Girl Reading by Katie Ward

26 Feb
girl reading

Girl Reading paperback cover

Girl Reading
Katie Ward
Virago Press, 2011
ISBN 978-1-84408-738-9

Review by Ian Sales

Girl Reading is not one of those novels which defy summary, but a description of its plot – or plots – does not really give the true flavour of the book. It is constructed from seven sections, set in, respectively, Siena in 1333, Amsterdam in 1668, an English country house in 1775, London in 1864, another English country house in 1916, London in 2008, and an unnamed European city in 2060. The sections are not linked, except by mention of the previous section’s subject – ie, a picture of a girl reading. (The exact pictures which inspired the novel are given in ‘A Note’ at the end of the book; some are reproduced in this review).

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Heliotrope by Justina Robson

22 Feb

Heliotrope front cover

Justina Robson
Ticonderoga Publications, 2011
ISBN 0-9807813-3-7

Review by Ian Sales

UK sf author Justina Robson managed a remarkable achievement at the beginning of her career: her first two novels were both shortlisted for the Arthur C Clarke Award. Unfortunately, she has yet to be nominated again – though both Natural History (2003) and Living Next-Door to the God of Love (2005) deserved to be. Robson has also been shortlisted three times for the BSFA Award, twice for the John W Campbell Memorial Award, and three times for the Philip K Dick Award. And yet, the only collection of her short fiction available was published in Australia.

Heliotrope was published to celebrate Robson’s appearance as international guest of honour at Swancon 36 in Perth, Australia, in 2011. It contains sixteen short stories, including the title story which is original to the collection. An introduction is provided by Adam Roberts. The stories stretch from Robson’s first in 1994, ‘Trésor’, to ‘Cracklegrackle’, which appeared in 2009’s The New Space Opera 2 anthology. This inclusiveness is both a strength and a weakness. Each story has both an introduction and an afterword by Robson herself.

By any metric, Heliotrope is a respectable collection, showcasing a breadth of genres and subgenres and themes – from the earthy fantasy of the title story to the hard science fiction of ‘Cracklegrackle’ (set in the same universe as Natural History and Living Next-Door to the God of Love). ‘Body of Evidence’ is near-future sf, based on the effects on people and society of a single small device – but it’s a resolutely personal look at those effects. ‘The Adventurers’ League’ is another story set in the Natural History‘s universe, but this one has a more steampunk-ish flavour as the Forged all present identities that harken back to late nineteenth century scientific romances.

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Which women rule the universe?

15 Oct

Hello world. I live and so does this blog despite what you may have been led to believe. I fixed my wifi access problems by moving so here is to a bright future for women in sci-fi! You’ll have to forgive me because I am a little hopped up on spiced rum and Dr. Pepper zero. I am feeling all warm and fuzzy and extremely positive about everything. Go me!

I extend the open call hand again. Please, pretty please. If you have read a science fiction (see the about page) book written by a woman published since 1999 and would like to review, good or bad, (you didn’t have to like it just don’t be nasty) we’re accepting submissions. A few people have contacted me over the past few months to submit reviews, but I never heard back from them. Please get in touch if this is you.

A discussion topic: not just women who write science fiction, but women who appear in science fiction. Something struck me the other day when reading “Intrusion” by Ken McLeod on my Kobo:his female characters in this particular novel are better than in his previous novel. Now, I’ve only read four (including Intrusion) novels by Ken so I am not a McLeod expert. I only know that even though I did like Restoration Game there was something odd about the lead character who was a woman. I struggled to imagine her as a woman. In fact I thought of her as a man for quite sometime until she suddenly put on a dress and painted her nails. Of course she could have been transgendered or a transvestite, but this was not evident anywhere so I had to assume it was a woman after all.

I wanted to acknowledge Ken’s women this time round because they feel much more like ‘women’. This got me thinking (dangerous). Shouldn’t this blog not only discuss women who write science fiction, but the representation of women in science fiction? Shouldn’t we acknowledge men who write women well and cast a Spock like eye brow in the direction of those who do not? Then all the other questions came to me: what do I mean by represent Women well? Who defines this? Do I define this? to me a Mary Sue character is not evidence of a good female character, but sometimes Mary Sues are favoured by readers. When we say a ‘strong’ female character, what do mean? Is she a warrior or does she simply not back down from her moral conviction? Is she ballsy and brassy? or is she a wife and mother who strands strong against adversity and protects her family? Maybe she is all of these.

What do you think?

mmm cinnamon frosting.

Aliens of the Heart, Carolyn Ives Gilman

29 Jun

Aliens of the Heart cover

Aliens of the Heart
Carolyn Ives Gilman

Aqueduct Press, 2007
ISBN 978-1-933500-17-1

Review by Ian Sales

Aliens of the Heart, a collection of three short stories and one novelette, is the nineteenth volume in Aqueduct Press’ Conversation Pieces, a “small paperback series” which “celebrates the speculations and visions of the grand conversation of feminist sf”. The series comprises fiction, poetry and non-fiction – “essays … speeches … interviews, correspondence and group discussions”. It currently stands at thirty-two volumes, with two more due in August this year.

The four stories in Aliens of the Heart are all set in the US mid-west, arguably the heart of the country. They are all science fiction, though in at least one case the story first appeared in a fantasy anthology. But not only does the “heart” of the title refer to the stories’ geographical location but also to the hearts of the protagonists, all women, all the heart of the relationships which form the centres of the stories, and all the hearts of the stories themselves.

‘Lost Road’ is one of those stories with a simple premise that genre fiction does so well. A middle-aged couple – he is suffering from dementia? Alzheimer’s? – drive from their farm into the nearby town of Lost Road. After their errands, they head home… but they cannot find their way. I will happily admit to a dislike of genre stories which use their central conceit as a metaphor, and then proceed to beat that metaphor to death. I call them “Clarion-style stories”, and you can often find one or two on the Hugo Award shortlist each year. ‘Lost Road’ is similar to those types of stories, but it is, above all else, subtle. As Betty Lindstrom and her husband Wayne travel further from the world they know (though the landscape remains disturbingly familiar), so Wayne seems to recover from his condition. Yet nothing is resolved; the power of the story lies in its refusal to explain or resolve. ‘Lost Roads’ originally appeared in Fantasy & Science Fiction, in February 1992, and was reprinted in 2002 in an anthology from Tesseract Books, Land/Space.

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An update

16 Jun

Hi all. Well it felt like such a great idea at the time and I was all full of enthusiasm after EasterCon to get this blog going. Unfortunately, personal circumstances meant that I had to move and I’ve ended up with limited internet capability to do much of my own posting. I have to thank Ian Sales for continuing to persevere to put up reviews. I do want to say that I really appreciate all who have contributed to the blog so far and we are always looking out for new submissions. Just because my lack of interwebs prevents me from doing a lot of posting, doesn’t mean the blog has to suffer. So if you have reviews or want to write a review, even if you’ve never written one before, please check out the About page and get writing!


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