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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Graphic Novel Review: Runaways (Pride and Joy 1 or Volume 1 issues 1-6)

This review is pretty incoherent and not structured as well as I would like. You’ve been warned.

This is going to be a very lengthy, multi-part review of Marvel Comics’ Runaways and is going to contain a huge amount of spoilers as well as lots of details sprinkled throughout the story relevant to my interests. If you’ve never read these comics, I can’t recommend them enough. Runaways is different from other comic books in the sense that the entire story is character driven, continuous, with good emotional content, and they are not trying to be superheroes. There isn’t a huge battle every issue and there really isn’t much involvement with the rest of the Marvel Universe. This entire series functions as a standalone, though other Marvel Comics characters do show up throughout the series. Here’s a link to Rainbow Rowell’s webpage with information on how to read Runaways if you’ve never heard of it and don’t know how to get started.

While mostly focusing on Runaways: Pride and Joy (Runaways 2003 #1-6), comments about the entire series will show up in this review. Written by Brian K. Vaughn, pencils by Adrian Alphona, inks by David Newbold and Craig Yeung, colors by Brian Reber, letters by Paul Tutrone, Chris Eliopoulous, and Randy Gentile, cover art by Jo Chen, collection cover by Takeshi Miyazawa and Brian Reber, assistant editors Stephanie Moore and Mackenzie Cadenhead, and editor C.B. Cebulski.

“Six normal teenagers, linked only by their wealthy parents’ annual business meeting, discover a shocking truth: Their parents are the secret criminal society known as the Pride! For years, the Pride has controlled all criminal activity in Los Angeles, ruling the city with an iron fist. They’ll take any measure necessary to protect their organization and pass on their legacy – but the kids aren’t interested. Together, they run away from home and straight into the adventure of their lives – vowing to turn the tables on their evil legacy.”

Back in late August/early September of 2019, I was travelling on a work trip and I had some time to kill. I found myself in a bookstore (because, really, where else would I go?). I didn’t really feel like picking up a book so I started browsing the graphic novel section, seeing if anything caught my eye. And something did. I remembered seeing something maybe once mentioning good things about a title called Runaways by Marvel Comics. The bookstore had two sets of Runaways trade paperbacks, one numbered 1-9 and a second numbered 1-2. I read the most recent trade paperback, Runaways: Best Friends Forever (which is not going to be discussed in this review but once I write a review up for it, I’ll link it here).

I didn’t know anything about the characters or the story. I had no idea what happened previously. Reading this book addicted me to the entire series. But reading this book before reading anything else in the story probably had a significant impact on my reading of the rest of the story, as I then went back and started at the beginning. The ending of the “Best Friends Forever” storyline definitely skewed what I wanted to see happen in the rest of the series so starting at the beginning after reading this most likely had me looking for clues that may or may not have been intentional throughout the first series of the Runaways.

The story begins with the introduction of Alex Wilder, a computer gamer and the Runaways’ planner. He functions as the catalyst for the Runaways running away and then takes on the responsibilities as their leader. During the Pride’s annual meeting, Alex convinces the others to go with him through a secret passage in his house to spy on their parents. While at the beginning of the story, he complains about the other 5 teenagers, especially about the white guy (Chase Stein) and the dorky girl (Nico Minoru), his attitude changes when Nico shows up having completed a full makeover, designing her own clothes and developing a keen sense of style. Both Alex and Karolina Dean comment on how hot she looks now but it’s obvious Alex had zero interest in pursuing her until she was attractive to him. Karolina, on the other hand, shows interest in Nico from the very beginning, even before the Runaways run away as a flashback from volume 1 issue 17, where she is asking Nico about wearing contacts while Alex sneaks into the secret passage.

Alex always has just the right information to keep the group moving, making sure Molly Hayes and Karolina don’t witness Destiny’s murder at the hands of their parents, and then sending Gert Yorkes with Molly to the bathroom so she doesn’t learn about the murder while the rest of the teens tell Karolina. Nico tries to break the news gently but Chase blurts out the murder. Alex also starts volunteering himself and Nico to pair off, often away from the eyes of the others, and Nico kisses him volume 1 issue 5. Alex is the one who gets the group together after they witness the murder, but it’s Karolina’s idea to meet at the planetarium. Nico follows Alex’s lead and they vote to call the cops, which cues their parents into their knowledge of Destiny’s murder. Alex also convinces them to check Gert’s house for the body in the box Nico and Alex carried to the car at the end of the Pride meeting, and then to Karolina’s house, but then Chase suggests they go to his house before Molly’s.

This chain of events reveals Old Lace, Gert’s deinonychus, and Karolina’s alien heritage before the Runaways encounter with the Minorus and the Steins, which also winds up giving Chase the fistigons and x-ray goggles and Nico gets the Staff of One stabbed into her chest by her mother. After the confrontation, Alex convinces Nico to leave her unconscious parents and the Runaways make an escape, only to take Alex’s idea to attack their parents at the Hayes house in order to rescue Molly. Once Molly is revealed as a mutant with super human strength, all the Runaways have revealed their powers with the exception of Alex.

I have to admit that Chase is my least favorite of the Runaways, especially in the first issues. He does a remarkable job of being a stereotypical heterosexual cisgender teenager, focused mainly on shallow attractiveness and sports.

I didn’t really have much reaction to Gert and Molly for this first book, but I did like Gert’s realism, though not her “whiny” introduction.

A good portion of my attention in this first book was on the interactions between Nico and Karolina and Nico and Alex, mostly for what happens in Best Friends Forever (volume 5 issues 7-12).

In volume 1 issue 2, Nico makes a comment while they’re in the back of the van about how she has a physical stress reaction with food and I believe that translates into a physical stress reaction in general, as she kisses Alex for the first time when she believes they’re all going to die in volume 1 issue 5. She will continue to have these kind of reactions with every male the Runaways encounter throughout the series.

The entire series, Karolina just goes along with what the rest of the Runaways are doing, though mostly just following Nico’s lead. Even Karolina’s mother in the beginning of the series says that Karolina doesn’t have the spine for a fight, and she really doesn’t. Karolina is used mostly throughout the series as a pretty, conventionally attractive blonde who can hide her alien powers and gets hounded by paparazzi for being the child of prominent actors. She never has her own agency and is often just used as a “dumb blonde” stereotype with no ambition or story of her own. I would also say that Karolina is pretty much the most passive character in the Runaways, never really taking action on her own, always waiting for someone to suggest something and then following along.

While it’s mentioned in volume 1 issue 18 that Nico and Karolina were both in therapy, neither of them indicate this is healthy therapy at all.

Waaaay back in Runaways volume 1 issue #3, when Karolina finds out about her powers that she’s probably an alien, her first comment is to say, “I wish we’d never learned about any of this! I was much happier being in the dark! I hope our parents *do* kill us now!” And then in volume 1 issue #10, when they have to deal with Topher the vampire, Karolina offers herself up so that he doesn’t feed on anyone else. She doesn’t do it because her blood is basically sunshine but because she doesn’t believe she’s a good person and she doesn’t want to be around to get worse. After things with Cloak and Dagger (Runaways volume 1 issues 11-12) go badly, Karolina goes from wanting to punch bad guys to feel better to wanting the adult superheroes to deal with their situation, as she doesn’t feel like she has any fight left in her. And then in volume 1 issue 13 where Karolina finds out that her parents’ reaction to having a kid is to think about how having a child would likely get her parents on the cover of People, it only serves to devalue Karolina in her own eyes even more.

Overall, this first book of the Runaways is different than other comic books in the sense that it’s telling a coherent story. I can’t imagine what it must have been like to read this as it came out because you wouldn’t have been able to read any of this story without having read the previous issues because this is an actual story, with a set beginning, middle, and end, unlike the rest of the comic book world that just keeps going forever with a “villain-of-the-week” or “random personality changes to create a plot” kind of thing. I am absolutely glad I own this and I definitely reread it frequently.

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Another year, another decade, a new chapter

I was going to add a picture here from the walk I took around the local marsh but I’m not quite sure how to do that with the new layout. Seems as though being absent from your own website for 6 months to a year means a whole bunch of things change and then you feel super old for not knowing how anything works anymore. So it goes.

I don’t know what the future will bring. After everything that happened in 2020, I’m not really going to say much about goals, aspirations, plans, or resolutions for the new year. I’m sure someone on the internet out there is doing a full recap of everything we’ve lost this year.

I would have really liked it if we learned the correct lessons from covid-19.

1) I would have liked it if we learned “essential workers” are all those people who actually do work; the obvious workers such as the retail workers, the hospital workers, the food sellers, the first responders, and the less obvious workers such as content creators, artists, musicians, writers, and creative folks of all varieties.

2) I would have really appreciated if we as a country and as a world took the time to realize how detrimental it is for all of us to be working 8+ hours a day and surviving in our lives just to make money for other people. I spent two full weeks this year in home quarantine where I wasn’t allowed to leave my house for any reason. During that time, I got so many home projects done and made so much progress on my actual life that it was hard to go back to occupying a desk for a specified amount of time every day in order to meet someone else’s goals.

3) I pay all my taxes, all the time. Apparently, those with the most finances and resources not only don’t pay their taxes but my tax dollars apparently also go to give billionaires more money. I’d like it very much if my taxes went to pay for infrastructure and public services instead of to dump more money into the pockets of billionaires while the “middle class” becomes homeless and jobless. I’d like very much for my tax dollars to be used to support the actual *people* of this country and not a small handful of arrogant a$$holes who believe their puny lives are more valuable than the lives of those who wait tables or fix cars.

4) Workers should all be treated better.

5) Medical care should never be tied to employment.

6) Housing should never be allowed to be used as a source of income. This is specifically in regards to those who are landlords and whose sole income is charging people rent. Most of those landlords don’t view their tenants as people but as money, they don’t keep the buildings in good repair, and people who want to buy a house as a genuine place to live can’t do so because a small handful of people buy up all the properties and drive up the purchasing cost. I have a stable job with good benefits. I have been saving money my entire career in order to buy a house in my home state so I can live and work in a place that makes me happy. Now that I’m finally back in my home state, I can’t afford to buy a house because those with all the finances and resources already own everything and then sell it for a ridiculous price that only the other rich people can afford.

7) Billionaires serve no purpose and should be taxed at 90% of every penny they make over $999,999.99.

8) Teachers and educators should be treated better and paid accordingly for the amount of work actually required of them. Teachers are often expected to pay for resources out of their own pockets and often work long hours they aren’t paid or compensated for. Teachers are providing the future of the country and the world and they should be treated with dignity and respect.

9) Internet should be included as basic/public infrastructure. Everyone should have access to affordably priced internet, especially with our dependence on technology for the current education during a pandemic. Even after the pandemic, internet should be considered public infrastructure.

This year, I learned how positive it is for my mental health to dedicate time to my own life. The pandemic slowed things down a lot at work, which gave me time at home I would not have had. I was able to get rid of 27 pounds of shredded paperwork. I rebuilt Lego City. My family learned about table top games and how to use video chat platforms to play games and hang out, which has been amazing. Still not as great as in person, but you do what you can with what you have. I was invited to join a dungeons and dragons campaign and have become addicted to our monthly d&d sessions. I wrote and published fanfiction for the first time in my life and learned about the amazingly supportive fanfic community. I wrote. I edited. I started learning how to draw. I can now cook delicious rice that doesn’t explode. I went camping in my home state. Many of my friends have reestablished themselves as pen pals from all over the states and we send real mail to each other!

I want to take a few minutes here to thank you for being in my life. If we are family, friends, buddies, acquaintances, people who barely talk, strangers passing each other in the night, internet mutuals, or someone we each used to know, thank you for being in my life. Thank you for being there when I needed you. Thank you for listening to me. Thank you for going to movies with me, hanging out at the bookstore with me, going rock climbing with me, traveling around the world with me, inviting me to games, and sending me cards. Thank you for standing up for what you believe in and being willing to honestly discuss those beliefs with me. Thank you for teaching me how to make delicious food. Thank you for laughing with me. Thank you for trusting me. Thank you for talking with me. Thank you for being you.

So even though 2020 was a total dumpster fire, maybe I, at least, learned some positive lessons from everything we went through. I also made the concentrated effort to close this year as well as possible. I woke up this morning and went for a long walk around the marsh. I stripped the sheets and blankets from my bed, rotated the mattress, flipped and rotated the mattress cover, put away all the laundry from yesterday, remade the bed, flipped and rotated the couch cushions, washed the couch cover and blankets, and even washed Puppers, my giant stuffed dog!

I don’t know what the next chapter of my life looks like, but at least I am starting it with a clean, comfortable bed and a sleeping room with everything clean and put away correctly. Sometimes, that’s the best you can do 🙂

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Learning and Reflections

I remember walking in the hallways at work, talking about my upcoming vacation to Australia and how excited I was to finally travel to another country for entertainment purposes. I remember talking with one of the people who had been with the company longer than I and knew more things. I remember joking about how people were overreacting to covid-19 and that this wasn’t different than any other flu season.

That was in February 2020.

By the time vacation started in March, things were starting to shut down. It seemed surreal, like nothing could actually impact us. From our first day in Australia until the day we left, much earlier than originally planned, the number of people on our scheduled trips dwindled. While this was wonderful for us, as it meant instead of dealing with large groups of tourists most of our tours involved just us now, it also meant that covid-19 was a real, global pandemic. I monitored the Department of State information very closely and a message came through, stating if you were a U.S. citizen travelling abroad, return home immediately or risk being stuck indefinitely.

We bought expensive plane tickets and came home the next day.

I came home and went into immediate quarantine. Thankfully, I had someone who was checking my mail and as soon as we landed at the airport, she went to the grocery store and fully stocked my fridge and pantry so that I could go directly into my house and not risk infection, either of myself or others.

This is going to sound pretty horrible, but those two weeks in quarantine were really awesome. I’ve been in a world of extremely high expectations for my entire life, where there was always work to do and never enough time to do anything. But finally, FINALLY, I was in a position where I had nothing but time to myself to work on all those really big, really time-consuming projects I’ve been meaning to do forever. I shredded 27 pounds of old paperwork. I reorganized my library. I set up my home writing and creative office. I sorted almost all my digital files and started work on really, hardcore, cleaning up my life.

About two days after my quarantine started, my state shut down. When my quarantine lifted and I was required to go into work every now and again on the rotating occupation roster, I remember having to drop off someone at the airport. It was the ultimate in dystopian future fiction. The airport was empty. The highways were empty. Parking lots were empty. No people roamed inside or out.

I can only think of a small handful of times when I’ve felt that alone and isolated in my entire life.

Time passed. People got bored and did their own thing instead of abiding by the rules designed to keep us all safe. What could have been an easily mitigated situation instead became a true global pandemic.

I feel like we haven’t learned the correct lessons from this pandemic. I feel like we should be learning that essential workers aren’t CEOs or office workers. Essential workers are people in retail and food service. Essential workers are truck drivers and delivery personnel. And yet, those who do the least, those who are already billionaires who treat their employees like garbage, increased their own worth by even more billions of dollars while people were evicted and jobless during a global pandemic.

I feel like we need to treat our educators better. I feel like we need to treat our essential personnel better. I feel like the billionaires who got even richer and didn’t do anything to help the “lesser” people should not be able to be billionaires and hoard so much wealth and so many resources. I feel like those of us who are genuine workers banded together and showed (or in some cases, learned) kindness. People created art and worked to reach out to each other in whatever way made sense to keep everyone safe.

On my list of things to do is learn how to draw. I am also taking a lot of online classes to help me switch jobs when that becomes necessary in the coming years. So here is my very first piece of digital art.


I have a lot more I could say on this but it’s getting late for me and I am likely to have a busy weekend. Maybe as I get back into the habit of writing here, my thoughts will be more coherent. Thanks for reading.

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Somewhere Else

You know, I had a feeling I hadn’t updated or been here in a really long time. In my head, I thought that was maybe since December, since I knew I didn’t do a New Year/New Decade post. But I had no idea that the last time I posted was in June 2019.

What can I say? A *LOT* has happened in my life in the last 11 months. I have some posts I’m probably going to publish and I am actively working to get my life back on track, especially my writing and writing-related things. Maybe I’ll be able to finally make timely posts, or at least set up a schedule to post. That would certainly be the responsible thing to do.

I’ll try. I guess that’s the best I can do for right now. And we all have to start somewhere.

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Book Review: Higher, Further, Faster by Liza Palmer

I think I’d seen mentions of Higher, Further, Faster (Young Adult 249 pages) by Liza Palmer somewhere on the internet recently so I picked it up while at the bookstore last week. I started it and finished it immediately upon my return home.

“On her first day at the United States Air Force Academy, Carol Danvers is told: Let yourself learn. If only it were that simple – as defiant as she is driven, Carol has never quite adhered to the rules. All she’s ever wanted is to fly: why would she be dissuaded by the fact that in the USAF, female fighter pilots don’t exist? But beneath Carol’s swagger lurks a persistent fear that she is never quite enough. At first, USAFA appears to agree, overwhelming Carol with a rigorous schedule, demanding officers, and the looming possibility of joining the elite Flying Falcons program that has never counted a woman among their roster. Then she forms a friendship with fellow would-be pilot Maria Rambeau, and what once seemed impossible becomes tantalizingly within reach for them both. Will Carol and Maria achieve their dream in the face of constant challenge? And at what cost?”

This novel happens before the events in the movie, Captain Marvel, which I reviewed back in March 2019. Even so, this book can absolutely stand alone outside of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). I think right now, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who would read this book without having any knowledge of the MCU. I did send a copy of the book off to a friend who is travelling the world right now and unlikely to have seen the movie so we’ll see if there are any unique thoughts about it from that perspective.

This book is very rare, in the sense that there is absolutely zero romantic subplot. I’m sure there are those who would disagree with me because of who the main characters are and maybe those who are desperate for positive female/female representation could make a case that “omg, they were ROOMMATES”. For me? I saw a very realistic story about two women who both wanted to fly more than anything and that was their true passion. This was a story about following your dreams, making friends, and succeeding when all the odds are stacked against you through hard work and dedication. For me, seeing a story about passion without sex was huge, as this shows that passion does not equal sex and sex does not equal love.

I don’t know how accurate the Air Force training portions are but I read this book knowing that Carol and Maria would have been in training back in the early 1980s, which would likely have been completely different from anything trainees would be likely to experience today. I also don’t know enough about planes and plane timelines to judge whether the aircraft mentioned would be viable for the time this novel takes place. With that said, it didn’t matter to me because the information about the training and the flying felt like it should be right. The author established solid believability in the world-building and that’s the important part for a book like this.

I really like Carol and Maria’s friendship in this book and I liked how the obstacles put in front of both of them just made them determined to find a way to earn their place in the world of flying. I related a lot to Carol’s perspective on her surroundings and it was very easy to see her passion for flying in everything she does. The same goes for Maria. They are both so absolutely in love with flying that not flying is unfathomable to both of them. The way they work around getting to touch a special aircraft or how Carol listens to the sound of distant engines and how much of a ritual that is for her.

Carol’s character really comes through in this story, even in tiny moments throughout the story. At one point, she protects a journal which isn’t hers. She defends people who aren’t present to defend themselves. She sticks up for everyone and works to build a cohesive team, even though she could have chosen to treat those who treated her badly the same way. She’s inclusive, hard-working, dedicated, and loyal, which are all traits that make really good people. I admire her character in this story and I think this novel sets a very positive example of what leadership and passion look like.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book and will happily read it again in the future. I’m happy I purchased it and I probably rate it as a high three on my rating scale.

Works cited: Palmer, Liza. Higher, Further, Faster. New York: Marvel Press, 2019.

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Book Review: Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire

Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire (fantasy 169 pages) was on my Asexual reading list from 2018. As is usually the case, life happened and things got busy.

“Eleanor West’s home for wayward children. No solicitations. No visitors. No quests. Children have always disappeared under the right conditions – slipping through the shadows under a bed or at the back of a wardrobe, tumbling down rabbit holes and into old wells and emerging somewhere … else. But magical lands have little need for used-up miracle children. Nancy tumbled once, but now she’s back. The things she’s experienced … they change a person. The children under Miss West’s care understand all too well. And each of them is seeking a way back to their own fantasy world. But Nancy’s arrival marks a change at the home. There’s a darkness just around each corner, and when tragedy strikes, it’s up to Nancy and her newfound schoolmates to get to the heart of things. No matter the cost.”

The main character of the novel, Nancy, is an asexual teenager whose parents sent her to Eleanor West’s school with the intent of “fixing” her. I think that says a lot about how sometimes families and people who love the people in their lives can love more of the idea of what they think a person should be instead of loving the actual person. Nancy’s parents wanted their bright and sunny daughter back instead of the self-composed, darkly dressed asexual daughter they actually have but didn’t want to see. They loved the idea of their daughter more than the flesh and blood daughter in front of them.

What’s really interesting to me, though, is that all of the characters in the story struggle with the same concept of how their families react to who they truly are and only find happiness by going someplace where they get to one hundred percent be themselves without masks. I think a lot of people, especially those in the queer community, struggle with finding acceptance for who they are and get tired of wearing masks all the time to pretend to be someone else.

I’m very glad I had a chance to pick up this book and read it. It’s a very different take on portal fantasies. And also a very different take on diverse characters, as the characters just are different sexualities and aren’t suffering trauma because of it. Kade just is transgender, which doesn’t change his character at all. He exists as he is and that’s accepted by the majority of characters within the book. The few times other characters display their bigotry, the instructors at the school and even the other students respond negatively, which is exactly what I would hope for in the world.

Overall, this book is easily a high three on my rating scale. I am happy I bought it and I’m very likely to read it again in the future.

Works cited: McGuire, Seanan. Every Heart a Doorway. New York: Tom Doherty Associates, 2016.

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Graphic Novel Review: the Legend of Korra: Ruins of the Empire Part One

I am currently sitting on the floor of my brand new, completely unfurnished house in my home state of Washington. It’s been a long time coming and I’m so happy to be home but I knew I needed something to occupy my evening before my stuff arrives. I picked up the Legend of Korra: Ruins of the Empire Part One (graphic novel 76 pages) created by Bryan Koonietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino. This particular book is written by Michael Dante DiMartino, art by Michelle Wong, colors by Vivian NG, lettering by Rachel Deering, and the cover by Michelle Wong and Vivian NG.

“Kuvira’s back – and Korra must decide who to trust! On the eve of its first elections, the Earth Kingdom’s future is endangered by its past. Even as Kuvira begins to stand trial for her crimes, holdout defenders of her imperial ambitions threaten to spark a new war. But when Korra and Team Avatar don’t all see eye-to-eye as to the solution, it’s time for a risky road trip.”

I am constantly astounded by how much we can learn and grow from fiction, science fiction, fantasy, and media such as graphic novels. In Ruins of the Empire, the Earth Kingdom is working towards its first democratic elections. As such, there are some really interesting points that are equally applicable to the real world we currently live in. Things like how those in power will do anything they can think of to remain in power and those who seek out power are rarely those who should have it. For example, the two officials running for election in the Gaoling province of the Earth Kingdom are both already members of the current political system. They have power, money, and prestige, but there is no one running against them, which means that the current system is unlikely to change.

Then, Commander Guan shows up with the backing of his military forces which did not surrender when Kuvira surrendered to the Avatar at the end of Book Four. Team Avatar thinks that he’s there to participate in a military take over but he actually submits his bidding to be considered a candidate for the election. King Wu and the other members of Team Avatar have an actual discussion about finding a way to disallow Commander Guan from submitting his candidacy, which is actually undermining the democratic process. If people are truly going to vote, those in charge don’t get to choose who the candidates are, so long as all of the rules and laws concerning their candidacy are followed.

Considering the parallels with the current democratic and political system in the United States, this graphic novel had a lot of interesting points about what democracy means and how to participate in the process.

Meanwhile, I’d like to say that the art and lettering for this graphic novel are both really well done. The book flows well and it’s clear what’s going on. I also like the continuing and realistic character development in the series. The character development even goes so far as to thinking about what kind of different attire each character would wear if they went to a sauna. From Korra’s shorts and top to Zhu Li’s classic one piece to King Wu’s towel, each character’s attire is distinctive as to who they are as people. I think it’s the little details that really create realism and believability for stories.

Overall, I’m very glad I found this in the bookstore this evening. It’s an interesting and positive addition to the Legend of Korra story. I will definitely watch for future books in this series and will continue to purchase them as they come out.

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Movie Review: Captain Marvel

I went and saw Captain Marvel last night.

This is NOT a spoiler-free review! If you haven’t seen the movie, best to avoid this review until you’ve watched it yourself.

The theater was sold out for the showing before the one I went to and there weren’t that many seats left for the showing I actually went to, which meant I wound up in the very front row. Not ideal, but the new remodel of the theater with reclining chairs helped not hurt my head or neck.

Why am I typing menial things about the theater? To make sure that a casual opening of this won’t result in spoilers for those who don’t wish to see them.

I’m going to say again that this is NOT a spoiler free review.

Okay. Now for the actual review.

First of all, I liked the movie a lot. It’s one of those movies that I thought about on my drive home. And one that I want to see again so that I can experience it, especially the space parts, again.

The movie throws the audience directly into the life of the Kree soldier “noble warrior hero” Vers. Not only did it introduce Vers/Carol Danvers first as a soldier in a war, it’s a war we know nothing about. We don’t know who is fighting, what the stakes are, why they’re fighting, nothing. While this bothers some people, the truth is that we don’t need to know anything about the war. Both sides in the Kree/Skrull conflict are not exactly heroes fighting for justice. War is a horrible thing and those who order war are rarely those who pay for it. I remember reading about the Kree/Skrull conflict when I read the X-Men titles in my youth and I keenly remember not particularly liking either side.

This movie felt like it was made for me and for people like me. There was not a single scene in this entire movie where any women showed any boobs, cleavage, scantily clad sex-poses or anything even remotely sexy at all. The women all wore attire that made sense for their environment. Space suits that covered the entire skin, including force shields over the mouth and eye areas, instead of the comic book version of Carol Danvers as Ms. Marvel (the two pictures). I have actually seen males online complaining that the movie didn’t use either of the sexualized versions of the Ms. Marvel outfit for the movie. This was the first movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) that did not sexualize the woman from the very first encounter. She never caters to the male gaze and absolutely does not do anything to make herself funny, sexy, or flirty. She is unapologetically who she is and I think a lot of the male audience who disliked this movie might have disliked it because absolutely nothing she did had anything to do with them. She didn’t wear appropriately revealing clothing, she didn’t make sexy quips, she didn’t flirt with anyone.

People who thought the movie lacked characterization probably don’t understand everything that wasn’t said. What would being a woman in the Air Force have been like back in the 1990s? How hard would you have to work to even remotely be allowed to fly? Just because women experience sexual harassment on a daily basis doesn’t mean that’s all we ever talk about (though, if you listen to some males these days, that’s what you might think, but they don’t listen to us when we do talk about it anyway, so there’s that). So because the movie doesn’t go around shoving the audience’s face with sexy quips about “being a woman in times like this” or some other crap, it lacks characterization? Most males don’t seem to have issues with the dialogue in action movies, so long as the stars of those action movies are male. But when the action is centered around women who exist without white male savior heroes? “The movie falls flat”. Carol Danvers even escapes capture and beats up twenty or so Skrulls with her hands confined and lacking her powers but she’s considered by some of the males to be no more or less powerful than any of her other (male) Avengers.

Here’s a screenshot of a review I saw today, just for reference.

What really gets me is that the author of this review is a really good guy. But I don’t think he understands the dual-standard he is even now supporting with his comments. He says that Carol Danvers isn’t a character because she doesn’t have any hobbies or interests or friends? But what about hobbies or interests for Thor? Steve Rogers? Bruce Banner? Do they have hobbies, interests, or friends? Thor is a prince and a warrior, right? Doesn’t he spend his free time getting drunk and partying with his friends? At least, that’s what was shown in the Thor franchise movies. Is that why you consider him more a worthy hero than Carol Danvers? What about Bruce? He’s a scientist first, but everyone actually loves him more as the Hulk, and one of the guys I worked with many years ago specifically liked him because the angrier he gets in the comic books, the bigger and more unstoppable he gets. Power trip, much? So what’s the issue with someone like Carol Danvers being a warrior? Or a pilot? Being a pilot takes up a lot of time and work, as does being a warrior. Carol Danvers is clearly very tech-savvy, in that she can use parts found in a Radio Shack to piece together a cross-galaxy communication device through a pay phone. How is being a prince and a warrior viable hobbies for Thor, Bruce being a scientist, and Tony being a technological genius enough of hobbies for them, but Carol being a warrior and incredibly intelligent not enough for her to be a real character? What, you need her to wear sexy clothes and run the bake sale, too? Honestly, I think that a lot of the “flatness” some males might feel from Carol Danvers’ character comes from the fact that Carol Danvers does not need them. There is no place in Carol Danvers’ world for a “white knight” hero who will come in and save the day at the last second. No romance, no fluttering eyelashes or puckered up lips. Carol Danvers exists in a world where dickhead machoism just gets in the way of saving the world and it kind of gets to me that all the male superheroes get a free card when it comes to personality and characterization.

Honestly? Right now, I am having problems thinking up any male hero with hobbies, interests, or friends. Those that do have hobbies have hobbies related to their role as a hero. So why do women have to be perfect in everything we do in order to be viable? Why can’t women focus their time on being better warriors or better pilots or better techies? It’s good enough for the males but not enough characterization for women? Even now, women have to work five times as hard to be considered half as good, and usually we’re far better than our male counterparts.

I really liked Maria and Carol’s friendship in the movie. Carol’s fragmented karaoke memories and young Monica’s assistance going through the memory box showed us Carol as an Air Force pilot before she became a Kree warrior. Carol was very much a part of Maria and Monica’s lives. They spent holidays together and Carol’s gifts from the pictures were thoughtful and fun. They showed Carol as a dedicated and loyal friend and someone who took the time and effort to be a supremely supportive part of Maria and Monica’s lives. So what were things like for women pilots back in the 1990s? Carol and Maria’s relationship, regardless of whether that friendship was a friendship or something else, would have likely always caused them professional issues, but Carol stood up for Maria and they challenged each other in the best ways, competing over who got to fly first, or who was the better pilot. I imagine that they spent a good part of their professional careers never really saying, but still knowing, the things that mattered most. That’s why the scenes with Carol and Maria were so powerful. They didn’t have to say the thousands of thoughts in each of their heads because they trusted each other to know. Emotions exist whether people talk about them or not and those emotions were very much displayed in Carol, Maria, and Monica’s interactions.

Or maybe those emotions were just obvious to those who have experienced powerful emotions like that ourselves, especially in situations where you can’t exactly say what you’re really feeling and thinking. When you have to put more important things in front of whatever you might be feeling in order to do what’s right or not lose your job.

There were two scenes in the movie that I thought for sure were going to be used as outside savior moments that were not and it made me happy. The first was in the aerial dogfight at the end, when Maria is flying through the canyons. She was an amazing pilot but it honestly would have been so cliché if someone else had come in and saved the day instead of Maria outflying the Kree pilot. I smiled so much when Maria showed how awesome of a pilot she was and succeeded in the flight back to earth. The second time I thought the movie was going to be typical and predictable was when Carol and Yon-Ragg are facing off in individual, face-to-face combat at the end of the movie and Yon-Ragg tries to get her to face him without her powers. He tries to goad her into proving to him that she isn’t anything without her powers and she just blasts him into the rocks. I was so happy the movie didn’t do the “look at me, I’m proving I’m as good as the guys” thing that is so common in these types of situations. Those two scenes showed to me that women can be awesome and amazing without having to prove ourselves.

[Updated thoughts, as now I’ve seen the movie multiple times]

You know what else really struck me? People refer to Yon-Ragg as Carol’s mentor and in the beginning of the movie, it appears as though he is functioning as exactly that. But the more times I watched the movie and the more of their interactions I watched, the more I realized that he’s not a mentor at all. He’s her captor. He shot her plane out of space, was responsible for killing her actual mentor, and then he kidnapped her, erased her memories, and worked to build her into a weapon for someone else’s war. They couldn’t take the power core itself, so he decided they would own and control her. Referring to Yon-Ragg as Carol’s mentor is exactly the mentality preventing women in our current society from being anything other than property or a tool for the male character’s development. Even referring to Yon-Ragg as Carol’s mentor is toxic.


Overall, I liked this movie quite a lot, ranking it as a low four or a high three on my rating scale. I intend on seeing it again in theaters and will happily buy it when it comes out on Blu-ray and dvd.

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