Prudence: Book One of the Custard Protocol – Gail Carriger

Custard Protocol

Prudence is everything I love in a Gail Carriger novel, from the wingtips of its illustrious series title (Custard Protocol! It’s better than Parasol Protectorate!), to the soles of its hobnailed, steampunk boots. The prose is frothy and bubbling with wit and amusing one liners, as I’ve come to appreciate from the author of these fantastic comedies of manners.

The titular Prudence (Rue) is the daughter of three people: a soulless half-Italian woman Lady Alessandra Maccon, her husband the werewolf, Lord Connall Maccon, and their friend the supremely gay and fashionable vampire Lord Akeldama. Prudence is clever, curious and skilled in intelligence gathering (Akeldama runs one of the finest spy rings in the world).

Entering the world of the Parasol Protectorate some seventeen years after the last book about Alessandra, Prudence purloins a suspicious snuffbox, is gifted by her father Lord Akeldama with a state-of-the-art bright dirigible painted in ladybug red and black, and sets forth on a mission of intrigue… to India. As only Carriger could make it, this intrigue is about tea: in Steampunked Britain, there is little more important than the life-giving brew. Certainly not coffee.

And this is the point at which my guilt-free enjoyment of the series stuttered to a bit of a halt. Because it seemed rather… colonial, in how it addressed the actual population of India. Discounting the supernatural set they meet in India, there is barely a named person of native Indian descent in the entire book, which felt to me like an unnecessary marginalisation. And no matter how wonderfully petticoated and resourceful Prudence is, this use of a continent as narrative window dressing and exotification was discomforting.

Which is a pity, because it is an enjoyable book, and I have already reread it twice. As the first in a series, and the denouement of a new, not-entirely-innocent but possible-slightly-naive character, I have hopes for Rue’s development into a more rounded worldview, and the fuller participation of characters of all nationalities. Carriger definitely has written with an eye to equal representation of the genders: “the senior greaser and at least half the firemen and sooties were in fact female.”

You can pick up Prudence and read it without a problem. But you may enjoy reading the Parasol Protectorate series first (my review of Soulless here), and working up from there. There are a good many recurring characters which you will otherwise miss.

K.L gives Prudence 3.5 out of 5 young women floating past on puffy clouds of ulterior motives.

SPOILER ALERT! DANGEROUS WORDS AHEAD!

“Goodness, that sounds like a disease of the unmentionables.”

“They de-puffed out of the aetherosphere to find India spread below them like a great red and brown apple fritter nestled in a pool of blue sauce. There were sprinkles of green jungle, which, if one continued the comparison, meant the fritter was mouldy.”

 

Like reading? K.L. has published her first novel, The Fall of Peter Pan. Be entertained!

Like poetry? K.L. has also published a collection of poems, The Loaded Brush. Find it here. I promise not to make you search for metaphors.

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Daughters of a Coral Dawn – Katherine .V. Forrest

Daughters of a Coral Da

Entertaining, lesbian-themed escapist science fiction. A few tens of thousand of part-alien, genius-level women  (all descended from the Vernan alien whom they call Mother) steal a spaceship and flee the repressive, 70’s-era patriarchal Earth territories (where a woman using reproductive technology without a husband is a legal crime) to establish their own utopian colony.

Fifteen years later, they respond to the distress call of a crippled Terran ship. But now that their location has been compromised, what will they do with the chauvanistic survivors? And how will Megan, leader of the colony on Maternas, respond to the presence of the bewitching earthling Lieutenant Laurel Meredith?

I loved this humorously cheesy novel, and have been disappointed to find that Amazon.com only sells (currently) the first of this series. Worse still, it isn’t present in any of the local library catalogues. Woe! Daughters of a Coral Dawn works perfectly well as a stand-alone novel, but the presence of a lesbian science fiction novel reminiscent of the webcomic I was Kidnapped by Lesbian Pirates from Outer Space makes me eager to track down further novels in the genre. That it is unashamedly queer sci-fi, rather than brief lesbianism acting as a aperitif to the actions of a heterosexual hero, make me extremely happy.

“ “Six thousand I’ve spawned,” Mother grumbled, “and I’m the only heterosexual left.” “

The subject of a society of women bereft of men is both intriguing and appealing – witness the women of Whileaway in The Female Man, the civilisation of women in The Sultana’s Dream, the inhabitants of Jeep in Ammonite (review forthcoming), and of course our very own Amazons – and personally, a subject I can’t get enough of. Before you cry foul, cast a glance over many of the adventure stories throughout history, from the older: The Lost World, 10,000 Leagues Under the Sea, The Old Man and the Sea to the more recent action novels, such as Ice Station, where women are either entirely absent, or present only as foils for heterosexual conquest. Turn-about is fair play, and long overdue!

“Once we completed our home-based education and ventured out into the world we thought it would be more difficult to hide our gifts, especially when  we all performed spectacularly well scholastically, and later, professionally. But we had one overwhelming advantage: We were women. Scant significance was attached to any of our accomplishments.”

K.L gives Daughters of a Coral Dawn 4 out of 5 winning references to emerald eyes, cantaloupe-sized breasts, and Sapphic passion.

 

And one, final quote:

“Father was furious when he learned of her pregnancy. “Great James Garfield, how could you let that happen!” he bellowed. “We’ve been married only six weeks! You said you’d take ovavoid!”

“No I didn’t, you just gave me the pills,” Mother informed him coolly. “I did what all Vernan females do when their males leave it up to them. Each time before we made love I concentrated hard and thought negative thoughts.” ”

 

 

 

Like reading? K.L. has published her first novel, The Fall of Peter Pan. Be entertained!

Like poetry? K.L. has also published a collection of poems, The Loaded Brush. Find it here.

The Female Man – Joanna Russ

The Female Man – Joanna Russ

The Female Man

A brilliant novel, in the sink-or-swim school of storytelling (a lack of exposition akin to Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen series), which I find invigorating. Don’t let that description daunt you: the explanations will come, in time, unfolding organically from the subject matter of character interactions. The Female Man stretches across four parallel worlds, and the lives of four women living within them. When Janet Evason, ambassador of Whileaway, begins crossing between the worlds, comparing the varying gender roles and experiences of the different women cause them each to reevaluate their own lives, and their implicit notions of what it means to be a “woman” (a person, really).

A Quick Primer on the Four J’s:

  1. Joanna – lives in a world similar to that of the 1970’s Western culture.
  2. Jeannine Dadier – lives in a world where the Great Depression never ended.
  3. Janet Evason – lives in Whileaway, a high-tech utopian-agrarian society of the far future, where all men have been dead for nearly a millennia following a devastating plague. The inhabitants have mastered parthenogenesis.
  4. Jael – an employee of the Bureau of Comparative Ethnology, which studies parallel universes and people’s counterparts throughout them.

The novel opens as Janet suddenly arrives in Jeannine Dadier’s world – a grim place where the Second World War never took place, and the Great Depression is still ongoing. Janet takes Jeannine with her to Joanna’s 70’s-era Earth type world; they are all a little in awe of Janet, who is as capable and forthright as the men they have been taught to admire, but not to emulate. She also distresses them, by behaving in outlandish ways, and failing to adhere to the social niceties of their cultures.

Eventually we discover that the three women have been brought together by Jael, who declares that the four J’s are the same woman, but in differing universes. Jael’s world is in the midst of a 40-year-long war between male and female societies; it becomes apparent that she is an assassin, and her chief aim in uniting the women is to create power bases in each of their worlds to continue the fight between genders across the universes.

 

The novel is a confusing mish-mash of the four characters’ stories, some occurring while in company with the other J’s, others taking place in the past, or whilst alone in their worlds. The reader is whirled from one place to another, with the suffocating dysphoria of Jeannine’s Great Depression society a threatening undertone which maintains suspense.

The idyllic life on Whileaway – spent in hard agrarian labour in a high-tech world, pausing for five years after turning thirty in which to give birth and pursue one’s own interests for the first time since childhood – becomes a paradise the reader longs to read more of, if only to escape from Jeannine’s dreariness, Jael’s ruthless cynicism and Joanna’s personal conflict. Whileaway is not only interesting as a vignette: the existence of a successful and highly functional female society addressed Russ’ desire to create a world where the female human being exists as the measure of humanity itself, as opposed to being the exception (as expressed by Simone de Beavoir, the female is often the insufficient and mysterious Other in a masculine-centered universe).

 

Overall, I believe The Female Man to be an examination of how people deal with conflict, and the manipulation that societies and cultures use to force obedience. It is also incredibly entertaining, and an invaluable read for anyone who has been told that they cannot act a certain way, or be a certain person, because of who they are. It is infuriating, invigorating and cathartic, and I cannot recommend it highly enough – just stick to it, through the initial confusion. You will be rewarded.

“If Jack succeeds in forgetting something, this is of little use if Jill continues to remind him of it. He must induce her not to do so. The safest way would be not just to make her keep quiet about it, but to induce her to forget it also.

Jack may act upon Jill in many ways. He may make her feel guilty for ‘bringing it up’. He may invalidate her experience. This can be done more or less radically. He can indicate merely that it is unimportant or trivial, whereas it is important and significant to her. Going further, he can shift the modality of her experience from memory to imagination: ‘It’s all in your imagination.’ Further still, he can invalidate the content: ‘It never happened that way.’ Finally, he can invalidate not only the significance, modality, and content, but her very capacity to remember at all, and make her feel guilty for doing so into the bargain.

This is not unusual.”

R.D. Laing, The Politics of Experience

 

K.L gives The Female Man 5 out of 5 dimension-hopping genius farmers.

 

 

SPOILER ALERT! DANGEROUS WORDS AHEAD!

“When Laura tried to find out who she was, they told her she was ‘different’ and that’s a hell of a description on which to base your life; it comes down to either ‘Not-me’ or ‘Convenient-for me’ and what is one supposed to do with that?”

I was sitting in the lunchroom at work, reading The Female Man: specifically, the section about Laura’s inexpert seduction of Janet Evason (who sees it coming and really, really tries to be good, the age difference being a taboo on her planet, but not enough of one to stop her), after the running dialogue/recollections of her life, all the social injustice of it, the man-centric, Depression Era rot, where woman is an appendage, not a person…

…And this phrase grew like a soap-bubble and burst, setting my brain spinning while I sat at the table, trying not to stare light-headedly at my coworker Sue, who was by chance sitting opposite and would not understand if I were to try and explain it to her. The phrase was:

We all deserve to be people.

What inspired this soap bubble of thought? In answer, I must paraphrase a character’s declaration in The Female Man, which reads, “When I act like a person, people ask me, ‘Why are you being so emotional?’ ”

 

The Philip K. Dick Megapack – Philip K. Dick

It has been a long time between drinks, so to speak – my apologies on the delays in posting reviews! A month or so of either being very busy, or being sick, left me with little motivation to write reviews. The reading continued unabated, of course (except for one week of ‘ick’).

So, without further ado, let us resume our perusals of high and low literature.

Yours sincerely,

K.L.

 

MegapackDick

Philip K. Dick was the creator of science fiction short stories and novels which have been adapted into some of the great classics (and flops, let’s admit) of science fiction cinema. Bladerunner; Total Recall; Minority Report; The Adjustment Bureau; Paycheck; A Scanner Darkly and even the Terminator series of android assassins was inspired by the humanoid killing machines portrayed in the short story ‘Second Variety’.

This so-called megapack (the first in a series of about # megapacks; Dick was a prolific author) features a collection of fifteen of Dick’s short stories.

Dystopian futures, alien invasions, machine-rebellions, interspecies cultural conflict and robotic evolution are all featured. The range is broad, and there is even a brief touch of classical mythology in one story, ‘Strange Eden’.

A feature of Dick’s short stories is that nearly all of them seem to possess a ‘sting in the tail’, upon which the entire story turns, like a fish just realising it has been hooked. They are largely brilliantly imaginative and original.

Some favourites from this collection:

‘The Defenders’ – in which humanity has fled underground, leaving robots to fight for the mastery of Earth, with unexpected results. Possibly my favourite, possibly because it has a happy ending.

‘Second Variety’ – a chilling account of robotic evolution, with the machines following the same patterns of competition and conflict as the masters.

‘The Hanging Stranger’ – an almost 1984 flavour to the story, as though an intelligent, omniscient virus has infected your family and friends, and is using society to trap you.

Dick’s style is spare and almost journalistic; the stories mirror the Cold War preoccupations of the time, each story thrumming with an ominous sense that someone had started the countdown to annihilation.

 

If you read only one of these stories, let it be ‘Second Variety’.

 

K.L gives The Philip K. Dick Megapack 5 out of 5 nuclear apocalypses.

 

Etiquette & Espionage – Gail Carriger

Etiquette and Espionage

A delightful lark. Fourteen-year-old Sophronia Angelina Temminnick has driven her mother to the end of her manicured wits.

After an unfortunate incident involveing a sabotaged dumbwaiter, a plate of trifle, Mrs. Barnaclegoose’s head, and of course, Sophronia as Exibit A, The Condemned, she is packed off to Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality.

It is not the fate worse than death that Sophronia expects. Firstly, the Academy is a vast dirigible which floats its way across the moors of Dartmouth, rather than being sensibly anchored to the ground, and secondly, its students learn not merely the arts of flirtation, dance and household management, but also espionage and assassination. Their shadowy agents have been watching Sophronia for some time, and her predilection for investigation and chaos have resulted in her becoming covertly recruited to join the academy.

The normal pace of lessons aboard the flying academy is somewhat unhinged when Sophronia arrives, accompanied by resident mean-girl, the beautiful Monique de Pelouse. Partnering up with Dimity, who brother Pillover is in training to become an evil genius, Sophronia must discover what Monique is hiding from the Academy, before her actions ensure its destruction by dastardly Picklemen, who will stop at nothing to obtain The Prototype.

Set in a Steampunk 1800’s England, Etiquette & Espionage is fun, well-paced, with interesting and lively characters. The references to ladylike behaviour and dress seem to be refreshingly tongue-in-cheek, and Sophronia’s chracter is intelligent, curious, and shows no qualms about breaking stuffy rules to achieve her goals.

I look forward to reading the sequel when it comes out.

K.L gives Etiquette & Espionage 3.5 out of 5 werewolves in top-hats.

2001: A Space Odyssey – Arthur C. Clarke

2001: A Space Odyssey

I have never seen 2001: A Space Odyssey. So when my favourite pop culture website (http://www.cracked.com/article_19138_7-hotly-debated-movie-questions-that-totally-have-answers_p2.html)mentioned the movie in one of their articles, I decided to take the book for a spin.

 

The first thing one should know, is that the book 2001: A Space Odyssey, was written and published in 1969, subsequent to the movie, which was released in 1968. In past experience, this is nearly always a warning sign as to the quality of the novel (the novel Gladiator, for instance, was simply the movie with a few deleted scenes added in, and some fairly pedestrian descriptions tacked on. Ditto for The Ghost and The Darkness).

Unfortunately, 2001: A Space Odyssey was no exception to the rule (if you can recommend any books which are, please let me know). I am still keen to see the movie, because I think that some of the pacing and events were probably framed with the visual medium in mind, but I cannot recommend the book at all. Which makes me feel a little bad, seeing as it was written by Arthur C. Clarke, a renowned Sci-Fi author, amongst other things. The writing felt not only formulaic (possibly due to many post-2001 imitations which I encountered in advance of the original), but also dense, the narrative failing to flow.

 

One interesting idea expressed was that HAL malfunctioned in the violent way that it did, because its construction and intelligence development had left it unable to practice deception. The burden of knowing the ship’s true mission, and knowing that its human companions were completely ignorant, caused HAL to experience a cascading series of malfunctions in its programming, culminating in its’ attempt to sever all contact with Earth and kill the crew-members.

 

K.L gives 2001: A Space Odyssey 0 out of 5 homicidal robots unable to deal with deception.