist SF that I read in my early teens.  I distinctly remember finishing that book and thinking, “Wow, this feminism business is complicated, and also really weird.”  I should go back and give it another look sometime.
  • For the Thrill of It was a good overview of the Leopold and Loeb murders, but it committed an unforgivable crime against non-fiction: it put thoughts and feelings into the heads of historical figures.  The extensive footnotes and citations make me think most of it had a basis in fact, but it’s a style that I really hate in non-fiction.
  • One Con Glory is an indie novel about a cranky fangirl having a close encounter with the leading man in a TV series based on her favourite Marvel comic.  It had its moments, but didn’t really work for me, mostly because it’s full of fannish types that I know and detest.  I avoid those people like the plague in real life; I don’t enjoy having them play major roles in the fiction I read!  Most disappointing of all, I found myself actively disliking the heroine, and not just because she dissed Kathryn Janeway.  I usually like a bit of crankiness in my fictional ladies, but here I felt it was frequently unjustified, and not balanced out by any other moods.  And the other female characters were pretty one-dimensional.
  • I needed a whole blog post to process Losers in Space.

So that was January!  February is … well, it’s happening.  I’m reading books.  Books are being read.  And someone needs to come and forcibly detach my Amazon account from my credit card, because I seriously need to stop buying Kindle books.

Book response: Losers in Space by John Barnes

(I’m kinda hesitant to call my book posts “reviews”.  That suggests a level of detachment and professionalism that I can’t really guarantee.  Sometimes I just want to feelsplode all over the internet.  Hence “response”.)

Losers in Space by John Barnes

I have no qualms at all in admitting that my creative writing background is in fan fiction.  Been writing fic since I was 12, been participating in the community since I was 16.  It’s a useful way to learn valuable skills (with the general exception of worldbuilding, unfortunately).  Not only is the internet chockers with guides to How To Write Fic But Good, but if you break the rules, people will tell you about it.  Nicely, most of the time.

Most of fan fiction’s rules can be broken, and at least someone out there will find the result entertaining.  The exception, in my experience, is this:

Never, ever, ever put author’s notes in the middle of the story.

That’s a common rookie mistake, and except in parodies of bad fic, I’ve never seen it executed well.  It’s the kind of thing that has me backspacing right out of a story.  (In this age of downloading longer fics in epub or Kindle format, it’s jarring enough to hit the otherwise acceptable end-or-beginning-of-chapter-notes.)

Until I read Losers in Space, I had never seen the mid-story author’s note appear in published fiction.  And I’ve still never seen it executed well.

Losers in Space is a YA science fiction novel set in the 22nd century, when famine, war and social divisions (and, apparently, any culture that’s not American) has been replaced by a system where work is optional, the UN provides everyone with a comfortable upper middle class income, and a tiny minority have the opportunity to become “eenies” — people whose talent or fame entitles them to much greater wealth and privilege.

The catch is, it’s not hereditary.  On reaching adulthood, the children of eenies have to demonstrate that they’re entitled to enjoy the lifestyle of their parents:  through talent, through academic achievement, or by becoming really, really famous.

As the book opens, a group of wannabes — picture the Hilton sisters, a few lesser British royals and maybe some washed up K-pop stars — set out to become famous by stowing away on a ship to Mars.  Sure, they’ll be in trouble when they’re caught, but they’ll be sooooooo famous.

The problem is, one of them is a sociopath.

Sounds pretty great, right?

In the foreword  author Barnes makes a big deal out of this being hard SF.  But he doesn’t want lots of exposition-heavy dialogue or infodumps, so he’s going to explain the sciencey stuff and some of the social background via … author’s notes shoved into the story.  They’re labelled as “notes for the interested”, and he claims it’s possible to skip them if you’re not interested.

I don’t have a science brain, so yes, I skipped over the impenetrably mathematical or scientific notes.  Problem is, there was also a lot of significant worldbuilding stuff in the notes.  And the characters still had a lot of conversations revolving entirely around technobabble, while much of the social context was limited to the notes.

I honestly can’t believe an editor let this happen!  I wanted to get out my red pen and start correcting it, or maybe cut up the book and rearrange it so it worked better.  It was just straight up bad.  I feel like the worldbuilding should have been incorporated into the story, and most of the science notes could have been removed completely.  Maybe posted on the author’s website for interested readers. It got so that I resented every page I had to flick past.

I was also unconvinced by a lot of aspects of the worldbuilding, which was fairly heavy on the cliche. It was interesting, but not necessarily plausible.

What kept me reading were the plot and the characters, which were equal parts interesting and frustrating.  Needless to say, the stowaway plan goes terribly wrong, and the teens have to fend for themselves, discovering new reserves of intelligence and competence, whilst also dealing with the sociopath in their midst.

I honestly can’t put my finger on what it was about the plot that bugged me, on account of how it was continually being interrupted by author’s notes.  The pacing occasionally lagged, but mostly I think the problem was that the characters never completely gelled for me.

For example, at the very beginning, as we’re introduced to our characters, the narrator gives a quick summary of their personalities: morose social climber, whiny self-pitier, desperately socially awkward, creepy pervert, sociopath, etc.  But many of these traits are quickly forgotten.  A couple of characters have really pleasing arcs as they evolve from the unlikable people they were into productive members of society, but most of them, as soon as they begin to interact with the heroine, show hardly any sign of their introductory traits.  They seem to be completely different people.  And while the heroine marvels several times that she never appreciated her peers before, the turnaround is unconvincing.

I also had a lot of trouble with the hero, because I couldn’t quite shake the first impression of him as a creepy pervert who essentially makes fanvids from pornography and always has a camera on the girls.

Meanwhile, the villain is supposed to be a charming sociopath, except at no point is he actually charming.  I’ve had some dealings with sociopaths in my life, and generally they sneak up on you.  I mean, one of the key aspects of sociopathy is the ability to pass for a normal person, leaving trails of people in your wake wondering if they’re the ones who are crazy.  Derlock (…I KNOW) doesn’t do that.  He’s just straight up evil.

It’s a compelling kind of straight up evil, though, and part of the reason I kept reading was to see him get his comeuppance.  SPOILERS:  (highlight to reveal, and I apologise if this doesn’t work for you!) He doesn’t.  He gets away with everything until the epilogue, in which it’s briefly mentioned that the heroine had him killed.  

One curious thing about this book is that it has a bunch of reviews on GoodReads praising it for breaking out of the YA dystopian SF mould.  It’s true that Losers in Space is a bit different from the recent run of YA SF, but … not dystopian?  This is a world where a crime is the intellectual property of the criminal, meaning that a rapist or murderer will be exonerated if he can demonstrate sufficient media interest in his “work”.  There’s a scene where the girls explain this law to the boys, who have never heard of it.  The girls, on the other hand, had a special class about it, because it puts them all at risk.

Suffice to say, a lot of the “thank heavens it’s not dystopian” reviews are coming from blokes.

It’s details like that — a literal rape culture — that kept me reading, because I was continually seeing the seeds of a much better book between the lines.  Genetically engineered animal with human intelligence?  GREAT!  He’s a pink elephant named Fwuffy with a phonetically-rendered speech impediment?  UM.

So, yes, it’s all a bit mixed.  ON THE OTHER HAND, I couldn’t put it down (except when I hit an author’s note), and I’ve just had 1200 words worth of thoughts about it.

Other stuff

  • This future is not white.  One character is described as a “pink-headed Caucasian throwback”, from which we can assume that he’s the only white kid in the group.  The heroine was genetically engineered for very dark skin. 
  • Nevertheless, of the nine people depicted on the cover, four are white, and the central girl, presumably the heroine, has light brown skin.
  • Hey, I like to keep track of these things.
  • Very few of the characters have mothers in their lives.  This seems to be a future where fathers get custody.  The heroine’s mother essentially abandoned her for reasons which aren’t fully explained.  But remember, not a dystopia.
  • The heroine’s father is an actor who has made his name as a leading man.  Most of his movies seem to be remakes of early to mid 20th century films, which are quoted several times.  It’s a nifty trick for creating a body of pop culture that’s familiar to the audience, or so I thought when I Arthur C. Clarke did it in 2010.  I was also eleven at the time.

Books, podcasts, and I am not actually stalking Tansy Rayner Roberts

I’m not!  Because that would be creepy, and also illegal, and also it would involve a higher level of effort than I’m accustomed to.

But when I was at ChicagoTARDIS, there was a certain amount of SHOCK and DISAPPROVAL when I said that I didn’t listen to the Galactic Suburbia podcast.  I was given to understand that it’s my duty as an Australian feminist genre fan to give it a burl.

So I downloaded the last two episodes of 2012, and gave them a listen this week — well, I’m still partway through the November 22 episode — and, yes, everyone was right.  This podcast is clever, informative, highly relevant to my interests, and I’ve been remiss in not listening to it before.

In fairness, I only listened to my very first podcast just recently.  And my second.  And now my third, fourth and fifth.  (I’ve stopped counting now.)  There came a point a few years back where I stopped listening to the radio because the announcers were all inane — yes, even on Triple J, hallowed youth station though it is — and technology enabled me to choose my own music.  I figured that a podcast would be similarly irritating background noise.

Yes, I was wrong.  For my morning commute, when I want some kind of mental stimulation but am too sleepy to read, podcasts are perfect.  Of course, my commute is 20 minutes and most podcasts seem to go for about an hour, but, you know, we’re coping.

And a good thing, too, because now there’s a new podcast in town, and her name is Verity.

Verity is a feminist Doctor Who podcast, and frankly, a ridiculous number of the contributors are my friends.  I listened to the first episode yesterday, and it was great.  It was positive and affectionate while acknowledging faults, and the breadth of opinion meant that I got to agree with someone most of the time.  It was a very nice way to spend a couple of train journeys.

Now, both of these podcasts feature Tansy Rayner Roberts, whose short story collection Love and Romanpunk has been sitting on my bookshelf for, oh, a year and a half.  And she has a fantastic essay in Chicks Unravel Time, and she said clever things on panels at Continuum last year!

Then, on Wednesday, just as I was beginning my great podcast adventure, one of my BFFs tweeted about reading and loving Love and Romanpunk.  (She reviews it here — I studied in the same Classics department, as does my brother now, although I’m fairly sure she’s the only one who got to design collapsible boats in class.)

Well, that was it.  Clearly I had no choice but to read it.  So I spent the second day of the year lying on the couch, absorbed in “Julia Agrippina’s Secret Family Bestiary”, which effectively hooked me for the rest of the stories.  If anyone else looks at the Julio-Claudians and sees literal monsters, this is totally the book for you.

Jan 4: download the new issue of Apex Magazine.  (I subscribed.  You should, too!)  And look, there’s a reprint of Roberts’ story “The Patrician”, from the same collection!

I am not stalking Tansy Rayner Roberts, but it’s possible that her works are stalking me.

I’m actually okay with this, since one of my goals for 2013 is to read more Australian authors.  I went a bit overboard working out reading stats for 2012, and one of the results was that, of the 141 books I read, only 19 were by Australians.  That’s pretty shameful.  So yes, for 2013 we’re reading more Australians, more short stories, more in general.  NOT THAT IT’S A COMPETITION.  (It’s totally a competition.)

The problem is, there are so many good books!  Here’s my to-read pile:

So many books...
So many books…

Most of these were purchased in the US, and I’m still working through them.  And this is without factoring in the ebooks I haven’t read yet!

I really need one of those jobs where people pay me to read.  But, like, books that I choose, not that my boss chooses for me.

Free book! With writing in!

Not pictured: MY FACE
IN THE PAPERY FLESH

You know what’s pretty exciting?  Holding a book that contains stuff you wrote.  Maybe you get used to that after a few books, I don’t know.  Wouldn’t mind finding out, but at the same time, this is pretty awesome.

You know what’s even better?  Holding a book that contains stuff you wrote … and knowing it’s full of EVEN BETTER THINGS.

So while I was at ChicagoTARDIS I got the other contributors present to sign a copy.  And now I’m giving it away!

WHAT: One copy of Chicks Unravel Time autographed by editors Deborah Stanish and LM Myles, cover artist Katy Shuttleworth, and contributers Lynne M Thomas and, um, me.

HOW: Leave a comment to this entry, describing one thing you love about Doctor Who.  For example, “I love Doctor Who because Jo Grant is funny and clever and I think she’s very underrated as a feminist companion,” or, “I love Doctor Who because bow ties are cool.”

WHEN:  I’ll choose and announce the winner next Saturday, a week from now.

OTHER RULES:

  1. I’ll ship anywhere that Australia Post will let me.
  2. Winner will be selected by a random number generator.
  3. Entries that put down some other aspect of the series will be disqualified.  For example, “I love Doctor Who because Amy Pond is useful and clever, not like those other companions,” or, “I love new Doctor Who because it has actual characters instead of screaming women in miniskirts.”  That stuff just makes me a bit cross.