Book Review: All Systems Red by Martha Wells

It’s been a long, long time since I’ve posted anything, let alone a book review. It’s not that I haven’t been reading. It’s more that I just haven’t taken the time to learn the new formatting options here. About two weeks ago, I finally picked up All Systems Red by Martha Wells (science fiction, 149 pages).

“In a corporate-dominated spacefaring future, planetary missions must be approved and supplied by the Company. Exploratory teams are accompanied by Company-supplied security androids, for their own safety. But in a society where contracts are awarded to the lowest bidder, safety isn’t a primary concern. On a distant planet, a team of scientists are conducting surface tests, shadowed by their Company-supplied ‘droid – a self-aware SecUnit that has hacked its own governor module, and refers to itself (though never out loud) as ‘Murderbot’. Scornful of humans, all it really wants is to be left alone long enough to figure out who it is. But when a neighboring mission goes dark, it’s up to the scientists and their Muderbot to get to the truth.”

I bought and read this book, as well as the five follow-on books, in one day and then proceeded to binge the entire series in about two-three days. This book is such an easy, enjoyable read that I’ve actually read it several more times since I binged it just over a week ago. I also found the book to be hilarious and Murderbot is one of the single most relatable characters I’ve read in a long, long time. What’s really interesting to me, though, is how much anxiety Murderbot has and how the back of the book blurb makes this seem like such a serious book about an android finding itself when really it’s about an android who could easily go around killing everyone and everything but instead is annoyed because it wants to just watch its serials and not have to deal with people.

It’s actually pretty hard for me to write up a review for this because I have so many positive things to say about it but I don’t want to ruin the book/series for anyone who hasn’t read it yet. So I will say that this book is easily a five (out of five) on my rating scale. I am extremely glad I own a copy of this book and will likely buy it and send it to everyone I know to inflict it on them, as well 🙂

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Another day

The results have come back from two of the three poetry contests I submitted to at the end of 2021 and I have so far not even been a finalist, which is mildly depressing. So I am editing again with the hopes of resubmitting to one of the contests that closes at midnight on 15 May 2022. I am actually happier with the work I’ve done more and more with every time I edit it. I find and fix quite a few mistakes and the story/content gets stronger. I would like very much for this next submission to be the one that actually goes through.

I’ve got a number of ideas for the future, if this is the one that actually succeeds. I’m going to attend the World Fantasy Convention 2023 in Kansas City, Missouri in the fall of 2023. If I actually have books in print by then, I think it would be really great to work with the publisher and maybe donate 25-50 books for the famous free book bags. I also think it would be great to have physical copies of the book in circulation at a huge convention like WFC. I could get a table or something and participate in the mass signing. I might even be able to convince the person I commissioned artwork from to attend, and then they could sign as the cover artist and I could sign as the author. But that assumes 1) I win the contest or otherwise get accepted for publication 2) the physical books will be available for me prior to summer 2023 3) my desired/commissioned cover art is allowed to be used as the actual cover art 4) the publisher agrees to allow me to either purchase or donate my books to WFC 2023.

That’s a significant number of “if/then” statements but I think it’s good to have goals and to keep working towards them, no matter how many rejections come in. I think it would be great visibility for the book to be included in the free book bags. A lot of the authors I read and purchase these days started from free books I picked up at the World Fantasy Conventions I’ve attended over the years.

Meanwhile, I’ve started the long, time-consuming process of disassembling and packing up my Legos, which is always hard. There are so many things I want to build and so many things I wish I could build but I just don’t have the space or time. And it seriously becomes a matter of maybe regret? For all the things I kept putting off until tomorrow and now “tomorrow” has become a looming threat. I have to move soon. And start a new life and a new job and that’s already intimidating enough but now there’s this sense of nostalgic disappointment that even with my current, nice place to live and stable income, I still didn’t get enough time to do enough of the things that make me happy.

I finally found and am an active participant in a local Adult Fan of Lego (AFOL) group and they are fantastic and I’m learning so much from them but this, too, is only temporary, as I really will be moving soon.

Starting over is hard.

I don’t have a place to live and that housing market is extra stupid right now.

I don’t know what I’m going to do for work. I don’t think I have it in me to work for company/corporate selfish greed. I don’t think I have the financial backing to start my own business and I worry doing something like opening my own used Lego store will just drain away my love of building. Teaching won’t pay the bills, as much as I really do enjoy teaching.

Being a part of a community takes time and effort and just when I started to get to know people, I’ll be moving again.

So there’s a lot going on but I’m going to keep doing the best I can, I guess.

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Deep Thoughts and Societal Frustrations

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how our society is structure these days and how unsettling certain trends are.

I started submitting some of my work to poetry contests, specifically ones where winners get published, and the contest administrators have started posting results. This got me thinking about the nature of publication and the nature of genres such as poetry. Our society puts a lot of weight on “literary” fiction and most people I discuss poetry with think of poetry as maybe a bit pretentious. I’m not going to lie – I also have some internal bias about a lot of poetry. I don’t really see much “fun” poetry out there, but I do see a lot of lines using “big” words and presented for very specific target audiences. From my perspective, the target audience for most poetry is not really your average working class person.

I guess this goes back to the early days of colonialism and such when books were, in fact, written and published for a largely white middle-class person. Looking back on all the English literature classes I’ve taken throughout my life, and listening to other students talk about books taught in those English literature classes, you do see a lot of old dead white guys as required reading. I remember reading Henry David Thoreau, James Joyce, Charles Dickens, etc., and being generally bored by most of it. If my memory is even remotely accurate from classes I took over 20 years ago, I remember a class discussion becoming rather heated because I said I didn’t see the point of what we were reading. My comment was something along the lines of, “this dude is just spending months or years or whatever living in the forest and doing what, exactly? Like. Why are we reading this?”

We were reading it because it was considered “classic” literature. From my perspective, a lot of what the English-speaking world considers classic literature was written by people who had the time and money to spend in pursuit of “hobbies” such as writing. There are exceptions to every rule, of course, of writers living in poverty and fluffing up their word counts so they could get paid more (when writing work was paid by the word).

I’m just going to caveat this whole thing right now by saying I’m not an economist nor a historian and have not conducted any research about how writers lived, what they paid for housing, etc., and most of my thoughts and feelings are based around things I remember reading or seeing at some point in my life.

I feel like many poetry contests these days are perhaps a similar situation as early publication. Many of the poetry contests require between $15-$30 for submission, which means people who don’t have that, can’t afford to submit. Then people who have the time and money to submit are the ones who get selected and win the publication prize. The contests are then judged by published poets, which probably also means those with the time and money who submitted their work to contests like these. So then they are perpetuating the cycle of only those with the time and money to spare are those who get published.

I very much understand that poetry is absolutely not mainstream. I understand poetry is a very niche field where many poets won’t make a living from their poetry. It just seems like a circle to me, where you have to pay to play and only those who can afford it are those who get published, which means those without finances have voices never heard.

I dunno. It just seems like a weird circle to me.

I’m also a little uncomfortable with how libraries do not have as many books in them as they used to, and what books they do have are the popular and the most read ones. So many libraries are becoming community places (which is great!) because it’s the only place in our entire society where you can exist without spending money. But as the world digitizes, those things that would survive if something happens to our electronics or the internet would only be the popular, mainstream physical items found now. And that … I dunno. Bothers me a little, I guess?

The library thing is such a big deal and totally calculated by the powers that be who hold the money card. It is disturbing. When cities, counties, states, and countries shut down because of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020, libraries everywhere shut down. We didn’t know anything about the virus and keeping people safe was the primary responsibility of the public, but even librarians knew they were the only place for access to current news for many people, or even just for a quiet place to spend the day in warmth that has bathrooms. Even when the restaurants were opened back up the libraries stayed closed.

The money is being quickly stolen from library funding. People are disenfranchised with voting in general and many of the mainstream entertainment platforms which spout misinformation are doing everything they can to shut down public services and public spaces because “they don’t make a profit.” Places like libraries and the United States Postal Service are not about making profits – they are about providing public services. They are not supposed to be run as a business. The same way roads, fire stations, schools, and basic infrastructure are public services, so are libraries and the USPS. And the worse part is that people don’t even understand libraries. They just see them as a money mooch because capitalism says everything costs money and any free space is a waste of resources.

With less funding for libraries and other public services, libraries mostly only have popular books on their shelves. Libraries I’ve seen have fewer and fewer books in them as more of the space is occupied by computers, meeting spaces, and technology. All of which are good things! But I do spend a lot of time and energy thinking about a future without technology or access to the internet. All these great, diverse writings with positive content or happy endings (mostly as fanfiction on the archiveofourown / ao3) would be inaccessible unless someone had downloaded or printed a copy and stored it somewhere. All those stories with non-cisgender, non-white, non-heterosexual characters would basically be lost, as they exist only as digital content.

If something happened to our electronic capabilities, all that would be left would be whatever is on the shelves right now. What would that say about us as a society, that only those things which make money are allowed to survive? What would that say about how we view people and equality if only the things accessible are those the financially stable created?

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Book Review: Of Fire and Stars by Audrey Coulthurst

I actually read Of Fire and Stars by Audrey Coulthurst (Young Adult, 389 pages) last week and am only just now typing up my review. Better late than never, yes?

“Betrothed since childhood to the prince of Mynaria, Princess Dennaleia has always known what her future holds. Her marriage will seal the alliance between Mynaria and her homeland, protecting her people from other hostile lands. But Denna has a secret. She possesses an Affinity for fire—a dangerous gift for the future queen of a kingdom where magic is forbidden.

Now, Denna must learn the ways of her new home while trying to hide her growing magic. To make matters worse, she must learn to ride Mynaria’s formidable warhorses before her coronation—and her teacher is the person who intimidates her most, the prickly and unconventional Princess Amaranthine (called Mare), sister of her betrothed.

When a shocking assassination leaves the kingdom reeling, Mare and Denna reluctantly join forces to search for the culprit. As the two work together, each discovers there’s more to the other than she thought. Mare is surprised by Denna’s intelligence and bravery, while Denna is drawn to Mare’s independent streak. Soon their friendship is threatening to blossom into something more.

But with dangerous conflict brewing that makes the alliance more important than ever, acting on their feelings could be deadly. Forced to choose between their duty and their hearts, Mare and Denna must find a way to save their kingdoms—and each other.”

One of the things I enjoyed the most about this book was how princess Dennaleia clearly demonstrates how the education of a princess can actually be beneficial to running a kingdom. Right from the beginning of the story, we’re shown how much she just wants to help make the kingdom a better place and she understands she can best accomplish that by understanding languages, cultures, geography, and in-depth demographics of the entire population. She was betrothed from a very young age and took her duty and responsibility serious. She studied trade routes and specific geographic regions, listening to the situation from a variety of angles before working to determine a course of action benefiting many instead of the selfish few. She understood her obligations and she did everything in her power to be the best representative for her people. She knows nothing about horses and even after a mildly unpleasant beginning, she still moves forward with riding lessons so she can better serve as an ambassador between her people and Mynaria. She was not a passive princess and that did a lot to make her a likeable and relatable character.

Amaranthine (Mare) is a lot of fun as a character, as her bravery and determination makes her an ideal counterbalance to Dennaleia’s poise and gracefulness. She made so many assumptions about all the people in her life, including Dennaleia, and worked to be accepting when presented with new information. I really liked Mare’s friendship with Nils and I think it was one of the few times in fiction when I’ve seen healthy male/female friendship with no sexual energy. They were best friends and that was enough for both of them. Nils never pushed Mare but he was always there to support her and watch her back and I think that’s not seen enough in anything these days.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book and finished it the same day I started it. I’m glad I purchased it and will happily reread it again in the future, which means it’s rated at a high three on my rating scale.

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Movie Review: Pleasantville

My first movie of 2022 was Pleasantville (New Line Cinema, 1998). I haven’t seen this movie in a really long time (probably decades).

“When 90s teens David and Jennifer get zapped into the perfect suburbia of the black and white ’50s sitcom, Pleasantville, what results is a ‘visionary adventure’. Pleasantville’s perfect people include a mild-mannered soda jerk, a socially repressed mom, and a father who always knows best. But, when ’90s pop culture clashes with ’50s family values, chaos ensues, turning the town of Pleasantville upside down and black and white into color.”

This movie was actually one of several sent to me as a gift, intended to watch “together” (we both press play at the same time and chat about the movie as it plays, but not actually streaming or sharing a screen). The note attached with the movie reads: “I haven’t seen this one in FOREVER. Such a visually impressive film and yet another great cast. Curious to see how the themes have held up. It’s probably been at least 10 years since I’ve seen this, so it’ll be fun to watch it with a different (older) point of view. Also, I ❤ that the back of this DVD is SO PROUD of their interactive menus – so cute lol”.

I included the comments from my friend because after we watched this movie, I felt like these comments were definitely applicable. The movie truly is a visually impressive film, especially several of the scenes involving the mix of black and white and color, like when David reapplies his mom’s black and white make up because her skin has turned into color. That particular scene was such a strong scene to me because of how intimate it is, with the intimacy not from sexual content but from a family member working so carefully to help another family member hide who they truly are from another family member. David and his mom both want her to be able to be who she truly is but they both know that things in their family will be so fragile if she walks into the living room as she is in full color while her husband is still only in black and white.

Some people learned beauty from sex, some learned from books, some from the idea of exploration, some from art, some from the rain, some from just the beauty in the world around them. I really enjoyed how Pleasantville demonstrated that different things matter to different people and how beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder.

I think my favorite part of the whole movie is when Jennifer is upstairs in her room, reading, and Skip shows up outside her house, trying to convince her to go have sex with him. Jennifer turns him down to finish reading the book and that’s her defining moment of, “maybe there’s more to me than I think”. Granted, I am a notorious book lover and I’m going to cheer any time someone chooses books over pretty much anything else, but it was still such a perfect example of learning something about yourself that you might not have expected. And then, later, when the book burnings are happening, she saved that book because it was the first thing she’d ever read. Though, I do have to wonder about her decision to stay in Pleasantville, but then after the several weeks (or even months) they’d spent in the show, it had only been the first hour of the marathon, so maybe Jennifer will have plenty of time to go to college and learn a lot and then still make it back to her own time and house by the end of the marathon like 16 hours later. I would like to think she makes it back after getting a law degree or something and then comes back and does really well on her SATs/ACTs and goes on to be a massive success. Maybe she becomes Elle Woods!

Overall, I would say this movie is a solid 3 on my rating scale. I’m happy I own it now and will likely watch it again in the future.

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Throwing Away 2021 and Looking at 2022

I used to do this thing where I would type out a review of the previous year and then my goals for the upcoming year. The last two years have been so hard on all of us. We’re exhausted and burnt out. I read a lot of books and fanfiction in the last two years but didn’t record any of it here. I’ve also watched a lot of movies and tv shows and, again, didn’t record any of it here. Things keep moving forward and I’m going to use up my energy forcing myself to do things I know need to be done, like updating here more often and working more solidly to take my writing seriously.

“But, CJ, you say that every year.”

I know. But I am also about to be at a crossroads in my life. A very important one which will remove some of my safety nets. Which means it’s time to start taking all those leaps I’ve been meaning to take for the last decade or two. It’s time to actually finish editing my novels and get them submitted. It’s time to put in the work to be successful instead of just hoping some sort of magic happens and I become an international best seller without actually doing anything to earn it.

So. Let’s do this.

  1. I’d like to read a book a week and post a review of it. This should get me 52 newly read books at the end of 2022.
  2. I’d like to watch a movie a week and post a review about it. Which should also give me 52 movie reviews at the end of 2022.
  3. I want Affinity ready to start being pitched before July. I think I want to have the excessively lofty and ambitious goal of submitting to Orbit Books, as many of the books I enjoy reading seem to be coming from them these days. In order to do that, I need a literary agent, as they don’t accept unsolicited, unagented requests. So. I have research for an agent and a lot of work to do there, but I’m sure I’ll figure it out.
  4. Surveyors and Academy should both be ready to be pitched/submitted by October, which is likely to be a lot easier if Affinity is already in the works and I have an agent. HA! Such lofty goals!
  5. I intend on attending In Your Write Mind (IYWM) in June and hopefully even teaching a module, assuming in-person gatherings are reasonably safe.
  6. I think it would be great if I got a better handle on my life and started working out consistently again. This whole global pandemic thing has made me feel massively unsafe to go to the gym and I am pretty sure my treadmill will start an electrical fire if I turn it on again. Still. I need to figure out something.
  7. I need a house. No. Really. I need a place to live in a year but the housing market sucks so that’s pretty much my hugest stressor in my life right now.
  8. I am definitely going to continue cleaning, organizing, and shredding old paperwork. My goal is to get down to only two boxes for official paperwork, which is saying quite a lot.
  9. I have a booklist prepared from a variety of sources that all have Asexual characters, sometimes even the protagonists, and I’d like to read at least one of those per month and write up a review for it. But I think I’ll also add wlw books to it, as that tends to be most of what I’m reading right now anyway. I especially have a list of wlw with DRAGONS!
  10. I actually submitted to three different chapbook poetry contests just prior to midnight (in three different time zones) on 31 December 2021. I’d like one of those submissions to actually win and for me to have my very own, very first book published in 2022! How cool would that be?!!? And since I already submitted to the contests, I have no more say in whether this goal is achieved or not but it’s still something with potential that makes me happy.
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Book Review: Briar Girls by Rebecca Kim Wells

My first book review of 2022 is Briar Girls by Rebecca Kim Wells (Young Adult, 342 pages).

“Lena has a secret: the touch of her skin can kill. Cursed by a witch before she was born, Lena has always lived in fear and isolation. But after a devastating mistake, she and her father are forced to flee to a village near the Silence, a mysterious forest with a reputation for luring people into the trees, never to be seen again…

Until the night an enigmatic girl stumbles out of the Silence and into Lena’s sheltered world. Miranda comes from the Gather, a city in the forest brimming with magic. She is on a quest to wake a sleeping princess believed to hold the key to liberating the Gather from its tyrannical ruler—and she offers Lena a bargain. If Lena assists her on her journey, Miranda will help her break the curse.

Mesmerized by Miranda and her promise of a new life, Lena jumps at the chance. But the deeper into the Silence she goes, the more she suspects she’s been lied to—about her family’s history, her curse, and her future. As the shadows close in, Lena must choose who to trust and decide whether it’s more important to have freedom…or power.”

I found this book at the local bookstore while looking for books on the list of wlw with dragons. Since I couldn’t find Shatter the Sky, but I did see Briar Girls, I decided to at least look at it. And I’m so glad I did! The summary sold me on this maybe being a good wlw story and maybe even one with a happy ending (because, honestly, I’m exhausted of bury your gays, queer trauma, and otherwise unhappy stories). Anyway. I brought the book home and finished it in one go.

The story was well-written and easy to read and events flowed naturally. Briar Girls reminded me of some of the more fun stories from my younger days.

You’ve got running and mystery, moving to a new place unexpectedly (which just happens to be a tiny village in the middle of nowhere where everyone clearly knows everyone else’s business), curses, magic, an enchanted forest, and characters who make reasonable decisions, then actually talk to each other when mistakes and miscommunications happen.

This book was so refreshing in so many ways. Lena wasn’t a passive character, though she was caught up in the actions of the story, she never made excuses. When she made mistakes, she owned those mistakes, apologized where necessary, and learned from the experience. She was honest with her actions and her thoughts and she worked to see things from not just her perspective. She understood when she hurt those around her and she worked to respond responsibly instead of allowing her reactions to make things worse and she acknowledges her feelings. I very much enjoyed reading a story with a main character who does the best she can and learns and grows.

I also really enjoyed the other characters in the story. Miranda clearly has a very interesting story but we only get the parts of it she shows and shares with Lena. I’m hoping there will be more books in this series and we’ll get more of Miranda’s story as they continue to adventure around the known (or unknown!) world.

Overall, I am very glad I purchased this book and I look forward to buying more books by this author and from this series in the future. This is definitely at least a 4 on my rating scale and I am definitely going to read it again.

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Movie Review: Raya and the Last Dragon

“Raya and the Last Dragon travels to the fantasy world of Kumandra, where humans and dragons lived together in harmony long ago. But when evil threatened the land, the dragons sacrificed themselves to save humanity. Now, 500 years later, that same evil has returned – and it’s up to a lone warrior, Raya, to track down the legendary last dragon to restore the fractured land and unite its divided people.”

I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect from this movie. I have been not really supporting billionaire corporations lately but the internet said some interesting things about the story, the characters, and the amount of effort put into this movie. You can be an artist and tell a wonderful story even if you work in less-than-stellar conditions. I found it unexpectedly when I was running errands today and watched it as soon as I got home.

First of all, I absolutely have to comment on the beyond gorgeous animation and the beautiful soundtrack. The world-building was amazing. Desert lands, a giant pill-bug with a fuzzy interior, insects called “toot and booms”, giant ride-able hunting cats, clothes for each different areas, and a different take on dragons instead of the fire-breathing, western-style ones often portrayed in other modern media. The distinct colors and styles of each area added immense depth to the story. I also think I need to find the soundtrack, as the score to this movie is very good.

I have a lot of thoughts and feelings about this movie, which was unexpected. And not something I’m going to go into in depth tonight for a variety of reasons. At the current time, I’m going to say this movie is a 4 on my rating scale. I’m very glad I bought it and have already started watching it for the second time since I bought it several hours ago.

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Book Review: Ascension by Jacqueline Koyanagi

I started and finished Jacqueline Koyanagi‘s Ascension (science fiction, 331 pages) last night. I have to admit, this book has been on my shelf for years and I just finally read it last night because I wanted an adventurous story about queer women in space, which pretty much sums up this book.

“Alana Quick is the best damned sky surgeon in Heliodor City, but repairing starship engines barely pays the bills. When the desperate crew of a cargo vessel stops by her shipyard looking for her spiritually-advanced sister Nova, Alana stows away. Maybe her boldness will land her a long-term gig on the crew. But the Tangled Axon proves to be more than star-watching and plasma coils. The chief engineer thinks he’s a wolf. The pilot fades in and out of existence. The captain is all blond hair, boots, and ego … and Alana can’t keep her eyes off her. But there’s little time for romance: Nova’s in danger and someone will do anything – even destroying planets – to get their hands on her!”

The entire cast of this book is incredibly diverse, with everyone just existing as they are without traumatic coming out stories or the agony of not being accepted by their families. Alana’s ex-wife is mentioned on page 10 and when Alana’s sister sees Alana with Tev, the Tangled Axon‘s captain, she immediately assumes they’re romantically involved and is instantly proud of her sister for scoring such a woman. Alana struggles a little bit with polyamorous relationships but it’s not done in a way showing anything other than confusion and a desire to learn, grow, and love. Nova and Marre might be asexual, as neither of them appear to experience sexual attraction to anyone in the book. Slip could be bisexual or pansexual, as she has varied romantic interests throughout the book. Ascension definitely has a lot of representation.

The universe portrayed in this book is a very uncomfortable mirror of the current western world. The economic and physical care differences in this book between normal workers and those who have basically sold out their souls to the othersiders is a stark reflection of the current situation with workers and medical conditions, especially in the United States. Heliodor and the other planets mentioned in this book have fringe areas where true workers live and work and then shining, fake cities created and managed by the othersiders where you sell your freedom and your soul for creature comforts and the lie of a better life. This really isn’t very different from the lives many Americans lead in rural and urban areas for basically anyone who isn’t a millionaire/billionaire. The main character, Alana, spends the entire book dealing with a degenerative sickness which requires twice a day medications or her body shuts down. While there are ways to treat this illness, without proper funds or societal placement, you’re basically written off as expendable. So people like Alana and her aunt Lai spend their entire lives working as hard as they can to save enough money to pay for treatment while those same people who offer the treatment profit from everyone’s pain. Transliminal Solutions owns everything, including the only ways to earn money, and by starving out all the fringe workers, they then even own the entire workforce.

What does that remind you of? Maybe a giant corporation or two being one of the only steady paychecks during a global pandemic that can then steal $62 million in tips, set up anti-unionizing analysts to keep their workers under their boots, and generally value profit for the billionaires over the actual lives of their people? Honestly, I could be talking about the modern western situation or the situation imposed by Transliminal Solutions in Ascension, a book published over seven years ago.

But, CJ, what does this have to do with your book review?

Here’s the thing – the whole purpose of science fiction is to look at the world we know and then ask the question, “what if?” Science fiction takes the technology we know or envision and shows all the ways humans can interact with that technology, demonstrating the absolute humanity in personalities, societies, cultures, technologies, and aliens that are not classified as human at all. Science fiction shows us who we might become and provides tiny tidbits of how the world can go so very, very wrong. In some ways, science fiction functions as a warning or a wake-up call, showing things going wrong and eluding to the reason they went wrong in the first place, which might encourage people living now to work harder to prevent these stories from becoming reality. After all, the protagonists in sci-fi tend to find ways to survive their space adventure and move on to other things, so why can’t we?

Overall, I would probably rate this book as about a three on my rating scale. I’m happy I read it, I’m likely to read it again, and I’m happy I own a copy.

Works cited: Koyanagi, Jacqueline. Ascension. Canada: Masque Books, 2013.

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Graphic Novel Review: Xena Warrior Princess Omnibus Volume 1

Last night, I wanted something to read but I wasn’t sure how much I wanted to invest in new characters, stories, and worlds so I pulled the Xena Warrior Princess Omnibus Volume 1 from my shelf. I’d recently rewatched all six seasons of Xena: Warrior Princess and was curious if the omnibus picked up after the end of the 90s television series and it actually did!

Collection Cover Artist: Stjepan Sejic, Collection Design: Bill Tortolini; Contest of Pantheons writer: John Layman, Artist: Fabiano Neves, Colorists: Richard Isanove, Chris Garcia, Letterer: Simon Bowland; Dark Xena writer: John Layman, Artist: Noah Salonga, Colorists: Chris Garcia, Carlos Hernandez of Inlight Studio, Letterer: Simon Bowland; Strange Visitor writer: Keith Champagne, Artist: Noah Salonga, Colorist: Chris Garcia, Letterer: Simon Bowland.

“Revisit Dynamite’s first foray into the fantasy of Xena: Warrior Princess, as we proudly collect Xena’s complete adventures from the 2006-2007 storylines, ‘Contest of Pantheons’ and ‘Dark Xena’, written by the bestselling comic book writer John Layman, plus the special ‘Strange Visitor’ story from Xena Annual #1! Join Xena and her swashbuckling allies Gabrielle, Joxer, and Autolycus as they become embroiled in a feud reaching all the way up to the heavens, courtesy of the machinations of the ruthless Callisto! Also, Gabrielle makes a request of the gods and learns a heart-wrenching lesson about the care with which one much make a wish … leading to an unsettling change in Xena herself.”

I admit that I enjoyed this far more than I thought I would and it’s exactly the read I was looking for last night. The art work was very well done and the characters stayed true to the tv series. Each part of the story had a beginning, middle, and end and each of the three stories came to a satisfactory conclusion.

One of the fun parts about the entire Xena story is how irreverent the story has been to any semblance of historical timelines and mythologies while still paying respect to the source material and other cultures. For example, Gabrielle goes searching for C’Thulon to help her bring Xena back, which is just after a story about the Greek gods and the Egyptian gods going to war over a stolen trinket, and then followed by a story with an encounter with predator-like aliens. Somehow, each of these stories is completely reasonable, for all realism says they shouldn’t make sense together.

I don’t really have a favorite of the three stories in this omnibus, as I believe all three were executed very well. I don’t know enough about actual mythology to form a more detailed opinion on the characterization of the Egyptian gods and Greek gods and their interactions and I certainly didn’t recognize many things mentioned about the Egyptian gods. The Greek gods still had the same level of pettiness shown in the tv show and were just as susceptible to arrogance and bad ideas while Xena and the rest definitely demonstrated their same level of outside-the-box problem solving.

I was definitely amused by Gabrielle’s changing her name to Evvielle in order to join dark Xena’s gang and Joxer did a much more realistic disguise as Jett than he did in the show, but he also didn’t have as much “screen time” in “Dark Xena”. I’m pretty impressed with Gabrielle’s ability to dye her hair, find a skimpy black leather outfit, and appropriate weapons in such a short amount of time.

I remember sitting in a literature class during my university undergraduate studies in the late 90s, listening to a discussion about feminism in modern media and Xena. As an asexual woman, I could think of no better fantasy world than adventuring with your best friend/partner. There was a woman in the class who advocated heavily for Xena and Gabrielle being in a lesbian/lover relationship and I just didn’t get it because that wasn’t part of my own fantasy. So I’m pretty torn about the way representation is handled in shows like Xena. Granted, Xena came out in the 1990s, which was a very different time for diversity and representation. Not that our current 2020s world is better, but it does have at least a few more options on diverse representation. Anyway. In some ways, I appreciate that Xena and Gabrielle’s relationship was never explicitly sexual because it helps appease my asexual heart, but at the same time, representation matters. Even in this omnibus from the 2006-2007 Xena comics, Gabrielle sacrifices everything to get Xena back because, “she’s her friend and she loves her.” While it’s clear how much Xena means to Gabrielle, the word “friend” isn’t really strong enough to convey everything they are to each other and even in 2006-2007, the writers steered away from using stronger language to describe their relationship.

So one the one hand, I’m glad the canon supports me believing Xena and Gabrielle are best friends/soulmates adventuring together but not sexually involved, but on the other hand, I understand how important obvious and irrefutable representation is and how crucial that representation would be for women in the women loving women (wlw) community.

Overall, I enjoyed this book and wish I had more of the omnibus graphic novels of Xena: Warrior Princess to read. I’d rate this as a 3 on my rating scale, as I am likely to read it again at some point in the future. I will probably see if some comic stores near me have any more and look at picking up some to continue reading the story.

Works Cited: Xena Warrior Princess Omnibus Volume 1, Dynamite Comics, 2017. Collection Cover Artist: Stjepan Sejic, Collection Design: Bill Tortolini; Contest of Pantheons writer: John Layman, Artist: Fabiano Neves, Colorists: Richard Isanove, Chris Garcia, Letterer: Simon Bowland; Dark Xena writer: John Layman, Artist: Noah Salonga, Colorists: Chris Garcia, Carlos Hernandez of Inlight Studio, Letterer: Simon Bowland; Strange Visitor writer: Keith Champagne, Artist: Noah Salonga, Colorist: Chris Garcia, Letterer: Simon Bowland.

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