Tag Archives: terry pratchett

Magical Universities 101

Worst_WitchFor a long time, the subject of magical schools in fantasy fiction was dominated by Harry Potter, and Hogwarts. While the popularity of Harry Potter was at its height, any author who dared to tap into that particular trope was likely to be accused of anything from trend-hopping to plagiarism.

At the same time, there was an ongoing (and very loud) conversational track about how unoriginal Rowling’s books were, with fans of her predecessors waving their own favourite magical school books around, either defensively (look, it was written 20 years earlier, it’s not derivative of Harry Potter!) or happily (look, all these great magical school books to check out once you’ve reread Half-Blood Prince for the third time!).

Seriously, you haven’t lived until you have reread The Worst Witch books by Jill Murphy post-Potter, and realised quite how closely Ethel Hallow, Miss Cackle and Miss Hardbroom map on to Draco Malfoy, Dumbledore and Snape… but I digress.

Works by authors like Diana Wynne Jones actually gained a new lease of life because of Pottermania – it was never this easy to access Chrestomanci books in the 90’s, I know I had to hunt for them in second hand book shops until the big first reissue of her novels in colourful, Potterish covers.

The most interesting thing about Hogwarts as a magical school (apart from the fact that it’s the biggest, baddest, most popular, most bestselling example of the trope) was the gaps in the educational system – the honking great question marks, which fanfic writers leaped on with great enthusiasm. What did wizards and witches offer as primary education? Where did they learn about subjects other than magic – surely they needed some form of mathematics, or basic english courses?

Most importantly, what were the options for further study after they graduated? We all know that Hermione wasn’t going to be content with going straight into the work force at the age of seventeen. What came next?

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A Year in TansyRR.com

The response to my Tor.com post on “Historically Authentic Sexism in Fantasy” has been pretty overwhelming. Not only have there been many, many readers over there (the comments thread is still going strong, though it has turned overnight into a discussion about gender in children’s fiction which… is not a bad thing to be talking about?) but over 2500 people have tuned in to this blog to check the post out here, since Thursday. That’s… a lot, by my standards.

So if you’re here for the first time, hi, I’m Tansy! I write books, and talk a lot.

Here are some other Gender & Pop Culture posts from this year that I’m quite proud of:

Sexing Up the Classics
Mothers & Daughters, Battle-Embroidery & Bears
Babies & Bicycles: Watching Call the Midwife
Hack, Slash, Squish: Gender and Sex In Season One of Game of Thrones
What Geek Girls Wear (is none of your business)

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Pratchett’s Women IX: The Truth Has Got Her Boots On

The Truth, by Terry Pratchett

I almost wasn’t going to write a Pratchett’s Women post for The Truth. Like Night Watch, it’s a marvellous book, one of Pratchett’s absolute best, and happens to be almost entirely about male characters and their issues. Considering that gender imbalance is no longer the case for every Discworld novel or even almost every Discworld novel, (as could be argued that it was the case in his earlier days) it feels churlish to criticise it on those grounds. It is a love letter to moveable type, and a fun take on the history of the printing press, with the usual layers of humour and cleverness, and a rich cast of characters, so I am going to forgive it for being a mostly male cast. This was actually the book that brought me back to the Discworld after a period of what felt at the time to be lacklustre releases but may well have been my own loss of interest in the series, and its many repetitions.

But I wasn’t alone in that. The Truth was a huge success for Pratchett, and one of the books which really helped to cement his ‘legend’ status. While he had previously written other novels with a similar formula (standalone male character faces the Discworld’s version of a particular historical industry and chaos ensues) there was something about this book, and its maturity, and perhaps the solid link to the history it was replicating that made it popular among non-fantasy readers. In fact, apart from the vampire, Death and the other side effects of a Discworld setting, this is largely not a story about magic gone wrong and trying to kill you, which sets it apart from almost every previous Discworld novel. This is instead a story of PEOPLE gone wrong and trying to kill you, and how a new industry can be every bit as terrifying and confrontational and dangerous as anything from the Dungeon Dimensions.

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Pratchett’s Women VIII: Has Scythe, Will Teach School

Many spoilers abound for the plots & endings of Soul Music, Hogfather, Thief of Time by Terry Pratchett

Rereading all three of the Susan Sto Helit (or Susan Death) books was something I had been greatly looking forward to. I’ve always enjoyed Susan as a character even when I didn’t especially love the books she featured in – Soul Music, for instance, was never a favourite of mine, though the animated version of it is dear to my heart (funnily enough it DOES work better with a soundtrack of relevant examples of the music that the story is about), Hogfather is one I’ve often found bewildering with moments of occasional joy, and I never remember anything about Thief of Time at all.

This time around, I enjoyed all three rather better than I had in the past, but in reading them specifically for this blogging series, I couldn’t help noticing that, well. Considering what a popular and beloved character Susan is, it’s interesting what a small space she takes up in each of the books.

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Galactic Suburbia Episode 57 Show Notes

You can check out the new Galactic Suburbia episode on our website or at iTunes. You’ll notice we were really subtle about the Hugo nomination, because we didn’t want to be tacky.

In which this Hugo nominated podcast is Hugo nominated and discusses the Hugo nominations while being Hugo nominated. Also, the internet is full of things. Some of those things discuss gender, feminism and equality, some have wide ranging implications for the future of SF awards, and some of them are nominated for Hugos.


Hunger Games Hunger Games Hunger Games

Build up to make a hit
The reviews are in:
Topless Robot
Our Alisa

But in the real world, the character Katniss Everdeen faces an even greater challenge: Proving that pop culture will embrace a heroine capable of holding her own with the big boys.
It’s a battle fought on two fronts. First, The Hunger Games must bring in the kind of box office numbers that prove to Hollywood that a film led by a young female heroine who’s not cast as a sex symbol can bring in audiences. And second, for Katniss to truly triumph, she must embody the type of female heroine — smart, tough, compassionate — that has been sorely lacking in the popular culture landscape for so very long.

The Clarke Award Shortlist:
Christopher Priest’s original post
Cat Valente responds:
“Because let’s be honest, I couldn’t get away with it. If I posted that shit? I’d never hear the end of what a bitch I am.”
And further she responds

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5 Books that Changed My Life

1. The First Man of Rome (and sequels) by Colleen McCullough
A gift from my Aunt and Uncle, a massive hardback that had some very adult scenes considering I was probably in my early teens. Inspired a lifelong obsession with Rome, the women in Roman history, and Julius Caesar. Certainly led to me choosing Ancient Civilisations at college, which led to my eventual PhD in Classics. All your fault, McCullough!

2. Shapechangers, by Jennifer Roberson
The first fantasy series I read because I was actively looking for fantasy fiction, rather than because I needed to read David Eddings so I could join in the conversation with my friends at school. I still remember being so inspired by this series that, after everyone had gone home after my fourteenth birthday party, I lay down on a pile of mattresses and started writing my own first real novel.

3. The Madigal, by Beverley McDonald
A paperback found in the book section of Myer, the first time I realised that Australians could write fantasy and get it published by an Australian publisher (I think Pan Macmillan)? Heady, brain-altering revelations, in a pre-Voyager world. I started thinking that my secret dream might be closer than I thought.

4. The Colour of Magic, by Terry Pratchett
Just as I was getting completely overwhelmed by a glut of fantasy reading, and starting to suspect that my favourite genre wasn’t quite as shiny as I thought, here came Mr Pratchett to blow my mind with the idea that you could write fantasy that was funny and subversive and commented on the genre itself. The next fantasy novel I would start writing was one which turned the cliches of my earlier manuscripts on their head, and also the one that would get me published for the first time…

5. Up the Duff, by Kaz Cooke
The older I get, the less likely I am to find books that have an enormous, life-changing effect on me, but this was the one that made me feel sane about being pregnant, and at the time that felt like a pretty major achievement.

Has one book (or many) ever changed your life significantly?

Pratchett’s Women VII: A Wonderful Personality and Good Hair

Agnes, fan art by Vic Hill

MASKERADE and CARPE JUGULUM, by Terry Pratchett

Even though Maskerade made me cranky that Magrat’s marriage had written her out of the narrative of the Lancre witches, it’s hard not to be delighted about Agnes “Perdita” Nitt. She’s a fantastic character, one of Pratchett’s most interesting and nuanced portrayals of a younger female protagonist.

Agnes is fat. And while Pratchett’s comic touch is very much in evidence, he brings such empathy to his depiction of Agnes that, even when fat jokes are being made, she herself is never treated like a joke. This is an incredibly rare thing in fantasy fiction, where fat women are rarely seen (unless they are villains or jolly service industry professionals) and young fat women are most definitely an endangered species.

There are so many things to like about Agnes and the portrayal of her character this book. For a start, we don’t get the cliched emphasis on how she eats, or an ingrained narrative assumption that she is the size she is purely through over-eating or laziness. I also liked very much that while the reader is often confronted with the quite awful social ramifications of being a fat girl, it’s never entirely clear cut how much the various perceptions surrounding Agnes reflect reality.

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Galactic Suburbia Episode 50 is up!!

Hard to believe we’ve made it to 50 episodes. Of course the alternative is that we stop talking, and that would never happen! Sadly we didn’t eat cake, but we did namecheck Joanna Russ at least once, so that’s almost the same thing, right?

You may eat cake while you listen to it, if you want to. If you do, you know we want to hear about it!

Check out EPISODE 50 now!

In which we leap happily back and forth (with occasional ranting) over those fine lines between feminist critique and anti-female assumptions, plus share our bumper collection of holiday culture consumed. Happy New Year from the Galactic Suburbia crew!


Hugo nominations open and we’re gonna have our say

Aqueduct Press to publish Brit Mandelo’s thesis, “WE WUZ PUSHED: On Joanna Russ & Radical Truth-telling”!

Islamic superhero comic turned animated series The 99 to screen in Australia (ABC3)

Amanda Palmer’s wedding post

Great piece on how the very idea of ‘Mary Sue’ is sexist, ties into this episode’s theme about the criticism of female characters.

The wealth of powerful girl heroes in today’s YA


Alisa: Shades of Milk and Honey, Mary Robinette Kowal; The Freedom Maze, Delia Sherman (with cover art by Kathleen Jennings); The Vampire Diaries; Primeval; The 99; Planetary; Homeland and Boxcutters.

Alex: The Double Life of Alice Sheldon, Julie Phillips; Changing Planes, Ursula le Guin; Perchance to Dream, Lisa Mantchev; Twilight Robbery, Frances Hardinge; Chronicles of Chrestomanci vol 1, Diana Wynne Jones. DOA and Going Postal

Tansy: The Freedom Maze, Delia Sherman; Beauty Queens, Libba Bray; Snuff by Terry Pratchett, Going Postal (TV) – Batman (animated) & My First Batman Book by David Katz, David Tennant & Catherine Tate in Much Ado About Nothing (DIGITAL THEATRE DOWNLOAD AWW YEAH).

Please send feedback to us at galacticsuburbia@gmail.com, follow us on Twitter at @galacticsuburbs, check out Galactic Suburbia Podcast on Facebook and don’t forget to leave a review on iTunes if you love us!

Pratchett’s Women VI: Pole Dancers, Goblin Girls, and the Family Man

Thud, by Terry Pratchett
Snuff, by Terry Pratchett
(spoilers for both abound below)

I know I read Thud when it came out. But this was the early days of motherhood when my memory retention was out the window, and the days of re-reading were gone forever… I know I read this book, but I’m pretty sure it was a speedy, uninvolved reading. It had to be. Because there is no other excuse for me not realising before now that this is SO GOOD.

For a start, this is the best Angua novel since Feet of Clay – and I think it might actually be better, in the attention given to her character. I like that she and Carrot have been allowed now to settle into a comfortable relationship without any stupid plotty dramas being thrown in to artificially shake it up. I also like that her main plotline for this novel revolves around a relationship/wary dislike/friendship with another female character.

But Sybil also gets to shine in this book, despite her new motherhood which can often cause a female character to disappear into the background, or lose all characteristics apart from those to do with her child (as, for instance, happens to Magrat in the Witches novels).

Then there’s Cheery, who doesn’t get a subplot or even a subplotlet to herself, but remains awesome, cute and gets to play with the other girls.

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Pratchett’s Women V: The Seamstress Redemption

Night Watch, by Terry Pratchett (audiobook read by Stephen Briggs)

Deriders of the Bechdel Test tend to gravitate immediately towards what I like to call The Shawshank Redemption Clause. They cite as many works as possible which are completely awesome, and have no ladies in them, as evidence that the test is stupid.

Me, I see that as evidence that their faces are stupid. And that they have entirely missed the point of the Bechdel Test.

No one would ever deny that it’s possible to create a masterpiece that has no women in it. However… there are few true masterpieces in the world, and there are very few stories in the world that are so VERY good that having more than one interesting female character in them is something that wouldn’t improve the narrative.

I had this in my head upon revisiting Night Watch, because I remembered very clearly that a) this is primarily a story about men and b) this is one of my favourite Discworld novels of all time. And I say this as someone who is meh about Small Gods and Reaper Man, two of the most celebrated of the Discworld novels, precisely because the overwhelming focus on male characters and point of view left those books, in my opinion, lacking something.

Mostly, I was scared that my focus on female characters would spoil this book. It’s not like it would be the first thing that my developing feminist perspective has utterly ruined for me.

But it turned out okay. Because (spoilers, sweetie!) Night Watch is still awesome. It’s mostly a male narrative, AND it’s awesome.

(But, as it happens, it passes the Bechdel Test. Just.)

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