Review Round-up: Squadron Supreme, The Bug Wars, Crownbird and Beasts of the Burnished Chain

Four reviews with nothing in common, really. Squadron Supreme, Robert Asprin's The Bug Wars, Kit Thackeray's Crownbird, and Alex Marshall's new novella, Beasts of the Burnished Chain. Featuring: Military science fiction, four-colour superheroes, colonialist espionage action, and some grimdark skullduggery!

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Squadron_supreme_titleSquadron Supreme by Mark Gruenwald and Tom DeFalco (1986)

Squadron is really quite spectacular, and every time I read it, I'm more impressed. It is, for those that missed it, a pre-Watchmen (barely) examination of superheroism. Squadron's thematic heft is made all the more weighty by the fact that the Squadron is a group of C-list Marvel heroes that are all thinly veiled versions of DC characters. That makes them expendable and strangely liberated - despite their immediate familiarity, there's no backstory, canon or future. The result is, quite possibly, the most mature, most interesting take on the Justice League that ever existed - all courtesy of Marvel Comics.

The twelve issue series begins with a world that's in bad shape, thanks to a battle between the Squadron and a mind-controlling super-villain. The Squadron steps up and declares itself 'in charge': the team is going to fix the world. From infrastructure to disarmament, they go about their utopian plan - forcing everyone to be better, if necessary. The situation becomes more extreme when the Squadron find themselves with a machine that can 'behaviourally modify' people. Now, as well as sweeping social and infrastructural change, they can now literally make individuals Be Good. The ethical situation doesn't go unchallenged, and the discussion - and fallout - is explored over the course of the series.

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Non-Fiction: 'A Day on the Moon' by James Naysmyth and James Carpenter (1874)

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We well know what are the requisite conditions of life on the earth; and we can go no further for grounds of inference; for if we were to start by assuming forms of life capable of existence under conditions widely and essentially different from those pertaining to our planet, there would be no need for discussing our subject further: we could revel in conjectures, without a thought as to their extravagance. The only legitimate phase of the question we can entertain is this: can there be on the moon any kind of living things analogous to any kind of living things upon the earth? And this question, we think, admits only of a negative answer.... 

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YA Y'all: Moxie, Part-Time Princesses and Sarah Dessen

One more round-up of Young Adult reading - Jennifer Mathieu's Moxie, Monica Gallagher's Part-Time Princesses and a whistle-stop tour through the ouevre of Sarah Dessen. Steel yourself for angst, anxiety, young women finding their agency, and some floppy-haired love interests.

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33163378Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu (2017)

Vivian’s high school, in a small town in Texas, is a hot mess of misogyny and harassment. The administration doesn’t care, the boys are a disaster, and Viv and her friends are left to suffer in silence.

And then she discovers Punk. It turns out that Viv’s mom was a Riot Grrl in the 1990s. After finding a cache of her mom’s zines, Viv sees them as the perfect way to express herself: angry, anonymous and, most of all, loud. ‘Moxie’ (the zine) succeeds beyond her wildest ambitions, introducing Viv to new friends, creating an underground of female empowerment, and of course, getting them heard.

It isn’t without trouble, of course, and Moxie contains all the ups and downs that you might expect. Moxie is a Disney After School Special version of Friday Night Lights, with all the conflicts (oh no! Moxie is banned!) and ‘surprises’ (oh wow, the cheerleader is on-side!) that fit the formula. There isn’t quite a moment where they all jump on their desks... but it isn’t far off either.

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Our Brave Captain

Family

Many of my friends have been talking to me about Star Trek lately. This makes me very happy, because usually I’m the one starting conversations about Star Trek. Somewhere within me is a kid who’s over the goddamn moon to know that one day, her skin will be clear, her bed will be shared, and her peers will genuinely want to ask her about the guiding principles of Starfleet. I love being in my thirties.

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Growing up Geek - and Girl

Gadget

Why is it important to put women on the covers of science fiction and fantasy novels, and why is it important to make sure they're not represented in a sexualized or diminishing posture? Why is it important to ensure that there is more than one woman in the main cast of a film or TV show? Why do people care so much about the Bechdel test?

And why do we keep having these arguments? 

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Three Fantasies: The Black Witch, The Empire of the Dead, and The Summer I Became a Nerd

The Black WitchThree reviews - all books with different 'fantasies', or relationships with fantasy, at their heart: The Summer I Became a Nerd, The Black Witch and The Empire of the Dead. One's a romp. One's a long-overdue provocation. One's kind of a mess. Enjoy!

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The Black Witch by Laurie Forest (2017)

A very traditional fantasy with a thought-provoking, revisionist twist.

The Black Witch has a really, really interesting premise: it full-on tackles the fact that many fantasy tropes are inherently racist. That's not only a telling comment on the radical polarisation of real-world politics, but, within the scope of genre, Witch takes a  fascinating approach to fantasy's racial essentialism. All Orcs are evil. All Drasnians are sneaky. All Elves are good. Fantasy is grounded in simple, unchallenged 'genetic' truths, with the exceptions (whaddup, Drizzt) there to prove the rule.

Black Witch has a completely classic fantasy world with a heroic human - basically the unappreciated secretly-hawt princess trope, rampaging hordes of Evil, the true religion, Fate and Destiny, a war against the darkness, and, of course, the chosen ones of light and darkness. But, as is made rapidly clear: every part of this is completely subjective.

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Fiction: 'The Second Bullet' by Anna Katharine Green

Vogue (1919) - Georges Lepape

Georges Lepape“You must see her.”

“No. No.”

“She’s a most unhappy woman. Husband and child both taken from her in a moment; and now, all means of living as well, unless some happy thought of yours—some inspiration of your genius—shows us a way of re-establishing her claims to the policy voided by this cry of suicide.”

But the small, wise head of Violet Strange continued its slow shake of decided refusal.

“I’m sorry,” she protested, “but it’s quite out of my province. I’m too young to meddle with so serious a matter.”

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Stark Reviews: 49-17 (1917)

49-17

Stark says: Go West and find me a population!

In my brief tenure as Dedicated Western Reviewer for Pornokitsch, I’ve tried to take my mission seriously. I’ve wallowed in the bewildering technicolour depths of Soviet-era musical comedy westerns, I’ve crammed Disney’s Robin Hood into a pair of chaps, I’ve burned these hands on the most acidy of acid westerns, and sought out rare and mythical VHS tapes that feature James Earl Jones in a terrible wig, and a cameo performance by Jeremy Beadle.

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Friday Five: 5 Frosty Favourites for Snowy Weather

As #snowmageddon ravages Britain, we're looking forward to the weekend. We have firm plans to camp out - pressed against the radiator, under a dozen blankets (and two cats), with whisky in hand. Also, books. * 

Here are a few of our cold weather favourites.

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Radio Drama: 'Dangerous Assignment: Bombay Gun Runners' (1950)

Wheaties

One time I saw this thing on the internet and it was a guy on a bike and the words said ‘lyf is short, be a racist’. Obviously I have decided to apply these words into my daily life, which is why I have chosen to listen to something called Bombay Gun Runners.

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