Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Review of Clarie G. Coleman's Terra Nullius

Having read Claire G. Coleman’s The Old Lie, I knew she was an Indigenous Australian who wrote science fiction that commented on historical and present day treatment of Indigenous Australians. So, when I started reading her earlier novel Terra Nullius, I was immediately looking for science fiction elements.

The novel starts as if set in the outback of 19th century Australia. It has a few main characters and constantly switches point of view between them. They include Jacky who is on the run from his "master". Then we have a heartless nun in charge of a mission. She thinks the “natives”, who have been stolen from their families and placed under her dubious care, are sub-human and not worthy of her time. Another character is Johnny, a trooper who has deserted after participating in a massacre of natives. There are a few other main characters, but describing them will spoil the plot of the novel.  

The first half of the novel really reminded me of the horrors that have been inflicted on Indigenous Australians by their colonisers including: Indigenous Australians dying on mass from diseases the colonisers introduced, the stealing of their land, the use of natives as slave labour, the massacres of tribes, the stealing of children from their parents and attempts to re-educate them into the white man’s ways, the introduction of alcohol and its devastating effects on Indigenous Australians, etc.

It seemed like the perfect book to be reading on Australia Day, or Survival Day as many Indigenous Australians call it.

As a reader of science fiction I was wondering about the lack of descriptions of certain characters, and the lack of wildlife. The “mounts” the troopers rode as they chased Jacky were not described. So I began to wonder where and when the novel was set. About halfway through the reader finds out.

I found the narrative gripping and emotionally engaging as I hoped that the “natives”, as the colonisers call them, would survive. But I knew they were no match for the weapons and other technology of their colonisers.

When reading Australian science fiction my interest always picks up when indigenous characters appear as they are rare. When in the hands of white authors they tend to win in the end. This is probably a result of the guilt white Australians have about what has happened and is still happening to Indigenous Australians. Whereas, Indigenous Australian authors view their future, from my limited reading, as continuing the fight for survival.   

The manuscript and novel deservedly won awards was short-listed for many others, like the Stella Prize.

Terra Nullius is one of the best novels I have read by an Australian science fiction author.

Sunday, January 15, 2023

Review of Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie

Ancillary Mercy is the third and final novel in Ann Leckie’s award winning Imperial Radch series. The novels are about the adventures of Breq an Ancillary who was connected to a ship that was destroyed. An Ancillary is a human who has been turned into an AI and has their consciousness connected to a ship. They can access its data and see and hear what all other Ancillaries are experiencing. They will do whatever the ship’s captain commands them to do.

The third novel starts where the second novel finished. Breq is still the nominated fleet commander of the Athoek system and is located on its space station. She is trying to fix the station’s undergarden area which was damaged in the previous novel, as well as fix the station’s complex politics. She has to deal with the agendas of an uncooperative system governor and power hungry religious leader.

Her attempts at fixing the station are interrupted when an envoy from the all-conquering Presger arrives to survey humans and to see whether they have broken the “treaty” between the two races. The envoy’s arrival is then complicated by unknown warships appearing in the system.

This novel is about Breq’s attempt to create a more merciful local system where even the AIs, like the Ancillaries, that run the ships and the station, get to decide their own fates. She wants them to have the choices that she now has as an Ancillary who has been cut off from her destroyed ship. She also wants the indigenous population of Athoek to control their future.

One of the most intriguing features of the novels is the fact that Breq cannot differentiate between female and male, so she refers to every character as “she”, which creates a viewpoint character who does not bring gender into the power dynamics between the characters she deals with. Leckie leaves it to the reader to add genders to characters if they want to.

I very much enjoyed this novel as it attempted to bring the series to a conclusion, but there were still plenty of loose ends at its conclusion for a fourth novel to explore. It’s probably not as good as the first two novels, as the first was huge on world building, and the second was more about Breq attempting to redefine herself, but still an excellent read.  


Tuesday, January 3, 2023

Review of Us and Them by Anthony J Langford.

Us and Them is a collection of short stories and poems that will open up your heart to the lives of others and especially the mind of its author Anthony J Langford. The collection will have you thinking about how you interact with others, and had this reader vowing to be more open to what might be going on in other people’s lives.

About half of the stories are autobiographical scenes from the author’s life, giving an insight into events that have influenced the person he has become. They illustrate his quest for adventure and his genuine desire to understand other people.

But among that desire to open up, it is a book of regrets, of things not said and done. In one story he is haunted by a girl crying on the streets of New York and his failure to ask her what is wrong, like all the other people who walked past her. As he says in one of his poems: It is always worth it, To reach out, Even if it doesn’t go well. The collection also ponders aging and its effect on us.  

It is a book about someone looking back at their life and contemplating what he could have done better.   

Collectively, the poems and stories had me contemplating how well I have lived my own life.  

Thursday, December 22, 2022

Review of The Living Sea of Waking Dreams, by Richard Flanagan

The Living Sea of Waking Dreams is about a dying mother, Francie, and the efforts of her adult children to keep her alive, even though she wants to die. The children have lost the ability to communicate with each other, and are out to show they have the power, at least in the case of Anna and Terzo, to keep their mother alive. While Tommy, a failed artist who was looking after Francie, just acquiesces to the will of his other two siblings. 

The novel is also about our dying planet, particularly from climate change, as animals go extinct We say we care, but do little to prevent the unfolding disaster. The novel is set in Tasmania while bushfires rage throughout that state and the rest of Australia. 

Anna is the main protaganist, a successful architect, who rather than face her mother's pain, her crap relationship with her son, or the raging climate around her, retreats into social media. Frequently forwarding articles she has not read to her friends, showing how she avoids taking responsibility for what is going on by keeping herself uninformed and deferring action to others. 

The novel has magic realism elements, which work. Other reviewers have likened it to The Corrections, by Jonathon Franzen, a novel I really enjoyed. 

There is a lot going on in the The Living Sea of Waking Dreams. I was particularly interested in it as I have an elderly mother the same age as Francie, who's mental capacity and stamania has been declining in the past few months after a fall, and I wonder how I would respond if she, like Francie lying in a hospital bed in pain, requested the last rites. Would I have the courage of my convinctions to let her pass. It's a bit how the father with dementia drew me into The Corrections as my Father was battling dementia when I read it. 

But then the climate change and the destruction to the planet, and my feeble attempts to do something about it come to the fore. I hope this novel will get me doing more. 

The Living Sea of Waking Dreams is a novel that will get you thinking as it brings to the surface your guilt and fears. 

It is an utterly compelling read.

Saturday, November 19, 2022

Back with more posts soon

I haven't posted for a while due to work and before that study and I now have long covid, but I hope to reverse that trend and start posting book reviews once more and information about writing. 

Monday, February 22, 2021

Quick review of Another Timeline by Annalee Newitz

The Future of Another TimelineThe Future of Another Timeline by Annalee Newitz
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Occurs in a universe where there are six mounds of rock that when hit in the right combination allow time-travel througout earth's history. They are well known and time geologists use them all the time to not only view history but edit it. This is different from most time-travel stories where the characters are usually worried about changing history and causing unexpected results. They can't make massive instantenous changes (like killing Hitler) to history, the changes have to be slow, like planting a seed of a thought in a person's mind. In this version of the timeline the supression of women is slowly being increased, but a group of women are fighting back by editing the timeline. Learnt a bit about a few historical figures like Anthony Comstock, a special agent in the 1890's who was allowed to read every suspected liberated women's mail and arrest them for anything he deemed obsecene. The book has a parallel story going of the teenage life (in the 90's) of one of the main characters. The novel did peter out a bit at the end, but overall a good read.

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Novels I read last year.

It has been a while since I posted anything. I was way too busy last year to regularly post (I started up a web design business on March 19 -Wangaratta Website Design Services - and before that I did a six week intensive NEIS course on how to start and run a business). I had many long weeks of work, working late into the night some nights and on the weekends. But I still managed to read 17 novels by setting aside a couple of hours on three nights a week to read. Here's what I read: 

1. Purity, Jonathan Frazen 

2. Testaments, Margaret Atwood

3. The Drowned World, JG Ballard

4. The Wall, John Lanchester

5. The Three-Body Problem, Cixin Liu

6. The Narrow Road To The Deep North, Richard Flanagan

7. The Old Lie, Claire G Coleman

8. Engine Summer, John Crowley

9. Wake, Elizabeth Knox

10. Clade, James Bradley

11. Aurora, Kim Stanley Robinson

12. The Affirmation, Christopher Priest

13. The Swan Book, Alexis Wright

14. Pattern Recognition, William Gibson

15. Lone Wolf World, Anthony J Langford

16. Embassytown, China Meiville

17. All Clear, Connie Willis.

While many of the books were science fiction written by white guys, there is some diversity in the list. Two of the novels were written by Indigenous Australians about Indigenous Australians - The Swan Book and The Old Lie. The Swan book is a very challenging read as it has a narrator whose life is nearly totally detached from reality. The authors came from: 

  • Australia (5)
  • Canada (1)
  • China (1)
  • New Zealand (1)
  • US (6)
  • UK (3)
The best of the novels were The Three-Body Problem - with its unique take on first contact with aliens, A Narrow Road To The Deep North - a harrowing prisoner of war story that reeked of authenticity, Testaments - Atwoods sequel to the Handmaid's Tale which wrapped up all the loose ends, Affirmation - a ride through what is and isn't reality, Wake - a horror story set under a supernatural dome in a New Zealand seaside township. Embassytown - where language mistakes have bizzare consquences when communicating with aliens, and Lone World World narrated by a delusional psychopath who is full of wit and dark observations about the world.  

This year, like last year, my aim is to read 24 novels. 

Good reading to you.