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ChicksUnravelTimeWomen journey through every season of Doctor Who

Edited by Deborah Stanish and LM Myles

Mad Norwegian Press (2012)

ISBN: 978-193523412-8

Reviewed by Tehani Wessely

I’m a fairly recent Doctor Who convert. Early last year I became hooked thanks to wanting to watch the Neil Gaiman authored episode “The Doctor’s Wife”, so started with the Eleventh Doctor, and was so enamoured I went immediately back to the beginning of New Who and devoured the lot. Of course I have memories of watching Classic Who when I was a kid, with the Fourth Doctor, K9 and the Daleks being the only real things that I remember. And despite the best efforts of good friends trying to encourage me to embrace a bit of Classic Who now, I’ve struggled. Well, after reading Chicks Unravel Time, I just want to go back in time myself and be able to watch the whole of Doctor Who from the very beginning!

The essays in this book are passionate, engaging and entertaining, encompassing, as the subtitle suggests, every season of Doctor Who, written by women who clearly know their stuff. As we lead up to the 50th anniversary of the airing of the first episode, I can’t think of a better way to garner an understanding of the show in its entirety! Some authors focussed on characters, some on story, some on companions, some on production, but all, even those finding fault with aspects of the show, betray the writer’s love for Doctor Who, and this more than anything was a key factor in my own enjoyment. I particularly enjoyed contributions by Barbara Hambly (looking at the first new season reboot), “The Doctor’s Balls” by Diana Gabaldon (which has awakened in me a desperate desire to watch any Jamie McCrimmon episodes possible), LM Myles’ “Identity Crisis” (considering the importance of the very first regeneration), “For the love of Tom” by Sarah Lotz (because Tom Baker was “my Doctor” until I fell in love with Matt Smith last year!), “Donna Noble saves the universe” by Martha Wells (because, Donna!), and… Look, I’m just going to name every entry in the book at this rate. Trust me when I say this is a fantastic collection of essays examining a hugely popular show from perspectives you might not have considered. It’s an excellent introduction to Classic Who, with delvings into New Who, and I recommend it to both hard core and casual fans of the show.

To be completely honest though, I do have a complaint – I simply wanted more! Some of the essays I really wanted to be longer, and I would have loved to see further exploration of the tie-in media (Big Finish audio plays and the novelisations etc) in relation to the characters being discussed. But really, when the one complaint is that the reader loves the books so much she wishes it was longer? That’s a pretty good recommendation I reckon!

Edited by Bruce Gillespie

Reviewed by Alexandra Pierce

This edition of SET came out in January 2005. It can be found electronically here.

There are two editorials to this issue of SET. In the first, Bruce Gillespie explains that this is essentially a resurrection of the zine, thanks to the interest of Janine Stinson in doing just that, following the loss of Paul Kincaid and Maureen Kincaid Speller, Gillespie’s co-editors. In his second editorial, Gillespie discusses The Best Australian Science Fiction Writing, edited by Rob Gerrand, and how this reflects Gillespie’s own experience of reading in that period. It certainly sounds like an interesting snapshot of the era.

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Edited by Bruce Gillespie

Reviewed by Alexandra Pierce

brg is a fanzine compiled by Bruce Gillespie, a longstanding member of the Australian, and specifically Victorian, fan community. It can be found here.

Gillespie is a big fan of Lists, and Best Ofs. This issue of brg reflects that, and I cannot comment on the first half (it’s only 16 pages), because it deals with his favourite popular and classical CDs either bought or heard for the first time in 2011 – and most of them I haven’t heard of, let alone actually heard (I am pretty excited to find out about the Willie Nelson, Wynton Marsalis and Norah Jones collaboration celebrating Ray Charles, though…). The second half looks at Gillespie’s favourite novels and books first read in 2011, and films likewise. The novels and books are separated out because the latter includes a couple of short story collections, and some non-fiction and poetry as well. They’re an eclectic bunch of books: some speculative, some not; some recent (from 2011 – The Islanders, by Christopher Priest, and Mistification, by Kaaron Warren), others not (The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, by Charles Dickens, 1839).

Edited by Bruce Gillespie 

Reviewed by Alexandra Pierce

The 40th Anniversary Edition of SF Commentary appeared in three parts. This is a review of parts 2 and 3.

Part 2

This issue’s cover is, as usual for a Gillespie production, a picture from Dick ‘Ditmar’ Jenssen, and the zine proper opens with Jenssen musing on the story implied by it – a tale of binary stars and exploration – and some recommended reading for the astronomically inclined. This is followed by Gillespie’s editorial, which is mostly an introduction to Coline Steele, a reviewer for the Canberra Times; which is apt, because pages 7-64 are taken up by Steele’s words. Some of this is reprints of Steele’s earlier work, although the opening, extended essay appears to be new and focuses on Terry Pratchett.

Steele provides an overview of Pratchett’s life and work, including a reflection on Pratchett’s appearance at the Sydney Opera House. He also reviews several of Pratchett’s recent Discworld outings, including Making Money and I Shall Wear Midnight. The rest of Steele’s contribution, as mentioned, is made up of reviews. There is discussion of reference and non-fiction works possible of interest to speculative fiction readers, such as The Greatest Sci-Fi Movies Never Made and The English Ghost: Spectres Through Time. His science fiction reviews are varied, from The Quantum Thief (Hannu Rajaniemi) to Lavinia (Ursula le Guin; I would argue this ought to have appeared in Fantasy), to Yellow Blue Tibia (Adam Roberts) and Star Wars: The Force Unleashed (Sean Williams). There are also sections looking at horror, dark fantasy and gothic (from Terry Dowling’s Clowns and Midnight to Kaaron Warren’s Dead Sea Fruit); fantasy (from Diana Wynne Jones’ Enchanted Glass to Margo Lanagan’s Yellowcake, and Richard Morgan’s The Steel Remains); ghost stories (The Battle of the Sun, Jeanette Winsterson; Susan Hill’s The Small Hand); and alternative history (David Kowalski’s The Company of the Dead; Stephen Baxter’s Time’s Tapestry novels). It doesn’t claim to be discussing the best of the field, but giving an overview of it, and I think it achieves its goal. It certainly appeals to a wide range of tastes, and gives a sense of how eclectic the field has been over the last decade or so.

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Edited by Charlaine Harris

Orion (2011)

ISBN: 978-0-575-09753-7

Reviewed by Lorraine Cormack

I tend to eye “guides” and “companions” with some suspicion; too often they seem designed for people who have crossed that fine line between dedicated fan and obsessed geek. However, this particular volume offers enough new material to avoid that trap. As the name suggests, it’s a companion to the Sookie Stackhouse books (such as Dead in the Family, reviewed here.)

The companion is edited by Charlaine Harris, the author of the novels, and she’s at pains in the introduction to be clear: it’s a companion to the Sookie Stackhouse novels, not the TV series True Blood which is based on the books. If you’ve tried both then you’ll know that they are very different. Harris does include a few nods to the TV series, most notably an interview with series creator Alan Ball. Appropriately, many of the questions focus on differences between the books and the TV series.

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Galactic Suburbia – A Podcast Review by Daniel Simpson

… and coming to you from the galactic suburbs is (pause) Tansy from Hobart (pause, different voice), Alex from Melbourne (pause, different voice again), and Alisa from Perth.

With those hallowed words, the ceremony begins.

Galactic Suburbia is a fortnightly podcast dealing with all things speculative fiction, particularly (but not limited to) spec fiction of the written variety. It is recorded by three Australian women – Tansy, Alex, and Alisa – from different locations around the country, who take to the airwaves fortnightly, despite the challenges (such as puppies and babies) thrown at them by “real life”.

Structure

To give the podcast structure, each episode has a designated chairperson; a ringmaster. A different one of the three each week guides the proceedings and ensures that the podcast stays on track. Having three podcasters works well; it takes the podcast beyond a conversation and into a panel-like discussion. I think this is proven in the episodes when someone is missing. The episodes with just two Galactic Suburbanites seem a little flatter. The energy, passion, and often competing opinions of three people is frantic, and fun.

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Edited by Sylvia Kelso

Aqueduct Press (2010)

ISBN: 978-1-933500-40-

Reviewed by Tansy Rayner Roberts

I was delighted to discover the existence of The Wiscon Chronicles a year or so ago, volumes which are intended to capture something of the vibe, spirit and content of the last several WisCons through selected articles, panel reports, interviews, blog entries and ephemera. I adored picking over the first three volumes and was beyond excited to see that my review of them had rated a blurb quote on the back of Volume 4.

Notably this quote:

What I admire most about these Wiscon Chronicles is not just the collection of intelligent thought, and the best example of documenting the convention experience I have ever seen, but the acknowledgement of the bad parts as well as the good – the exposure of privilege, of negative as well as positive reactions to the discussions, and the willingness to shine a bright torch on all the grey areas, for the purpose of greater and more constructive conversation.

Which I still think holds true.

Another excitement was to see that this year’s editor of the TWC is Australia’s own Sylvia Kelso, whom I met for the first time recently. Sylvia herself talks in her introduction about the daunting challenge of trying to capture a convention she herself doesn’t get to every year (being Australian) and indeed an event that no two people experience similarly. The clever thing about these books is that instead of trying to represent the convention by being as generic as possible, they instead try to share the deeply specific and personal, from a wide variety of people.

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Joanna Russ

University of Texas Press (1983)

ISBN: 978-0292724457

Reviewed by Tansy Rayner Roberts

This is a book I should have read fifteen years ago. This is a book someone should have put in my hands the week before I started university, and locked me in a room until I had read it. I should have read it again before I started my Honours degree, and every year I worked on my PhD. When I walked out of my head of school’s office, numbed by his awful pronouncement that the work I had done over five years was not enough, that the thesis was simply not worthy of a doctorate because of its scope and subject matter, I should have gone home again and read this book from cover to cover before I began my campaign to prove him wrong.

(He was, as it turned out, wrong, but that is a story for another day.)

I don’t believe in “should” when it comes to books. Who are you to decide how I should spend my limited reading time? But yeah. Someone should have told me about this book.

(Except, of course, they did.)

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A Cultural History of Science Fiction Feminisms

Helen Merrick

Aqueduct Press (2009)

ISBN 978-1-933500-33-1

Reviewed by Alexandra Pierce

“… what kind of self-respecting cabal would openly advertise its ‘secret’ existence through websites and conventions, identify its members through the wearing of garish temporary tattoos, and fund itself by the sale of home-baked chocolate chip cookies?” (p1)

I did not grow up considering myself a feminist; I have no idea whether my mother would identify as a feminist or not. That said, I grew up in the ’80s with a younger brother and there was never a time when I felt that I could not do exactly the same things as my brother, if I wanted to, so I know (now) that I benefited from second-wave feminism – and from liberal, caring parents. I was regarded as a feminist by at least some people by the time I was in my late teens (looking at you, high school teachers), probably because I was loud and everyone loves a stereotype. It’s only been over the last decade (my twenties) that I have consciously thought of myself as a feminist. And it’s only been in the last couple of years that I have consciously sought out feminist books, feminist perspectives on historical issues, and really come to grips with the idea that feminism is not a singularity.

All of this self-aggrandising is by way of contextualising my reading of The Secret Feminist Cabal, a marvellous book that has challenged the way I think about science fiction, fandom, and feminism. Merrick had me from her Preface, where she describes her journey towards writing the book in ways that resonated deeply with me, from the nerdy adolescent to the discovery of feminism and the dismay that many female acquaintances not only do not share our love of science fiction, they are completely mystified by it. Having only recently discovered the niche community that is sf fandom, the fact that so much of this book is concerned with expressions of feminism within that community – and how they impacted on sf broadly – was the icing on the cake.

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