From the award-winning author of Cookie Cutter Superhero comes a brand new story about sidekicks, supervillains and saving the world
Back when he was called something else, Griff knew everything about superheroes, sidekicks and the mysterious machine responsible for creating them. Now, Griff is just an average guy, minding his own business. A volunteer handyman at the Boys Home—his former home—Griff spends his days clearing out gutters and building clubhouses for the orphans at the Home. Nothing heroic or remarkable about that, right?
But all of that changes when one of the Home kids starts having weird dreams about another Machine—an evil version that churns out supervillains. Griff remembers the call of the Machine, and reluctantly decides to help the kid on his mission.
And then they waltz back into Griff’s life. Those bloody heroes. Including him—The Dark—one of Australia’s mightiest and longest-running superheroes.
What’s a retired secret superhero sidekick to do?
I’m an unashamed fan of Tansy’s writing and I absolutely could not resist a follow up story to Cookie Cutter Super Hero from Kaleidescope. I have to say that Kid Dark Against the Machine was a glorious follow up story in this universe. I loved it! Griff is a great character, he’s so likeable and relatable the moment you meet him – and you can absolutely see where he’s coming from as a child superhero trying to figure out what on earth to do with his life after.
I love the themes that this story explores, also in keeping with the original story. Superheroes and tropes used by them and in comics. While Cookie Cutter Super Hero introduced us to some of these criticisms, I really think that Kid Dark Against the Machine brought it home – I don’t think you can read this story (either of them really) and look at super heroes and comics the same way.
I loved that this story made super heroes accessible to me as a reader who is only occasionally interested in the superheroes and comics genre. I didn’t need ten years of back knowledge to understand what was going on, Tansy gave me everything I needed to appreciate every snarky moment and subversive twist in the story. I loved all the names of the heroes and the villains, I loved that the hero and villain processes for selection and being in the spotlight were so different. I loved that being a super hero wasn’t lauded, and that there was this narrative time given to the person and human left behind once the world has moved on to other super heroes.
Kid Dark Against the Machine is a fluffy story that tackles good versus evil in a whole new way – it tackles it in the cheesy fun way that comics do all the time, but it also tackles the assumptions that underpin the genre. Tansy manages this in a way that couldn’t be further from dry and boring, you get your pop culture, gender politics and child hero ethics lesson in a cute package that is over far too quickly.
I’m with all the others who are calling for a novel in this universe, it’s got so much to offer and I’d read it in a heartbeat. If you want a light read, but an intelligent one about super heroes and looking at what that might be really like underneath the surface, this story is definitely for you.
I work in an agency doing content things, it’s a dynamic place to work and is busy and quite open – very collaborative and has lots of informal space usage encouraged. I *love* this about it. I also love that most of us use headphones for when we want to get stuck into something and not engage outwardly (also useful for when the music playing is not to your taste). That means that aside from my Pandora stations, I’ve been listening to a lot of podcasts. I’ve been loving this so much! So I thought I’d share what I’d happened upon recently. Feel free to tell me if you find something new you love, or if you already love these things squee with me about how amazing and wonderful they are!
Walking the Walk: Next Steps Against Family Violence: Such amazing women speakers, speaking candidly and critically, in detail about family violence and how it is so very gendered. There was also a great question at the end about family violence that happens in non hetero- or gender- normative situations and that was well asked, and well acknowledged by the speakers I thought. The whole issue is layered and complex, it’s not as simple as any of the slogans would have us believe. At the root of it is entitlement, and that invariably almost always leads back to sociocultural norms that are taught, learned and reinforced at every turn.
The F Word: Aboriginality: I loved this podcast, it was so interesting to listen to the speakers and it is glad to see Aboriginal speakers prioritised here and having the chance to speak from their experiences about what is important to them. It’s hard to describe how this was different from what is generally a very white feminism in Australia, I don’t quite have the words, but it was there and it was awesome – more feminism like this. More everything that includes and celebrates Indigenous Australian perspectives and expertise.
I love this podcast and it’s the first one I ever fell in love with. I devoured three episodes recently, not quite in order as I’m saving the Tiptree Spoilerifics for when I’ve read the books (I know it’s not necessary, but it’s helpful incentive to read the books and I want to do it this way). Speculative fiction and feminism, discussed by three brilliant, articulate women. So fucking awesome. Galactic Suburbia has a Patreon campaign, maybe you’d be interested in supporting it?
126: Hugos!: All the Hugos Ceremony aftermath! I watched the twitterstream live, but not the actual livestream (I am edging my way back into awards gently). It was awesome to be on twitter and experiencing all the interaction and brilliant commentary by so many people! I loved that part of it. Also, I am really pleased about the results, and it’s gone a reasonably long way to restoring my faith in fandom for awards, which has been (a lot) lacking for a few years.
128: 2 September 2015: Interesting data thanks to work by Nicola Griffiths crunching numbers relating to awards shortlists and winners, discussions about diversity panels and how after a certain point they’re not the conversation you need to be having and putting those ‘diverse’ labelled people on – they’re the people you should be including on all the OTHER discussions, because actually, that’s what diversity genuinely looks like. Lots of smart discussion, as usual. I love it.
129: 16 September 2015: Discussion of Australian politics and the recent Spill which has given us Malcolm Turnbull as our new Prime Minister. It’s a great discussion of our political system at present and how, it’s a bit of a joke. I’m sure there was some great commentary about the ability to win elections is not an indication of competency to govern – but I’m seeing a bunch of similar commentary around in relation to our government at present so it’s all a bit blurred together. In particular listening to the politics discussion, I love that sense of knowing that I was far from alone being glued to the coverage that night. Also acknowledgement of that thing where, nothing has really changed with the change of who’s in the top job – but so many of us have *hated* Abbott for so long and so much, that seeing him gone couldn’t be anything other than a pleasant relief. Even if you wake up to something of an ongoing hangover the next day.
It’s all thanks to Galactic Suburbia that I came across Fangirl Happy Hour, but I’m so glad I did! I love Ana and Renay! They’re so great to listen to! I love their enthusiasm! I love that they have such different and similar tastes and that they support this for each other so delightfully! It’s so charming! Speculative fiction in all it’s genre awesomeness from a perspective that brings things to my attention that I am actually interested in, with recommendations that I can trust in whether I’ll like something or not. I just can’t get enough, I inhaled four episodes:
14: ALL the Recommendations: Wow! So many recommendations! It is still one of the things on my to-do list to go through the show notes and add a bunch of the things to my reading/watching list! Not the least of which is their list of 81 cool podcasts… apparently I’ve plunged deeply back into podcast listening without even trying!
15: Three Out of Five Space Bees: This was a great episode, I almost wanted to read the ‘Hawkeye’ comic (I am not a comics person at this point in time). I really enjoyed the discussion of ‘Uprooted’ which is Naomi Novik’s new book and sounds fantastic.
16: Kate Elliott: Panel Rebel: This was such a fun podcast to listen to! Kate Elliott was a marvellous guest and I am now wondering how I never read any of her stuff before – she writes right within the genre spaces that I love. So, pretty much all her books are on my to-read list now.
17: Sigourney Weavering: I felt so much for Ana in this episode – I would have been equally upset by the treatment by the staffer at the con when she was trying to find out about the photo shoot stuff. How fucking rude. I really loved the discussion in this episode about the weight of history in the fandom/umbrella genre – and how sometimes it can be nice to try and read that, but it should never be imperative. Also, sometimes you have to make your own historical touchstones, and share them – hopefully others will also appreciate them, but saying something IS like this and that X book IS quintessential and you’re not a ‘real’ fan without it, is crap. I’m not buying. I’ve still never read Asimov or Heinlein, or Clark, or a bunch of others and honestly… I probably won’t. It’s not relevant history for me – it doesn’t enhance my experience of reading in this fandom/genre umbrella.
Today I got around to listening to the latest in Anita Sarkeesian’s Feminist Frequency series about Tropes in Video Games. The most recent topic of discussion is women as reward, how that works and what it looks like, what it means in the context of gaming, designer/developer respect for women, and perpetuating and reinforcing through creating incentives out of women as objects/rewards, the sense of male entitlement that is prevalent in our patriarchal society. It’s a brilliant critique, I really loved the way she ties it all into that entitlement and how it differs in effect in gaming rather than movies, television, books or comics – the nature is the challenge, achievement and reward – interactivity and making women rewards. Not people. Rewards. Which is to say, the games make a massive assumption that gamers are pretty much cis, male, straight, and not for example women, or non-binary gendered, or queer. Anita says it much better than I do, go watch her awesome videos:
The Misandry Hour:
First episode just dropped of Clementine Ford’s new project and IT’S AWESOME. It’s so awesome. In case you weren’t sure, the title is a tongue in cheek poke at the whole idea and myth surrounding misandry. There is a reasonable portion of the episode devoted to addressing this idea of misandry and what it comes down to is that any cultural level hatred that any group of women could level against men, cannot bring to bear the same influence, power and social inequality experienced by women. It’s not the same playing field, and to suggest that it is, frankly is part of the problem. The guests that Clementine invites along this episode are awesome, they’re interesting to listen to and the whole conversation is in depth crunchy feminism – it’s confronting and uncomfortable in places about our individual thinking processes, our own conditioning and how we engage and why. I didn’t know that I was desperate for this until I listened to it, but wow, it was so very much what I needed. This podcast is the product of a Patreon campaign for the express purpose of valuing women’s work and time, so maybe consider supporting it if you’d like?
“There will come a day when a thousand Illegals descend on your detention centers. Boomers will breach the walls. Skychangers will send lightning to strike you all down from above, and Rumblers will open the earth to swallow you up from below. . . . And when that day comes, Justin Connor, think of me.”
Ashala Wolf has been captured by Chief Administrator Neville Rose, a man who is intent on destroying Ashala’s Tribe — the runaway Illegals hiding in the Firstwood. Injured, vulnerable, with her Sleepwalker ability blocked, Ashala is forced to succumb to the machine that will pull secrets from her mind. And right beside her is Justin Connor, her betrayer, watching her every move. Will the Tribe survive the interrogation of Ashala Wolf?
2014 has brought several outstanding books to my attention – my ‘best of’ list that I’ve read this year is quite long in fact. I think that my favourite however, is ‘The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf’. I adored the story building in this, so many layers, puzzles and I was delighted at every stage of the reveal. People talk about this not being fantasy and I see what they mean about labelling it Dystopian Sci-Fi, but for me it seems to be Urban Fantasy, one with a distinctly ecological bent that I found very satisfying.
I loved the characters and their relationships, their interconnections and the way that the flashbacks were key to how the story unfolded. I loved the talents that the other characters possessed and how they created their own safe space in the world, and how they thrived. I love how they conquer the adversity and threat around them. This story was so utterly satisfying, on a plot level, a character level and crafting level.
“Vengance of Dragons” (1999), second book in the ‘Secret Texts Trilogy’ by Holly Lisle
Published by Warner Books, New York.
This is a solid second book in a trilogy. I dived into it as soon as I finished the first book and unearthed the third book at the same time, expecting that transition to be just as urgent. The story is fast paced, romance unfolds, the deeper plot thickens and the early promise of a utopian ending falls away to a nuance of character growth that I particularly appreciated.
Namely, how do you as the heroes on the side of ‘good’ persevere when your best hope, the one you’ve been working toward for hundreds of years is thwarted. It’s not a usual part of tales like this and I really like the way Lisle handled it. At no point was it a shallow turn in the plot, it was never melodrama for the sake of it. Instead, as a reader we start to consider what being that person standing up against wrong might mean, what it might cost, how we may not actually know what the right answer is, how there is no guarantee of success… ever.
I am still particularly in thrawl to the variety of characters all with different motivations some more noble or pure of heart than others. I am invested in the protagonist Kait and her lover Ry, but I’m also investested in the numerous secondary characters and how they negotiate the same story.
The novel doesn’t quite stand alone, though there is a very good synopsis in the beginning of the book that may cover that for some people. It is very much the bridge in a trilogy, there’s a lot of plot that takes place relevant to the first and third books but the book at no point comes across as filler, but instead as a vital link between how the story began and how it will be resolved. The tensions and conflicts within this series are well and truly complex enough to cover all three of the books and they’re deftly woven in as part of the story.
I can’t say much more about this save that I relished reading it and still recommend it as an extension of what I said about the first, being that if you enjoy epic fantasy, adventure and political intrigue, you would possibly apprecate these books.
“Diplomacy of Wolves” (1998), first book in the ‘Secret Texts Trilogy’ by Holly Lisle
Published by Warner Books, New York.
In “Diplomacy of Wolves” Holly Lisle begins a story that really grabbed my attention and I practically devoured it. This review may be spoilery beyond this point so if that’s important to you you may wish to simply know that I highly recommend the book and go and read it before continuing on with this review.
On the blurb it is described as:
“…a fantastic epic of ancient curses, evil conspiracies, and the darkest of sorceries.”
This is an apt description for the story. The central protagonist Kait is immediately likeable and she gives us a multi-layered insight into the world of Matrin in which the story is set. I love stories involving intrigue, politics and magic and my, this story doesn’t disappoint! The politics involves the notion of a powerful aristocratic class known as ‘Family’, inevitably two rival Families clash over power.
Any illusions Kait may hold about the sanctity of family or purity of her Family the Galweigh’s motives over the rival Sabir Family’s are quickly shattered. Kait’s place and understanding of the world around her is pulled apart and she is left to make the best choices she can to serve her Family after a brutal attack on one of the prestigious Galweigh Family Houses.
I also love stories with romance and in this there is also no disappointment. What I love about this book and the romance threads is that Kait gets to be a sexual being. She does struggle with this as her Karnee nature lends itself to intense sexual desires leading up to the time when she Shifts. However, this is not the struggle of a young woman in the grips of a puritanical view, rather her own moral code that would see her sleep with people for a genuine connection or preferably not at all.
Kait makes her choices to engage in or not engage in sexual connections without the condemnation of those around her for the reasoning of sex for it’s own sake.Strange that this is refreshing, but it is. Too often my eyes glaze over reading about yet another female character being punished because she dared to be a sexual being. That Kait is always in fullness ‘herself’ indcluding in a sexual sense makes the book and it’s romance enjoyable to read. Other romantic threads also include such ability to choose freely and not be punished for it so the surrounding impression is that there is no sexual war of consent being fought between the characters.
Ry as a Sabir Wolf treads a fine line in places in this book where he brushes against being a Stalker, it is only Lisle’s deft writing of his character and how he interacts with and thinks of Kait that steers this story thread away from a toxic interpretation. You can absolutely see the unhealthy patterning around relationships that seems to be almost a defining trait within the Sabir Family, but Lisle is careful not to give that reasoning any permissability. I also really enjoyed Ry’s relationships with his friends, their camraderie is believable and made me smile many times. I could actively believe in them standing with him despite the dangerous and in some ways foolhardy courses of action he proposed to take.
The counterpoint to the ‘hero’ protagonists is the characters who are the villains. There are several ways in which individual character’s roles change throughout the story but some of the true villains are easy to pick from the very beginning. You’re given an introduction to certain characters that very easily identifies them as ‘evil’, not through convenience but believably through the character actions and justifications for their actions. Some of the other villain characters were more ambiguous in their presentation, though there was always a sense of being wary of them. It makes you think… but not too hard about it.
I won’t say much about the story itself, but as a ‘quest story’ it is interesting and both familiar (tropes are like that) but also engaged with interestingly, at no point was I bored by the procession of the story. The story itself is intricately linked with sorcery and the system of magic and religion is believable and not so all powerful as to be irritating. I particularly like the way the notion of consequences for actions are engaged with. The decision to keep one’s ‘Word’ or not, the fact that in asking for help from a God one forgot to ask for a clear sign of support. Little things that just really allow me to relax and enjoy the story.
One favourite aspect I really enjoyed was the emphasis on Love as the underpinning of Peace in the wake of the Wizard War that events in the story herald.
If you’re someone who enjoys the epic fantasy style of book, enjoy magic and political intrigue with a side of shape shifter magic and romance, I recommend this book (and the trilogy) to you. I’ll be interested in thoughts from other people who’ve read the series about their impressions of it.
‘Queen City Jazz’ is an interesting book, it has a great premise with exploring a distopian future using a melding of giant bees and hive like ‘alive’ city networks and the post effects of a ‘nano war’ on the people surrounding and within one of those cities, ‘Cincinnati’ known as the ‘Queen City’.
The protagonist Verity is the reason I read it all the way through. As a character, being young and quite ignorant of her history and with selective teaching of her history around her she has startling indpendence and the ability to act autonomously. Her choices are her own all the way through and she is clear about her reasoning for things throughout her journey. It is delightfully refreshing (still) to read a believable female character as the protagonist in a novel where it’s not playing too much up to tired tropes for female characters.
For example, playing into the trope, Verity is ‘chosen’ for a particular destiny, but the way in which the author uses that trope interestingly and allows Verity to interpret for herself what being ‘chosen’ means. While there were romantic threads in the book it wasn’t a strong theme and the story was stronger for it.
On the less positive side of things, I didn’t really enjoy the ‘god/prophet’ thread. This thread involved the story of a middle aged male character who was responsible for early programming of the cities, him and his issues leaked through a little bit to strongly and made my teeth hurt a little.
Overall I liked it and am glad I read it, but it was a bit of a slog to get through and I was committed to finishing it rather than really wanting to read it all the way through. My reasons for doing so, such as the interesting premise, the female protagonist and her story remaining central, her independence, resilience and autonomy reinforced the entire way through made it worthwhile.
I’m really glad the book exists and that I read it. It is a solid science fiction novel and it pressed a lot of my reading desirability buttons gently, but without ever really hooking me. Still, that’s my experience of reading and your mileage may vary.