Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Pleasures of Reading, Viewing, and Listening, pt.4: Tansy Rayner Roberts

The Pleasures of 2014
by Tansy Rayner Roberts

This has been an odd sort of year for me - I’ve been reading more than ever before, but not my usual staple of SF and fantasy novels at all. I spent the first half of the year immersed in historical romance novels and then switched that compulsion over to fanfic and superhero comics, and I think it’s been good for me, for once, to spend most of my reading energy on genres and media which I don’t actually write. On the other hand, the list of SF & fantasy books I wish I’d read this year is pretty substantial. I might have to get on that over the summer. In other media I’ve been fixated on Musketeer movies and space opera, much of which I have reviewed for my blog.

So here is some of what I’ve enjoyed this year:


The Guardians of the Galaxy movie was fun and space opera-y, but while I liked the movie a lot, it’s the soundtrack that has stuck with me, and it’s become my go-to car music, not least because my daughters now know all the words to the Pina Colada song. I’m not sorry.

Night Terrace is a fantastic SF comedy audio series made by dear friends of mine in Melbourne. It is Doctor Who-like show might work if the brilliant, competent and world-weary central character was female, and it’s full of all kinds of jokes and commentary about everything from Australian parochialism to intersectional feminism. It’s smart, sharp and it stars Susan from Neighbours.

In podcasts, my big discovery this year is Rachel and Miles X-Plain the X-Men, in which a husband and wife team run through the 40+ year convoluted history of the X-Men in comics and other media in a conversational, knowledgeable and very funny style. If you’ve ever wondered how many long-lost Summers brothers there are, or why Wolverine is in everything, or why comics fans of a certain age have such ferocious opinions about Kitty Pryde, this is the podcast for you.


Every now and then, our family finds a show that the adults genuinely love as much as the children (two girls, 5 and nearly-10) and we watch the hell out of it until we can’t squeeze it dry any longer. Past examples of this have been Horrible Histories, Yonderland and Futurama.

This year, it’s Phineas and Ferb. We’ve crunched through nearly three seasons in as many months,
and we love the emphasis on science and adventure, the genuine affection that the characters have for each other (even when they are working as antagonists) and the fannish callbacks. It’s adorable.

In grown-up viewing, we’ve discovered The West Wing for the first time (don’t know if you’ve ever heard of it) and are mildly obsessed. In superhero shows, I gave Agents of SHIELD another chance after bouncing off it last year, and was really impressed with the growth of the show. Season 2 is pretty brilliant so far, with an expanded ensemble that allows for greater diversity and some interesting variety in gender roles.

In Musketeer media (I’ve consumed a LOT of it this year), the Richard Lester films from 1973 and 1974 are so much more brilliant and funny than I expected/remembered, and are the closest thing we’ve ever come to a close adaptation of the original book (which I have basically read five times or more this year for work purposes). But the new BBC series The Musketeers is my TV pick of the year and maybe the decade. Words cannot express how much I love this show and the interpretations of the classic characters (though I did make an attempt in three blog essays starting with Looks Good in Leather). Needless to say: the men are pretty, the women are clever and competent, and the whole show puts the swash in swashbuckle. 


My Regency/historical romance obsession started with Courtney Milan, whose novels are mostly early Victorian, and are extraordinary for their wit, humour and feminism. It might be a fantasy ideal to have such interesting and forward-thinking women (and especially men) alive during this era but I don’t care, I’ll take it, and I will read everything she writes for the rest of my life.
Her feminist heroes are so dreamy, I can’t even tell you.

Particularly recommended: The Duchess War and its sequels, which feature among other things, a unionist Duke, a cross-dressing female chess champion, a female scientist hiding her achievements, a plebeian politician who can’t afford to fall in love with a woman who deliberately flouts society with her fashion sense to avoid marriage, and a suffragette fighting the patriarchy with her own newspaper.

I also adore the work of Sarah Maclean, who writes the best titles in the business (Nine Rules To Break While Romancing a Rake, for example) and like Milan knows that sexy shenanigans are best served with a whole lot of wit and clever commentary. For something a bit different in the genre I can highly recommend Jeannie Lin’s The Lotus Palace, which is a rare example of Chinese historical romance. I found this book absolutely captivating despite going in with absolutely no knowledge of the cultural or historical background.

Elsewhere, my comics of the year are: Ms Marvel (my 9 year old’s new favourite superhero), a fun and hugely popular legacy superhero comic featuring a Muslim American protagonist; Harley Quinn, as written by Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti, a darkly humorous take on a character who I love but has been badly served by artist and writer choices previously; Hawkeye again and still, but particularly the recent mini-series of Hawkeye vs Deadpool which is funny and shows that the David Aja interpretation of the characters is now being picked up and run with by other artists.

I have fallen down on blog reading this year but if social justice commentary is your thing, then you should definitely have No Award bookmarked.[] They’ve done some great work this year from link lists and reviews to full essays about issues to do with gender and especially race in Australian society and culture.

To prove that I have at least kept half a finger on the pulse of SF and fantasy this year, I do want to give a shout out to Secret Lives of Books, the new Rosaleen Love short story collection as part of the ongoing Twelve Planets series from Twelfth Planet Press. Love is such a beautiful, sarcastic writer and these four stories are fresh, exhilarating and of course feminist. 

Tansy Rayner Roberts [] is an Australian fantasy author, blogger and podcaster. She won the 2013 Hugo for Best Fan Writer. Tansy has a PhD in Classics, which she drew upon for her short story collection Love and Romanpunk. Her latest fiction project is Musketeer Space, [] a gender-swapped space opera retelling of The Three Musketeers, published weekly as a web serial. Come and find her on Twitter at @tansyrr

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