Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Review: Nomansland by Lesley Hauge

On a windswept island far to the north live a community of women in isolation. They must protect themselves from the enemy--men--and try to atone for the sins of the Old People, the ones who brought Tribulation on the world. Keller is a novice tracker, one of the girls who will guard the island and be exempt from breeding. She is not allowed to make friends with her fellow novices; nor is she allowed to fall into one of the many Pitfalls, like Decoration and gazing upon one's Reflection. Keller and the other novices find a cache of goods from the Before Time--magazines, high heels, clothing--and suddenly the rules that hold their tenuous society together are being broken.

There is an epigraph at the beginning of Nomansland, a quotation from John Wyndham's The Chrysalids. It describes a rumoured society to the north-east of Labrador (where The Chysalids takes place) of strong women who keep their men in cages and then eat them. I remember reading the passage last year and thinking what a terrible place this post-nuclear world would be, one of isolated communities, monstrous people, and fear. Lesley Hauge has taken this handful of sentences by one of the best dystopian writers and used it as a spring-board to create Nomansland. I think this is rather inspired.

Foundland, as the women call their home, is an orderly, agrarian society. It is without religion--or should I say, without a religion we would recognise, one with a patriarchal god and women's originals sin and so on. It's hardly surprising the Bible is rejected in a community solely of women. But Foundland has its own beliefs and ideas of sinning, ones that keep Keller and her friends tightly controlled. They are skilled horsewomen and archers, but even the exhaustive routine they are kept to can't prevent what comes naturally to the girls: alliances, jealousies and curiosity.

It's fascinating to see how the objects from the Before Time affect these girls. They struggle to interpret the pictures and make-up and clothes, to discern what life was like before Tribulation. But even more fascinating is the thoughts the objects stir up about why the Tribulation occurred, and their own frustrating existence. There are some brilliant passages that feature Laing, the ringleader of their group and the one hungriest to make sense of everything.

Nomansland delivers an interesting account of a all-female world under absolute rule. There are plenty of nods to The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood, such as in the ritualistic punishments. My only disappointments are that it wasn't a little scarier, and that the promise of action that the bows and arrows indicate never comes. There will be a sequel to Nomansland, so maybe we'll see some ass-kicking then!

Nomansland is available this July from Henry Holt Books for Young Readers.

Monday, May 24, 2010

The 2010 Dystopia Challenge: The Longlist

I can't believe it's nearly time to do this all again. Winter 2010 is going to be just as bleak as winter 2009--for the Dystopia Challenge is returning! (Click here for last year's books.) The challenge is to read, ponder and review as many dystopian books as I can before spring. The coldest and darkest months of the year are to be stuffed full of zombies, hazmat suits and opressive ideologies. What could be cozier?

Here is the longlist thus far, in no particular order. I've included as many YA books as possible, plus some adult classics. I've also gone for diversity, including as many types of dystopias (such as nuclear, environmental and so on) as possible.

Plague 99 (aka Plague), Jean Ure (1989)
Lord of the Flies, William Golding (1954)
The Farseekers: Obernewtyn Chronicles #2, Isobelle Carmody (1990
Inside Out, Maria V Snyder (2010)
The Guardians, John Christopher (1970)
The White Mountains: Tripods Trilogy #1, John Christopher (1967)
On the Beach, Nevil Shute (1967)
The Handmaid's Tale, Margaret Atwood (1985--a reread)
Mockingjay, Suzanne Collins (2010--IF I can get my hands on a copy before spring. Doubtful.)
The Midwich Cuckoos, John Wyndham (1957)
Shipbreaker, Paolo Bacigalupi (2010)
Libyrinth, Pearl North (2009)
The Stand, Stephen King (1978)
The Giver, Lois Lowry (1993)
The Silver Metal Lover, Tanith Lee (1981)
V for Vendetta, Alan Moore (1988)
We, Yevgeny Zamyatin (1920)
Hater, David Moody (2006)
Animal Farm, George Orwell (1945)
Crashed: Skinned #2, Robin Wasserman (2009)
I am Legend, Robert Neville (1954)
The Other Side of the Island, Allegra Goodman (2008)
Birthmarked, Caragh M O.Brien (2010)
Restoring Harmony, Joelle Anthony (2010)
Down to a Sunless Sea, David Graham (1981)
Genesis, Bernard Beckett (2005)
Specials: Uglies #3, Scott Westerfeld (2006)
The Dead and the Gone: Last Survivors #2, Susan Beth Pfeffer (2008)
The City of Ember, Jeanne DuPrau (2003)
Exodus, Julie Bertagna (2002)
Bones of Faerie by Janni Lee Simner (2008)
Mortal Engines, Phillip Reeve (2001)
WE, John Dickinson (2010)
Ariel, Steven R Boyett (1983)
Feed: Newsflesh #1, Mira Grant (2010)
The Sheep Look Up, John Brunner (1972)

Have I missed your favourite dystopian novel? Because I'm still taking suggestions! Leave your favourite dystopian read in the comments, and tell me why I should include it in this year's Dystopia Challenge.

The challenge commences June 1!

Saturday, May 22, 2010

In My Mailbox (30) + Happy Bloggyversary to me!

This meme is hosted by The Story Siren.

It has been one year since I first started this blog! Ah, how time flies. Not only has it been a pleasure writing posts and connecting with others, but it's also vastly improved my writing and given me a weekly focus. It's also possibly given me an exciting new career direction. It's too soon to say exactly what, but I think my chances are quite good and I may be taking a new step with my "day job". Writing-wise, particularly Lharmell-wise, there's no news. Yet. I still have hope, as these things take time. But look how far I've come in a year! From fourth-draft(ish) stage when I started this blog, to having finished book and signing with an agent. It's been such a pleasure sharing my experiences with you all.

And here's to another year! Another year of writing, and of reading the very best YA speculative fiction I can get my hands on. I can confirm that there will be another Dystopia Challenge this winter. While all you northern hemispherers are basking in sunshine/under a pall of volcano ash, I'll be spending the darkest time of the year reading some of the darker books I can get my hands on. I'm compiling the list carefully and will be taking suggestions very soon.

Now, this week's books!


Inside Out by Maria V. Snyder. High hopes, high hopes indeed! How did you find it if you've read it?

For review:

I am so excited to have received a copy of Nomansland by Lesley Hauge. A big thank you to the publicist for sending it all the way to Australia. I've started reading it and it's just excellent.

Yup, the dystopia challenge seems to be starting early this year. My review of The Gardner will be up very soon. I had an unfortunate incident with my copy, however. I, um...left it on a tram when I was only twenty pages shy of finishing. DISASTER. In my defence it was 5 am. (My interim job sucks. I make coffee at ungodly hours of the morning.) I'm going to have to do some serious begging and see if I can get an electronic copy from the publicist!

Not books:

Tickets to Coppélia!

I adore dance and I haven't seen a ballet in ages. *Prances about*

Coppélia is a magical ballet in which belief is suspended and fantasy prevails. Dr Coppelius, an eccentric toy maker, dreams of breathing life into his collection of mechanical dolls. The young and precocious Swanhilda tricks Dr Coppelius into believing his dream has come true by changing places with his most beautiful doll, Coppélia. The action kicks off at the Harvest Festival, where the appearance of Dr Coppelius and his mysterious ‘daughter’ wreak havoc on the proceedings. When village boy Franz falls for Coppélia’s charms, his feisty fiancée Swanilda exacts her revenge. Identities are mistaken and plans foiled, the dreams of old age destroyed by thoughtless youth, with Franz learning the hard way not to fall for living dolls.

The sets have been described as straight from a fairy tale and the costumes look amazing. Can't wait!

Happy Caturday everyone!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Thoughts on the Eleventh Doctor: In need of a bedside manner overhaul?

I'm speaking, of course, of Doctor Who. The new doctor, the eleventh, is played by Matt Smith.

Smith took over from David Tennant, who was voted number one Doctor of all time by readers of Doctor Who Magazine. The readers of this magazine must be on crack as we all know the number one Doctor of all time is Tom Baker. And it always will be. I only watched a handful of Tennant's episodes. The story lines did nothing for me and I thought Catherine Tate as a companion was a huge mistake. Doctor Who can be humorous and absurd at times but that pair made it a farce.

Tennant replaced Christopher Eccleston, AKA the sexiest Doctor of all time. As voted by the writers of Rhiannon Hart: Young adult books and writing. (I hear she knows her stuff when it comes to hot men. John Pertwee came in a close second. Velvet smoking jackets and Victorian era curls, what more could a girl want?)

Yes, he's a bit funny looking, his ears stick out and he's a bit on the gaunt side ... But I defy you to not go all gooey over him in this scene, the last before he regenerates:


But back to the latest Doctor, Matt Smith. He's the youngest Doctor to date, and kinda funny looking like all Doctors have to be. I've been impressed by the episodes the last few weeks. The writing has been cracker and the Weeping Angels episode (part one at least) was amazing. Creepy as. Seriously good stuff. Plus I love the companion, Amy Pond.

I settled in to watch the latest ep, "Flesh and Stone", on Sunday night. Everthing was going brilliantly, and then, towards the end, the Doctor went all wrong. He started telling people to shut up. He got angry and impatient. The Doctor's always been a bit up himself, but I've never seen him so arrogant before. At one point he says some terrible line about Amy needing to trust that he'll always tell the truth because sometimes he's actually lying. Um...? Doctor, really! We understand it's the end of the world and all, but really, it's the end of the world every week. Can we get some of your trademark sweetness back please? Absentmindedness. Quirkiness. And that good-guy gleam in your eye. It goes very well with the tweed and your little sonic spanner thingy.

What do you think of the recent Doctors? Is Matt Smith a good Doctor, or does he need a bedside manner overhaul?

Monday, May 17, 2010

Review: Monsters of Men, Patrick Ness

**Contains spoilers for books one and two**

Monsters of Men
is the final book in the thrilling Chaos Walking trilogy. "War at last" the Mayor says at the closure of book two--and war he will have. A mighty Spackle army is marching on the city on one side; the Answer is blowing things up on the other; the first ships of the settler convoy are landing; and in the middle are Todd and Viola, two teenagers of New World who want nothing but peace, and each other. Todd had no choice but to free the Mayor just moments after capturing him--a man who killed his own son and perhaps every woman in New Elizabeth. A man who is truly a monster among men. Will he manage to make a monster out of Todd too?

First of all I am distraught that such an excellent series has come to an end. It's been less than a year since I picked up The Knife of Never Letting Go and I have eagerly anticipated and devoured the subsequent two books. And now it's all over! Unfair!

There was never any doubt in my mind that Monsters of Men was going to be a brilliant book. After producing two heart-pounding, emotionally wrenching novels, Patrick Ness couldn't do anything but provide us with a conclusion that was stunning. This isn't my bias. This is a statement of fact! (If you've read books one and two you'll be nodding vigorously at this. Except if you're my dad. Dad, I'm still in shock that you couldn't finish TKONLG. Paternity test, please. We surely can't be related.)

Oh, the Mayor, the Mayor, the Mayor. Was there ever such a villain? One so evil, so twisty and clever? One with such a vile and destructive vision? Surely such a man is beyond redemption. But if war makes monsters of men, then perhaps Todd's struggle for peace can rub off on the Mayor. The main theme of Monsters of Men is redemption. A new beginning. New World has suffered several setbacks, but it's not too late to straighten things out before the new settlers arrive. But what if it's the other way round? What if the Mayor rubs off on dear, sweet Todd? It'll be a bloody effing disaster!

Monsters of Men gets a new narrator alongside Todd and Viola. A Spackle. Can you guess who it is? Yep. 1017. To his own kind he's the Return, the only survivor of the Mayor's genocide of the Spackle slaves. And the Return wants revenge on the Knife. No prizes for guessing who that is. I wasn't completely enamored of 1017 at first because he retold a lot of what we already knew, which I hate to see happen, but then Ness puts his foot down and we're back to




soon enough. Really, the pacing of Monsters of Men is absolutely breakneck. TKONLG and TAATA were both, I felt, paced like a roller-coaster: long slow build, terrifyingly fast finales and a whiplash ending. But in Monsters of Men it just doesn't stop! But back to the Spackle. To their own kind they are the Land, a species with a single voice. They are led by the Sky, who desires only the best for his people. It's their complete otherness which makes peace between humans and the Land seem impossible. The men of New World despise their Noise, but it is the very thing that unites the Land.

Often when reading a book the outcome is obvious: the characters only need to do x and y, hug, and it's all over. Ness, on the other hand, creates such complex scenarios it's difficult to second guess him--and then sends the plot shooting off in another direction with a dramatic event like a character's death and second guessing becomes impossible. An author who isn't afraid to kill off central characters could do anything. And that's what makes these books so thrilling. Ness can, and does, do the most outrageous things. It's simply terrifying.

Ness has shunned genre labels for his award-winning series. He doesn't classify it as dystopian, and he doesn't see the usefulness of such categorisation. However, many of us readers have labeled the Chaos Walking series "dystopian". But is it? After reading TKONLG I said yes, it most definitely was. Todd and Viola were two heroes escaping one man's utopia that had gone horribly wrong. It's the very definition of a dystopian novel. After reading TAATA I was so blown away that I didn't give a damn whether it was dystopian or not, I just wanted book three and I wanted it YESTERDAY. Now that I'm done with the series I can sit back and analyse at leisure. And as a series, are the Chaos Walking books dystopian? Um, probably not. Todd and Viola go so far beyond escaping or overthrowing or succumbing (the three options for heroes in this sort of fiction) to the dystopia that they find themselves in. And the world Ness has created goes so far beyond just the Mayor's dystopia, especially in book three when the Spackle are given a voice and proper characterisation.

Plus they're really long books and dystopian novels are usually kinda short. (Shut up, it's true.) But what do you think? Dystopian or not? Don't really care, just want Monsters of Men right now, you'd sell your own mother for a copy thankyouverymuch?

If you're not totally sure of the verdict, here it is in plain, Todd-like English:

Monsters of Men is EFFING AWESOME.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

In My Mailbox (29)

This meme is hosted by The Story Siren.

I was so thrilled to receive Jekel Loves Hyde by Beth Fantaskey this week! I thought I'd have to wait ages for it to be out in Australia so it was a wonderful surprise.

Also for review I received What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell. This looks like excellent historical fiction and won the National Book Award. Unfortunately the printing is terrible--the pages are wrinkled along the spine. I think this means the paper was cut against the grain. Oops.

The Crowfield Curse by Pat Walsh has such a beautiful, sinister cover. I'm looking forward to a good paranormal mystery! Has anyone read this one?

And lastly, The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson. Not a speculative fiction read, but it really grabbed me when I read the first few paragraphs, and people have been so praising of it.

Walker Books released the thrilling book trailer for Patrick Ness's Monsters of Men this week. I am reading this right now and it's so frakking good!


Happy reading!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Audio review: Wintersmith by Terry Pratchett

Thirteen-year-old trainee witch Tiffany Aching is swept up by the Dark Morris, the dance that marks the seasons' transition from summer into winter, and now the Wintersmith has fallen in love with her. If she doesn't manage to dissuade her paramour, never-ending winter will befall the land. Wintersmith features some favourite Discworld characters including Granny Weatherwax and the inimitable Death.

I adored Terry Pratchett's YA-ish Soul Music featuring Susan, Death's granddaughter. I was browsing the audio books at my library for something fun to listen to while I cleaned out my closet (an incredibly dull undertaking, and I still didn't find my purple jumper or the red one with kitties on it. Grr.) Pratchett can really write a teenage girl, and a god falling in love with a mortal is always a fascinating storyline, so I thought I'd give Wintersmith a go. Plus, witches!

Wintersmith is so much fun. Pratchett's brand of humour is often absurd and always witty. But while Pratchett's main intent is to divert and amuse, Tiffany Aching's trials and tribulations are entertaining in their own right. Being a young witch who has attracted a god's attention is a great deal for a thirteen-year-old girl to handle. Tiffany is understandably flattered and frustrated by the attention.

Wintersmith is read by Stephen Briggs, who has narrated many Pratchett audio books. He is excellent at giving each character their own distinct voice. I definitely recommend this audio book for any closet-clearing activities that you attempt in the near future. It's thoroughly diverting.

Banning the burqa and the further erosion of women's rights

Please excuse the seemingly off-topicness of this post. I have an interest in human rights issues for their own sake, but also as a passionate dystopian novel reader. In my opinion the best dystopian novels are based on something the author is genuinely fearful of, and I intend to write my own Handmaid's Tale one day. The erosion of women's rights and feminist issues in general often leave me quaking with anger at the stupidity and bigotry of politicians. This is one of those times.

On Wednesday a gunman wearing a full black burqa and sunglasses robbed a man in a Sydney carpark. Subsequently, a South Australian senator has dubbed the burqa un-Australian and called for it to be banned.

The burqa is worn by women of several Islamic societies and covers the face, hair and body with a mesh opening for the eyes. It is donned whenever a woman is in the presence of a man who is not her husband or in her immediate family; ie. whenever the she ventures out of the home.

The burqa has so far been outlawed in France and Belgium. Politicians have sited the emancipation of women and the integration of foreign nationals as the reason for the ban. But women who are denied wearing the burqa in public will be neither emancipated or integrated.

On Monday in the north-west city of Novara, Italy a Tunisian woman was fined 500 euros for wearing a burqa in public. The mayor of Novara commented, "There are still some people that refuse to understand that our community in Novara does not accept and does not want people going around wearing the burqa."

Absent in most reports of the incident is this information:

[The Tunisian woman's] husband said his wife would continue to wear the burqa as he did not want other men to see her. He said she would have to stay at home.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has said that the burqa will not be banned in Australia despite a poll saying that 88% of Herald Scum readers would be happy with the ban.

My feelings on the burqa aside, I can't help but be furious with any country who imposes such a ill-thought law--one that is supposedly* for the emancipation of Islamic women but will in fact result in their becoming imprisoned to an even greater degree. I hope the community of Novara will feel more comfortable knowing that the burqa will no longer be visible on their streets and a Tunisian woman is now a prisoner in her own home. Emancipation indeed.

*The stress being on supposedly. I sincerely doubt this is the reason.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

In My Mailbox (29)

This meme is hosted by The Story Siren.

A very spiffy looking bundle of books turned up this week!

Leviathan, Scott Westerfeld.

Beautiful Creatures, Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl. I'm interested to see what all the fuss is about with this one. If you've read it, did you like it?

Angels' Blood and Archangel's Kiss by Nalini Singh have just been released in Australia. The covers are beautiful. Much prefer them to the standard UF Tough Chick covers they have in the US.

What did you get?