I believe my to-be-read pile continues to grow simply in order to spite me. Well, that and people keep writing really great-sounding (really interesting!) books that I want to read, which is not something I can really complain about—except I wish I read faster, in order to be able to keep up.
Let me draw your attention this week to Molly Brooks’ 26-episode self-contained webcomic Power Ballad—which I claim for the speculative genre on the very thin grounds of it featuring a masked vigilante parkouring superheroine (without superpowers). Meera Varma is personal assistant to international popstar Carina Petersen. Carina’s hobby is running around the rooftops of Los Angeles dressed in a skeleton suit lined with Kevlar interfering in crimes-in-progress. Meera figured out Carina’s alter ego within forty-eight hours of being hired, and promptly offered her personal assistant services to The Skeleton as well.
Unfortunately, after two years, Meera is utterly in love with her boss. She thinks she’s got a really bad crush on a straight girl. What she doesn’t realise is that her feelings are requited. This is a story about how awkward it is to figure out whether or not you can have a relationship with your boss—or with your employee—while investigating the bizarre thefts of dresses designed by a cult fashion designer, including one from off the back of his widow, and also falling off rooftops. (Carina finds being the Skeleton relaxing compared to being in the spotlight.) The awkward dance of does-she-like-me? does-she-like-me-back? is complicated by Meera’s many ex-girlfriends, with all of whom Meera still seems to be on good terms, and who are, to quote Carina, “really thirsty.”
This is a delightfully fun, touching story with vivid art and excellent pacing. Complete in 26 episodes, it’s also a fairly short read. And, honestly? One of the best “superhero”/vigilante stories I’ve read in ages. Try it. Seriously.
Remnants of Trust and Breach of Containment, the most recent two books in Elizabeth Bonesteel’s Central Corps series (begun last year, with The Cold Between). Unlike Power Ballad, they fall into the “books I wanted to like more than I did” category. Despite a solid hand with action scenes, Bonesteel’s complicated plots suffer from holes in the middle of their conspiracies and political intrigue. (And in Breach of Containment’s case, the plot leans a little too hard on a rather magical mysterious black box that does whatever is conveniently necessary to the narrative, and is later revealed to be a handwavy function of “because AI strangeness,” which is rather unsatisfying.)
But the characters, especially the secondary characters, are strongly drawn, and space-opera-type science fiction is not so plentiful that I’m not going to enjoy one that’s not quite tidy enough to perfectly suit my tastes. I want more science fiction with big ships and characters who believe in Star-Trek-esque ethics of service and science, who find family with their colleagues and home in their starships. Small bands of ragged misfits are all very well, but sometimes it’s nice to see mostly well-adjusted professionals doing their job to the best of their ability, and doing their best to avoid things blowing up.
Yes, I know I like explosions most of the time. I’m fickle like that.
What are you guys reading lately? Looking forward to anything good?
Liz Bourke is a cranky queer person who reads books. She holds a Ph.D in Classics from Trinity College, Dublin. Her first book, Sleeping With Monsters, a collection of reviews and criticism, is out now from Aqueduct Press. Find her at her blog, where she’s been known to talk about even more books thanks to her Patreon supporters. Or find her at her Twitter. She supports the work of the Irish Refugee Council and the Abortion Rights Campaign.