the Little Red Reviewer

Posts Tagged ‘superheroes

I was gonna write one of those really indepth reviews, where I give you all the background on Mallory’s world and “how we got here”. I even had it half written. But then I realized I wasn’t saying the most important thing first, and who the heck wants to read eight paragraphs to finally get to the most important thing, which is:

OMG Firebreak is SO SO SO GOOD. It’s got a TON of stuff going on, and I cried all the time while I was reading the end, a hustle based economy sucks, and when the government makes a few stupid decisions, the consequences last, um, forever. <deep breath> The first half of Firebreak was everything I wanted Ready Player One to be, smashed up with everything I wanted An Absolutely Remarkable Thing to be, and then the story went gloriously off the rails and I when I heard a name that rang a bell I realized I also recognized that sword/gun combo, and I ran and grabbed some other books off my bookshelf because I HAD to read those too all of a sudden. </and breathe>

Imagine if a superhero didn’t know who they were. Or maybe they did know, but they couldn’t escape their employers. Because they aren’t superheroes, they are property. They even have Merch!

Imagine if property decided to steal itself.

Firebreak is one of the best books I’ve read this year. Nicole Kornher-Stace is the best author you haven’t read yet. I love her books so much that I force my husband to read them. He described one of her earlier novels as the best novel he’s read in ten years, maybe ever. That’s it. That’s the review.

Oh, you want some more?

New Liberty City has their own Superheroes! Designed by Stellaxis, the Operatives keep the city safe from the invading corporation, Greenleaf. You can buy merch of the Operatives! They even have their own NPCs in the popular online MMO BestLife! Does your city have its own superheroes? Yeah, didn’t think so!

But the Supersoldier Operatives who are seen as superheroes are not citizens. According to Stellaxis, they aren’t even real people. They don’t even have names, only numbers, like 22, or 05. They were designed and built by Stellaxis, because it is important to Stellaxis to keep their city safe. When your apartment collapses around you, killing everyone you care about, when you are slowing dying of dehydration, Stellaxis will always be there.

Mallory makes part of a living livestreaming BestLife. When internet access is free, and there’s electricity for around 16 hours a day, grinding your way to the top of the charts is a cheap way to make some money, especially if you can score a sponsor who is willing to pay you in cash and water tickets. Oh, didn’t I mention? Stellaxis runs the city, charges for water, and you’ll be in even more debt up to your eyeballs if you end up in a rehydration clinic. People balance multiple jobs and gigs just to buy enough water to not die.


When Mal and Jessa score that unicorn sponsor, they agree to just ignore all the conspiracy theory bullshit the woman is spewing. But when her building completely disappears a few days later? When Mal meets a Supersoldier Operative in real life, streams her encounter, and goes viral? Maybe that disappearing sponsor was on to something after all. Mal doesn’t like attention. She never wanted to go viral.

The Operatives. What happens when you are a superhero and a slave, at the same time? What if you want a different life for yourself? Being a superhero only gets you killed some of the time. And if you are one of the lucky Operatives who didn’t die? It means you watched all your friends die.

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Turbulence by Samit Basu

published in 2012

where I got it: acquired a used copy

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I describe myself as someone who doesn’t like Superhero stories, and then I read one and have a blast.  I think what I don’t like is the majority of american style Marvel/DC Superhero movies, which is an entirely different blog post, and also an entirely different thing from superhero novels and short stories.

 

Back in 2014, I had the pleasure of interviewing Samit Basu for SFSignal, and his books have been in the back of my mind ever since.

 

People in India are waking up with superpowers. It seems that everyone on a particular London-Delhi flight ended up with the special powers of their dreams.  One person could fly, another became an amazing inventor, another was able to control the weather, another could create multiple copies of themself, etc.  A lot of the “look what I can do!”  is ripped directly from American style comics, and there’s actually a lot of purposeful joking about superhero names, X-men style powers, and fourth wall poking.  Not only is Turbulence a hella fun story, it’s also a love letter to superhero stories.  I really can’t say enough good things about this novel. It’s fun, funny, kept my attention, and thanks to Basu’s writing style I was instantly and continuously invested in the characters.

 

The first “superhero” we really get to know is Uzma.  She’s  moved from London to Mumbai to become a Bollywood actress.  Beautiful and graceful, everyone likes Uzma, and she was my favorite character.  Overstaying her welcome with her cousin, Uzma answers an ad to rent a room in a big old house, only to learn that everyone who lives there is weird or crazy. The owner of the house, Aman, has figured out that something strange happened on that flight, and he tells Uzma he contacted her because she is powered, and he wants the powered people to stick together which is why when he finds powered people he lets them stay in this huge house for free. What he doesn’t tell her is that people who were on that flight are being systematically kidnapped or murdered, and he hopes by staying together they can protect themselves.

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miniatures_by_john_scalzi_500_780Miniatures: The Very Short Fiction of John Scalzi

published Dec 31, 2016

where I got it: received review copy from the publisher (Thanks Subterranean!)

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Wanna know the balm for doorstopper books and series that don’t have an end in sight? Super short stories that are super satisfying.  Stories that get in, make a point and maybe make you laugh, and get out. It’s like those delicious bite-sized Milky Way mini candy bars that (the best) people give out at Halloween.

 

Miniatures is John Scalzi’s new collection of very short stories.  Inspired by everything from travel boredom, the bureaucracy of superhero management, overly intelligent yogurt, a very bitter Pluto, the design limitations of twitter, people being idiots, how to be polite to aliens,  having some fun at Wil Wheaton’s expense and more, these mostly humorous and mostly ultra short stories are the bite sized milky way minis of spec fiction.  Covering 25 years of Scalzi’s long career in journalism, review writing, and fiction, this collection is a must-have for Scalzi fans. Oh, you’re not familiar with John Scalzi, but you like to laugh?  You’ll like this too!

 

A handful of the stories deal with interactions with aliens, but these aren’t “first contact” stories, not by a long shot. These are millionth contact stories, when interactions with aliens have become as commonplace as seeing a stick-figure family sticker on the back of a mini-van.  Two of my favorite stories in the collection are of this variety – “New Directives for Employee-Manxtse Interactions” and “Important Holidays on Gronghu”.  Both are presented as company wide memos, and both of these companies are about to be holding massive open interviews.  I’ve read “Important Holidays on Gronghu” probably four times and it gets funnier every time.

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wild cards fourWild Cards IV: Aces Abroad, edited by George R. R. Martin

published in 1988, with new material added and republished by Tor Books in January 2015

Where I got it: received review copy from Tor (thanks!)

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Wild Cards: Aces Abroad is the fourth book in a shared universe anthology series. The good news is that you can easily read this as a stand alone, and the better news is that it’ll all make way more sense if I give you just a little bit of background about the series.

 

Started in the late 1980s, the Wild Cards shared universe  envisions an alternative history where our first contact with an alien species causes the Wild Card virus to be released into Earth’s atmosphere. The virus killed much of the population, and physically affected nearly all who survived, granting them superpowers or horrid mutations. Some people grew wings and could fly, others turned into grotesque parodies of human beings. If your gift was a boon, you became known as an Ace, and if your gift came with physical deformaties, you became known as a Joker. Many Aces became successful business owners and celebrities, whereas society had no idea what to do with the Jokers, these hideous creatures who used to be our parents, friends and neighbors. As the decades passed, Jokers became more accepted in society, but many still reside in ghettos and fear for their own safety. Many of the characters in Wild Cards reminded me more of X-Men characters rather than traditional “good guy” superheroes. Most of these people want to live their life in peace, and help their friends and families. None of these people are traditional comic book superheroes.

 

 

I’ve certainly read themed anthologies before, but I’ve never read a shared universe. Each author was credited in the table of contents, and again the first time their writing appears in the volume. But after that, it’s just chapter after chapter, and if you aren’t paying attention it’s easy to forget which author’s work you are reading.  The fact that eleven authors (Stephen Leigh, George R.R. Martin, John J. Miller, Leanne C. Harper, Gail Gerstner-Miller, Walton Simmons, Edward Bryant, Lewis Shiner, Victor W. Milan, Melinda M. Snodgrass and Michael Cassutt) could seamlessly put  novel together, and then 25 years later two more authors (Kevin Andrew Murphy and Carrie Vaughn) could slip their new stories in unnoticed is pretty damn incredible.

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The Falling Machine (Society of Steam, book 1), by Andrew Mayer

published in May, 2011

Where I got it: received review copy from PYR

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Being “Victorian”, most steampunk I’ve read takes place in Victorian England, so it was very refreshing to read a steampunk that takes place in the United States. Even better, to a city I’ve visited before, New York City.  Mayer has taken the hustling, bustling, industrializing, Brooklyn-Bridge-just-starting New York City of 1880 and added superheroes, villains, automatons, and mad scientists.

Sarah Stanton, daughter of famed industrialist Alexander Stanton, lives a life of privilege. Although she isn’t supposed to leave her house without a chaperone, and she can’t vote or own property or choose her own husband, Sarah has been allowed to study under the inventor Dennis Darby.  Darby, leader of the international group of superheroes known as The Paragons, and creator of the walking, talking, thinking automaton known as Tom, is Sarah’s favorite person in the whole world.  When Sarah witnesses Darby’s violent death, his dying words regarding the future and her place in it become her responsibility.

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Speaking of Brian K Vaughan. . . 

A few years ago I read Michael Chabon’s award winning The Amazing Adventure of Kavalier and Clay, and I remember it being exactly that: amazing. If you’ve never read Chabon, do yourself a favor and pick this one up for some truly incredible reading. The novel follows the lives of cousins Sammy Clay and Joe Kavalier as they create a comic superhero that would take the 1940’s comics world by storm.

 A few years after the novel’s critical acclaim, Chabon began working with Brian K Vaughan and Darkhorse to develop a modernized comic book version of the adventures of The Escapists. 

Original printed as issues (which I managed to find #’s 3, 4, and 5 of), and now available as a completed graphic novel, Vaughan’s The Escapists is part sequel, part companion, and all homage to Chabon’s original novel. 

The six chapter story follows geeky high school graduate Max Roth, and his jock friend Denny Jones. Max’s father, who we never meet, owned the largest collection of The Escapist memorabilia in the country, and upon his death, the collection passed to Max. When Max’s mother passes away, he uses his inheritance to purchase the publishing rights to The Escapist character and universe, and  he Denny, along with the cute artist Case Weaver start working on their own comic book version. 

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It’s a good thing Superman wanted to be a nice guy, wanted to be a good guy, didn’t mind being famous, the center of attention. What if he’d just wanted to live a normal life?

If you had a superpower, would you use it for good, or for evil? Would you use it to help the world, or to help yourself? What if you tried to do the right thing and the world didn’t want your help?

In the late 1960’s, a fireball from space hit the rural Illinois town of Pederson. A flash, a bang, and every child born Pederson in the next nine months are special. Kept in Pederson and observed by government doctors, the children, known as “specials” developed different powers at different times. Flight, or mind reading, or super strength, or telekenesis, for example. Some developed fairly useless skills, and some never developed anything, but the government still watched. Everything started out so perfectly, and once upon a time everyone was friends. But children grow up, and friends drift apart, and super strength only makes you invulnerable against bullets, not corruption.

But this is not your standard superhero story. This is not about good vs evil, it’s not about saving the world. Well, it is about saving the world, a little bit, just not in the way you think. It’s a little bit X-Men mixed with a little bit of Heroes, mixed with a little bit of Highlander, with some of the best graphic novel writing in the business. J. Michael Straczynski’s Rising Stars just completely floored me.

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I’ve been eyeing this one for a while now. Alluring cover art, and how could I say no to Gerard Way, lead singer of one my favorite emo punk bands? I’m still humming Helena and Welcome to the Black Parade.

Once upon a time, there was a wealthy patron who adopted seven very special children. These children were all born on the same day, and they all have super powers, except for number seven, who can’t do anything except play the violin. Their adopted father felt he could give them a place to grow up where they would be safe, where they could learn to use their powers, where he could mold them into the perfect superheroes. The children and their home became known as The Umbrella Academy.

But like an emo love song, it’s all doomed from the start. Dad has some pretty high expectations, including that the children call him The Monocle instead of “Dad”, and he refers to them only by number. Yikes, talk about method acting. Not surprising, the kids grow up pretty f’ed up. Read the rest of this entry »


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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.