Review: Strong Female Protagonist, Brennan Lee Mulligan and Molly Ostertag

Who here follows webcomics on the regular? I need to know so you can tell me your secret, because I am always poking my head into webcomics and then forgetting to keep track of them. Even ones I really love, like Check Please! I just checked Check Please right now and guess the hell what, she’s updated since I last checked in, and I didn’t even know about it. Shit.

(WordPress’s SEO analysis feature right now is like WHY ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT SOME OTHER COMIC IN THIS POST ABOUT STRONG FEMALE PROTAGONIST yes yes good point WordPress, I’ll get down to business so you can relax)

Strong Female Protagonist

Strong Female Protagonist is an ongoing webcomic the first volume of which my library recently acquired (yay!). It’s about a superpowered girl named Allison Green who has given up on the superhero life and wants to be a normal girl attending a normal college (well, normalish — she goes to the New School). In the aftermath of her life as a superhero, she’s begun to question the very concept of superheroes, whether her work made the world better in the old days, and whether she has the capacity to make the world better now.

(The full run of Strong Female Protagonist is still available for free online, or you can buy the trade paperback.)

The grounding point for Strong Female Protagonist1 is its belief in the fundamental decency of human beings, which is something I need right now, even if at times it seems hopelessly naive. It’s been hard this year to keep looking for the helpers, and hard to keep being a helper or even believing that there continues to be value in being a helper. Allison faces these same fears, and she continues, throughout the book, to try to find the good in people and to be the best version of herself.

Also, there are jokes! And the comics creator have done something very sweet, which is to retain the hover-over text from the webcomic in tiny captions at the bottom of each page. When Nimona became a book, some of the little extra-features that came from being a webcomic were lost, and I was sad about that. Yay for Strong Female Protagonist for retaining them.

But seriously, please tell me how to keep on top of webcomics. Help me, Obi-Wan Ke-Internet. You’re my only hope.

 

  1. “Jenny are you saying the book title a lot in the hopes that WordPress will forgive you for not saying it at all in the first paragraph?” I dunno maybe.

Reading the End Bookcast, Ep.85: Problematic Authors and Josephine Tey’s Miss Pym Disposes

Happy Wednesday! It’s podcast time! This week, me and Whiskey Jenny chatted about how we engage with books and authors that are problematic(tm), then reviewed a problematic(tm) book from the golden age of mystery. Have a listen using the embedded player below or download the file directly here to take with you on the go.

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Here are the time signatures, if you want to skip around:

1:38 – What We’re Reading
6:06 – Serial Box Book Club
17:59 – Problematic Faves and How to Engage with Them
31:01 – Miss Pym Disposes, Josephine Tey
44:40 – What We’re Reading Next Time!

Here’s where you can get Old Man’s War as a free ebook! Act now to avoid disappointment (the offer ends at the end of June)!

Get at me on Twitter, email the podcast, and friend me (Gin Jenny) and Whiskey Jenny on Goodreads, as well as Ashley. Or if you wish, you can find us on iTunes (and if you enjoy the podcast, give us a good rating! We appreciate it very very much).

Credits
Producer: Captain Hammer
Photo credit: The Illustrious Annalee
Theme song by: Jessie Barbour

Review: Spoonbenders, Daryl Gregory

Note: I received a copy of Spoonbenders from the publisher for review consideration.

Spoonbenders

Frabjous day! Daryl Gregory — one of my favorite new(ish) SF authors — has a new book out! Spoonbenders follows the adventures of the Telemachuses, who long ago achieved fame and fortune as the Amazing Telemachus Family, performing feats of telepathy, clairvoyance, and telekinesis for secret CIA projects and live television audiences. But that is all twenty years in the past, and matriach Maureen Telemachus is long dead. Then Matty, the only son of human lie detector Irene Telemachus, discovers suddenly that he can astral project.

The above summary is roughly how the book was advertised, and it is a correct description of events. BUT, the thing that it does not convey is that Spoonbenders is one of my favorite type of books, wherein an array of disparate plotlines culminate in one massive, climactic Event where all hell breaks loose yet somehow still manages to resolve every plotline. In the case of Spoonbenders, that event is Zap Day, 4 September 1995, the date on which the clairvoyant Buddy Telemachus stops being able to his own — or anyone else’s — future.

I tell you this because Spoonbenders is slow to start, and I want you to stick with it. In the beginning, it prominently features the con-happy male members of the Telemachus family. Patriarch Teddy shops for ladies to pick up at the grocery store; eldest son (and sporadic telekinetic) Frankie plans a theft that will allow him to pay off his debt to a local mobster; and fourteen-year-old Matty discovers his new powers while lusting after his older step-cousin, Mary Alice. Yawn.

As the book goes on, though, we spend more time with Irene, whom I adore, and with Buddy, who is constantly trying to work around the bits of future he’s foreseen to produce the best possible outcomes for the people he loves. Daryl Gregory has a knack for teasing out the small, mundane implications of his wild premises, and he gets at some genuinely fun (and sad, and weird) ideas with Irene and Buddy’s powers.

Plus, Zap Day makes for a terrific climax: all the pieces click perfectly into place, and we get to see each of the family members at their strange, unselfish best.

There’s a very minor subplot that bugged me. (Spoilers.) In a flashback, Buddy goes to a prostitute called Cerise. The book uses she pronouns for her and casually makes reference to her cock — which I thought was terrific as far as it goes. Later on, though, Buddy finds this same person, who now goes by Charles and works as a waiter, and for whom the book now uses he pronouns. Again, fine, gender can be fluid, etc., etc. But Charlie says, nervously, “I’m not in that line of work anymore,” and I dunno. It felt like the book had set up Cerise as trans to begin with, in this refreshingly unfussy way, only to align her transness with her career as a sex worker. I wasn’t wild about it. I’d love to hear other folks’ opinions.

Apart from that and the slow start, I enjoyed Spoonbenders a lot. It’s Martin Millar meets Sylvia Browne meets American Shameless, and I’m about it.

 

Justice for Kenny: A Links Round-Up

Okay, I don’t actually have a link about Kenny, my favorite contestant on this season of The Bachelorette, but I will tell you that there is some racist shit going down on this season, and it is not fun to watch, it’s upsetting. ABC is a tire fire. What else is new.

Roxane Gay’s series “World of Wakanda” was canceled — as usual, because Marvel calculates sales in the stupidest way possible and doesn’t give its new series and new authors the support they need and enough time to find their audience. Swapna Krishna discusses this nonsense.

I still haven’t watched Handmaid’s Tale and I don’t plan to because I can’t face it, but I can’t stop linking to Angelica Jade Bastien’s work so HERE: Have her close-read of the racial politics (and erasure of people of color) of The Handmaid’s Tale.

Joss Whedon’s proposed Wonder Woman script got released online and it is, uh, not great, Bob. Here is a Twitter thread for your enjoyment. Here is another one. What the ffffff.1

I don’t know if y’all know about my intense love of good celebrity profiles, but here’s a Vogue profile of Zendaya that made me DAMMIT sort of want to see new Spiderman.

This is a story about a raccoon.

Sonia Soraiya watched that Alex Jones interview so you don’t have to.

Tor.com’s free ebook for the month of June is John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War, which was on the list of SF recs I got from Renay! Get your copy today if you sign up for their newsletter!

Guess who has a new book out in October! It’s John Green! I am sure the book will be good, but I also don’t want to read all the Hot Takes about fanfiction by people who think John Green invented it.

Have a great weekend, friends. I’ll see you back here on Monday.

  1. Do I feel sorry for Joss Whedon for having his unedited work posted publicly and viciously picked over? Like, kind of? But also, he’s a crazy successful film person who talks constantly about being a feminist but whose feminism appears not to have evolved since the 90s even though lots of things have been written and said and done since then. So my answer is that I’d feel sorrier for him getting dragged over his portrayal of ladies if he’d portray ladies better.

My friend Cicero

I read a biography of Cicero and it has caused me to be a huge nerd. You can leave now if you don’t want to see me at my absolute nerdiest.

My first-ever teacher of Latin, in middle school, would stand at the front of the class and make incomprehensible remarks like “If you just remember amo amas amat amamus amatis amant, you will be all right” and “Here I have a postcard from my friend Cicero,” which it turned out was not an alive human but a very long-dead Roman of whom my Latin teacher was a great admirer. As a serious-minded eleven-year-old, I found this teacher maddeningly obstructive to my goal of learning Latin, and if memory serves, we didn’t even have textbooks.

That can’t be right, I must be remembering that wrong. Who would teach Latin without textbooks? Except if we had textbooks, I’d have taught my own damn self Latin, proof of which I now offer you in the form of my second middle-school Latin teacher. She had a weird and tragic backstory that she told in alarming detail to my older sister’s Latin class but never (as far as I can recall) revealed any shred of to my Latin class. I found out later (because she gossiped to students in her class at the other middle school) that she hated my class. I suspect this was my fault. I thought I was minimum 12x smarter than her, taught myself Latin out of the book while studiously ignoring her, and then let the four other people in the class copy my translations and cheat off my paper during tests any time they wanted.

And y’all, look, I know that was not great. I know I was a smart-ass twelve-year-old who made her teacher’s life hard and needed to be taken down a peg, but you have to understand that this is a story of love at first sight. From the first moment I understood how conjugations worked, I have been in love with Latin. Latin is the easiest and most joyful subject I have ever studied.1 No wonder everyone wanted it for their lingua franca, it is the motherfucking best language in the whole world. It’s so sensible and elegant and great. Shit.

In part this is because Latin makes heavy use of what we call inflection, which is a grammar thing that means the form of the word changes based on its grammatical function. It means that word order kind of doesn’t matter! Or rather, it means that you can use word order in fun, inventive ways. Especially if you are Cicero.

Anyway, then I went to high school and it turned out that my high school Latin teacher was put on this earth for the express purpose of teaching Latin, insofar as she was (is! to this day!) a Latin-teaching genius who if there were a medal for Worldwide Best Ever Latin Teacher would probs win that medal every year and all the other Latin teachers would get sulky and vote to stop awarding the Best Ever Latin Teacher award because it’s not promoting a collegial atmosphere (but actually it would just be sour grapes because they never got to win).

In Latin 3, when I was a sophomore, we got to read my guy Cicero, the subject of Anthony Everitt’s biography that I just finished reading. The biography was pretty good in terms of the events of Cicero’s life, but it’s weird to read a book about Cicero that doesn’t spend hardly any time at all talking about his prose. Like shouldn’t Cicero’s prose be getting more compliments? The man was a goddamn genius of word-writing. And you do really have to describe it, because his brilliance in large part depends on Latin’s flexibility and therefore doesn’t translate. Like here is a sentence (translated by me; I apologize to everyone for mistakes, I haven’t taken Latin in years) from his oration against the criminal Catiline, who was doing treason.

The Latin:

quam diu quisquam erit qui te defendere audeat, vives, et vives ita ut nunc vivis, multis meis et firmis praesidiis obsessus ne commovere te contra rem publicam possis. multorum te etiam oculi et aures non sentientem, sicut adhuc fecerunt, speculabuntur atque custodient.

In English:

As long as there is anyone whatsoever who dares to defend you, you live, and you live just as you are living now, blockaded by my many and trusty guards, so that you will not be able to agitate against the republic. The eyes and ears of many people will watch and guard against your unknowing self, exactly as they have done up to now.

Granted that I am not a professional translator. But like, there’s so much stuff in the Latin that doesn’t come through in this description because it can’t, because English doesn’t do those things. The translation doesn’t get at the punch of that vives . . . vives . . . vivis repetition, you live, you live, you live, the way it emphasizes that the traitor Catiline lives lives lives, at the mercy of the Senate. Or take this phrase:

multorum te etiam oculi et aures non sentientem

I translated “multorum . . . oculi et aures” as “the eyes and ears of many people,” which is exactly correct, but which loses this thing Cicero does where “multorum” and “oculi et aures” actually surround the word “te” (you). It is so good! The order of the words mimics the way Catiline is living his life — surrounded by watchful enemies!

Or take “non sentientem” (unknowing). That is an adjective phrase that goes with “te” (you) but it’s tricky to translate cleanly, because it also carries the implication of what Catiline doesn’t know (that the eyes and ears of many people are watching him). One choice is to make it into a separate clause along the lines of “although you do not know it,” which is less literal but gets in the slight sneeriness. I kept it as an adjective. Regardless of what you do, it never sounds as good as the original. Sob.

Okay, that’s it. I’m done talking about Latin. Cicero was a motherfucking genius. I will now submit to being stuffed in a locker. I acknowledge that I deserve it.

  1. I am putting this in a footnote because people who didn’t study Latin won’t get it, and people who did study Latin will want to straight-up murder me: I enjoy doing case and reason exercises. I’d have done double the assigned amount.

The Chillest Wilkie Collins Readalong Ever

This is a day late because I will not abide by putting out a tardy podcast!1 But the beautiful and brilliant Alice of Reading Rambo is hosting an excellent A+ readalong in which we all will learn all the facts of Wilkie Collins’s life. And I am doing the thing! Stay tuned for WILKIE COLLINS FACTS every Wednesday/Thursday through mid-July.

1. Where are you located!
Louisiana! Hurricane season has begun, which I’m trying not to think about. Meanwhile we are in the midst of summer weather, which is sunny mornings and thunderstorm afternoons, i.e., the best weather if you are a curmudgeon who wants to stay in every night.

2. What do you know about Wilkie Collins already?
He’s the secretly-better version of Charles Dickens. Maybe he and Dickens had a fight one time? Or am I just thinking of Hans Christian Anderson? Anyway, some kind of relationship with Dickens. Also, I want to say, opium? He was addicted to a drug and I think it was opium.

3. What have you read of his?
The Moonstone, which my most brilliant and intimidating friend gave me for my thirteenth birthday and I was like “well this doesn’t look very exciting” but then I LOVED it. And The Woman in White, which is kind of the exact opposite of The Moonstone in that it starts really strong but honestly kind of peters out towards the end, and The Moonstone follows an opposite trajectory to that and consequently is my favorite because I love good endings.

4. How much do you love the cover of this book?
I don’t think anyone possibly could love the cover of the book as much as Alice.

  1. The podcast Statler and Waldorf are up in their balcony yelling about lies right now and THEY ARE RIGHT.

Reading the End Bookcast, Ep. 84: A Conversation with Zan Romanoff

What a damn Wednesday we are having (said Jenny every podcast Wednesday until the world ended). If you need a break from World Events, of which there are just way too many frankly, we’ve got an especially excellent podcast for you today. We welcomed Zan Romanoff, author of the new YA novel Grace and the Fever, to the podcast, and talked to her about fandom, teenage girls, and how Christopher Nolan is trolling her personally. We had minor technical difficulties when recording, so occasionally you’ll hear a small echo or tiny delay — apologies! My fault! Have a listen using the embedded player below or download the file directly here to take with you on the go.

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For the spoiler-shy, I am happy to report that we do not spoil Grace and the Fever, which is about a girl who’s obsessed with boy band Fever Dream, and a conspiracy theorist that two of the band members are in luuuuuurv; and then she meets! one of! the band members! It is fantastic, and you can listen to this podcast without fear that you will be spoiled.

Here is Trash Mouse Louis at an Arby’s (in his socks, reports Zan). And here, for those unfamiliar with One Direction, is Zan’s extensive explainer of the One Direction phenomenon, over at One Week One Band.

You can find Zan on Twitter at @zanopticon, and the book, Grace and the Fever, is out now from Random Penguin!

Get at me on Twitter, email the podcast, and friend me (Gin Jenny) and Whiskey Jenny on Goodreads, as well as Ashley. Or if you wish, you can find us on iTunes (and if you enjoy the podcast, give us a good rating! We appreciate it very very much).

Credits
Producer: Captain Hammer
Photo credit: The Illustrious Annalee
Theme song by: Jessie Barbour

Review: Six Wakes, Mur Lafferty

What a genuinely great, fun book. Six Wakes was one of my most anticipated books for spring, and with good reason! In this future, humans have perfected cloning: with regular backups (called mindmaps) and a fresh computer, a clone can die as many times as it likes and wake up again in a brand new body. If you haven’t backed up your mind lately with a new mindmap, and you die, your clone will be missing some time.

Space janitor and chef Maria Elena wakes up in a new clone body to find that her last body is dead. The five other crew members aboard the generation ship Dormire are in the same situation. Their older bodies have clearly been in space for more than two decades, but they now can’t remember anything later than boarding the ship. Unable to trust anyone — even themselves — they have to get the ship’s AI back online and figure out how they got to this state, or the ship (and its thousands of sleeping colonists) is doomed.

Six Wakes

Despite (because of?) the high concept of Six Wakes, I was all in the way in from the jump. A manor house murder mystery is my favorite type of murder mystery, and Six Wakes is a manor house murder mystery in space. To make things even more fun, we soon learn that each of the six crew members is a criminal, undertaking this difficult journey with the promise that their records will be wiped clean at the other end. They are to be kept under control by the AI, who has ultimate command of the ship — but the AI is, at the time of their waking, offline and malfunctioning. Interstitial flashback chapters tell each of their stories, both how they came to commit their crimes and how they came to board this ship. Secrets abound, and it’s an absolute treat to watch the many pieces of the puzzle slowly come together.

The further you get into the book, the more Lafferty reveals about the history and mechanics of cloning, details that become more and more important as we gain more clues into what happened. I don’t want to spoil too much about the book — it’s fun learning as you go along! — but suffice it to say that the world has had a difficult time of it reaching the current legal and social detente between humans and clones.

If you’re a mystery person considering dipping a toe into SF, or an SF person considering dipping a toe into mystery, or an omnivore looking for something fun and meaty (a la, let’s say, a Lexicon or a The Rook), Six Wakes is your guy.

Research Topics for the Weekend: A Links Round-Up

Happy Friday! There are no more good weeks in our barren world; there are only weeks where the world falls apart. Eat cheese and chocolate accordingly, and plan to call your senators a whole lot next week.

The always-marvelous Angelica Jade Bastien unpacks the debate about black American and British actors.

This isn’t new, but I hadn’t seen it before: An interactive self-care guide that is legit pretty great.

If you’ve read The Thief and The Queen of Attolia, may I direct your attention to this Tor.com appreciation of Eugenides? It contains significant spoilers for two eminently spoilable books, so don’t click if you haven’t read them.

Dude movie stars are getting too many muscles, says Vulture. I….do not disagree with this. Chris Evans’s arms in Civil War are pretty great tho.

This excerpt from the new book Hearththrobs is pretty fucking great. The goal of making me want to read Hearthrobs is achieved thereby.

Wesley Morris writes about Bill Maher with the perfect degree of contempt and world-weariness. Plus a hell of a kicker.

This Buzzfeed article on Trump-inspired rhetoric in schools made me really sad. Also squares with some stuff I’ve heard from teacher friends.

Since we’re interviewing Zan Romanoff for next week’s podcast, I am in the midst of a desultory deep dive into One Direction history. Here’s her explainer on the group.

Some thoughts on sex work and its decriminalization (a topic about which I am soon going to educate myself more thoroughly).

One time I asked my dear, good friend Julia to teach me how to be a Wikipedia editor, and she was all gung-ho for it. She was like “Okay, first of all, pick a username that doesn’t indicate in any way that you might be a woman, and also don’t let it be connected to any other username you’ve ever used for anything anywhere on the internet, no matter how long ago,” and I was like “ha ha never mind, this sounds awful.” I felt bad for disappointing her, but on the other hand, this article.

Have a wonderful weekend, my darlings! I will be reading up on One Direction, South African history, and the decriminalization of sex work.

Review: The Watchmaker of Filigree Street, Natasha Pulley

My concerns going into The Watchmaker of Filigree Street were, one, that it would be too twee, and two, that I didn’t care much about solving a mysterious bombing at Victorian Scotland Yard by Irish freedom fighters. Happily for my peace of mind, though it starts off seeming like a rather twee mystery about a bombing at Victorian Scotland yard by Irish freedom fighters, that really isn’t what the book is at all.

Watchmaker of Filigree Street

Our hero, Thaniel Steepleton, comes home from a difficult day at the telegraph office (bomb threat, something something) to find that his flat has been broken into, the dishes carefully washed, and an elegant and expensive gold watch left on his pillow. When the watch later saves his life from an Irish terrorist bombing, he goes in search of the watchmaker, a lonely and courteous Japanese man called Keita Mori.

“But Jenny that sounds like it is about solving a bombing!” I know, I know. My primary complaint about the book is that what it is about is much more interesting (to me) and fun (for me) than a bombing mystery, but it’s set up in such a way that it’s clearly meant as a surprise for the reader. So even though I don’t care about spoilers, I thought you might. If you ask me in the comments, I’ll tell you what the thing is.

Without spoiling anything, I’ll just say that the bulk of the book is dedicated to Thaniel and the other characters figuring out what Keita Mori’s whole deal is, and then deciding how they feel about it. Thaniel is fairly sanguine; his new friend Grace, a bluestocking who must inconveniently get herself married pronto, does not care for it. I, the reader, waffled back and forth a bit and still felt unsure, at the close of the book, whether I was morally comfortable with how Mori was managing the world he lives in. Big ups to Pulley for managing a well-plotted (if slightly slow to start) book that also engages with interesting moral issues.

A minor gripe: To this fan of romance novels, Grace seemed to be filling a role in The Watchmaker of Filigree Street that is, let’s say, not my favorite romance trope. Get at me in the comments and we can talk more about it!