Eden by Christopher Sebela & Marc Laming

from an idea by Alain Bismut and Abel Ferry, with colors by Lee Loughridge and letters by Troy Peteri.

The Earth of the future is overcrowded and impoverished. Crime rates are up, in no small part due to families like the Oximenkos, who will do whatever it takes to survive. Dad Gabe, Mom Morgan and teenage daughter Kali are a tight and well-trained unit, with Gabe the softer-hearted idealist to Morgan’s no-nonsense soldier. Their diverse skills serve them well when they’re raiding the houses of the rich for food and other necessities, or eluding criminal gangs bigger than their own.

When the Oximenkos learn that their neighbors have won a lottery granting them much coveted space passage to Eden, an off-world colony with few of Earth’s problems, they immediately make a plan to take the Tremaines’ places. Unfortunately, their larceny means that the system malfunctions while they’re supposed to be in cryosleep aboard the Constellation, the transport ship that ferries millions of sleeping passengers from Earth to the much richer colony, a galaxy away. What the Oximenkos discover upon waking, tho, upends everything they’ve been led to believe.

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2024/04/18/eden-by-christopher-sebela-marc-laming/

Hit And Run by John Freeman

Hunh. So I don’t know very much about the author, but I get the distinct feeling that I would have appreciated this novella a lot more if I did.

Hit And Run begins with the titular violent act, as witnessed by our narrator John Frederick and his friends Louise and Brian. John sticks around to give his story to the cops, then goes home to his wife Linda. The next morning, he finds the offending vehicle by happenstance and calls it in. Feeling like he’s really helped smoothe the way for justice, he’s shocked that the process of finding the perpetrator and trying him in court is taking so dang long. It’s even more of a shock when he realizes that the victim was someone with ties to his own family.

At about the same time, his marriage to Linda begins to unravel. They’d been together since college, but only felt spurred to marry by 9/11, in addition to the impetus of his mother’s slowly deteriorating health. Linda has recently started looking for a cure for her own mental issues in expensive gym training, while John stays up late writing, sometimes in cafes and bars. The deterioration of their relationship forms an imperfect parallel with the court proceedings, as the police are unable to locate the hit and run driver even as the assistant district attorney slowly, painstakingly builds the state’s case against him.

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2024/04/17/hit-and-run-by-john-freeman/

Taka by Ryan Jampole

Oh my goodness, I am so obsessed with this manga-style graphic novel, I literally finished it with cathartic tears streaming down my face!

Our heroine Taka is a self-styled Notorious Delinquent. Having grown up on the mean city streets alone, she has no friends, no interest in developing any, and only really cares about one thing beyond survival: getting the Golden Mekku from one of her city’s claw machine games. She’s actually just about to snag one when she’s rudely interrupted by Gator, a low-level gang leader with the hots for Star, a young reporter. Taka accidentally saves Star while beating up Gator’s goons, so is deeply annoyed when she turns back to her game and discovers that someone else has grabbed her Golden Mekku while she was otherwise occupied.

While in hot pursuit of perhaps the only claw machine in the city that might still have her much-desired prize, Taka stumbles across something hidden and ancient… and accidentally sets an entire bevy of monsters free. Luckily — or otherwise given Taka’s antisocial tendencies — she’s also released the antidote, as well as awakened the science priest who’d spent ages guarding it. Science priest Meg explains that the things Taka set free were chimecha, robot monsters in the shape of screws that possess people and turn them into mecha-villains. Having accidentally ingested said antidote, Taka is now bonded to the Hero Metal that turns her into the Mech Fighter, the only being capable of defeating the chimecha and imprisoning them once more.

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2024/04/16/taka-by-ryan-jampole/

Nettle and Bone by T. Kingfisher

“What kind of a life do you lead where you find yourself building a dog of bones?” (p. 2) Marra asks herself, though of course she knows. It’s the readers who want to know how she has come to this distinctly creepy, slightly mad pass. And she’s come to it wearing a cloak of owlcloth tatters and spun-nettle cord, made in a day by her own hand. “Even the dust-wife said that I had done well, and she hands out praise like water in a dry land.” (p. 2) What’s a dust-wife? She keeps putting the dog together, in a “blistered land” inhabited by cannibals and the things that scared them. Marra keeps repeating a jump-rope rhyme, and it works a bit of magic. “Bone dog, stone dog … black dog, white dog … live dog, dead dog … yellow dog, run!” (p. 9) And the bone dog comes alive at dusk.

The love of a bone dog, she thought, bending her head down over the paw again. All that I am worth these days.
Then again, few humans were truly worth the love of a living dog. Some gifts you could never deserve. (p. 8)

Nettle and Bone by T. Kingfisher

The book’s back cover gives away what it would otherwise take several chapters for a reader to discover, as T. Kingfisher (who also writes under her given name of Ursula Vernon) doles out background at a deliberate place, jumping back and forth between Marra’s odd and dangerous present, and a past that seemed less threatening at the time. She was a princess — youngest of three — of the Harbor Kingdom. The sisters do not get along, and the kingdom itself is in a precarious position. It is sandwiched between covetous neighbors, both of which would like the eponymous harbor, but who also want to deny it to their rival. The balance tips, though, and the oldest sister is sent to marry the prince of the Northern Kingdom in a protective alliance. Five months later she comes home in a coffin. The prince is said to be heartbroken. It is said that she fell down a flight of stairs, while pregnant.

The kingdom being still in danger, and nothing having changed about the reasons for an alliance, the middle sister marries the same prince, as soon as is seemly. Marra is sent to a convent dedicated to Our Lady of Grackles, so as to forestall any possible countervailing alliance. Being used as a pawn, having no say in her future comes as a shock to Marra, who had heretofore quite liked the princess life. Even more shocking is when she discovers how the prince has been abusing her sister. He still needs her to produce a male heir, so he is careful not to damage her too much, but it is a horror nonetheless. Marra’s sense of helplessness increases.

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2024/04/14/nettle-and-bone-by-t-kingfisher/

Mothers and Other Monsters by Maureen F. McHugh

How can it be that there are only two collections of stories by Maureen F. McHugh? And now I have read them both. She has published two more novels that I haven’t read yet, but after that I have to hope for a new book, which as far as I can tell has not happened for more than a dozen years. Perhaps quantity is the price paid for quality, but I wish there were many more McHugh books to read and enjoy, to read and think about for years later, or even to read and be deeply unsettled about, because some of these stories are in fact deeply unsettling. And then there are stories that are just going on about school and families and dogs and along comes a sentence like “[My dog] was acting that way because Tye was a werewolf, although he wasn’t really, not yet.” It’s followed by “I didn’t know Tye was a werewolf, because he didn’t tell me that for years and years.” And then, matter-of-factly, as kids are wont to do, “In movies, dogs are afraid of werewolves, but that’s not true.” (p. 135) The story is “Laika Comes Back Safe,” and it’s about a girl who really wishes Laika had come back safe, and the boy who becomes her best friend as they grow into teenagers. It’s about dysfunctional families, and trying to make sense of the world when fights and craziness are what you know best. It’s beautiful, and heartbreaking, and Tye does eventually tell her about being a werewolf.

Mothers and Other Monsters by Maureen F. McHugh

Mothers and Other Monsters has stories that begin with sentences like “In the afterlife, Rachel lived alone.” That’s “Ancestor Money,” which mixes East Asia and what could be East Kenticky so seamlessly that it makes perfect sense, though of course practically everyone in it is dead already. It has a story in the form of an interview about what happens when Baby Boomers get age-reversing treatments before anyone else, and that crosses with an AIDS-like disease, told mostly by an actual teenager from that time. It has a story, “Eight-Legged Story” that takes the shape of a traditional Chinese essay form. Each part

presents an example from an earlier classic. Together, the parts are seen as the argument. The conclusion is assumed to be apparent to the reader. It is implicit rather than explicit. It’s not better or worse than argument and conclusion, it’s different. It is more like a story. This is not an eight-legged essay. If it were, I would use examples from the classic literature. Once upon a time there was a girl named Cinderella. Once upon a time there was a girl named Snow White. (p. 180)

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2024/04/13/mothers-and-other-monsters-by-maureen-f-mchugh/

Nazi Hunting: A Love Story by Jess McHugh

What a timely short read for these ages! I’m so glad I had to chance to pick this up, to be reminded that fighting fascism isn’t just about wars and polls, but is an ongoing, everyday, and very necessary struggle.

Serge Klarsfeld and Beate Kunzel met in Paris in 1960. The young adults — he a law student, she an au pair from Germany — fell in love, marrying three years later despite the discouragement of several of Serge’s friends, who feared the worst from the prospect of a Romanian-born French Jew marrying a German woman. In fairness to their concerns, Beate had known little of her country’s historical extermination of millions of Jews. Serge proved to be her introduction to the extent of Nazi atrocities, stoking the fires that already burned in her against injustice.

Their career as Nazi hunters begins in earnest in 1966, when they learn that the new Chancellor of Germany, Kurt Georg Kiesinger, was a former Nazi. He wasn’t just a rank and file member either, but had worked as a deputy director under Joseph Goebbels to churn out anti-Semitic propaganda. Beate was determined to highlight his crimes. At first, she printed articles and brochures to denounce him, but when these proved less than effective, decided that civil disobedience would draw more eyeballs to her cause. Her efforts not only got people talking, but were a significant reason for his failed bid for reelection.

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2024/04/12/nazi-hunting-a-love-story-by-jess-mchugh/

Kai’s Ocean Of Curiosities by Joséphine Topolanski

Well, for the most part it’s by Joséphine Topolanski. I feel like a number of liberties have been taken in the English translation by Johanna McCalmont, but as I don’t have the full text of the original French to compare it with, I’ll mostly have to make educated guesses as to what survived translation.

The art definitely did, tho, which is awesome because the art is a huge selling point of this gorgeous kid’s book. Ms Topolanski specializes in print-making, and the linocut-inspired art throughout the book is a wonderful example of this. Most of the underwater scenes are done in blue and white, with the occasional yellow or red highlight, usually for Kai’s equipment or for Kai herself. There’s a double-page spread of marine biology at the back that is just magnificent, and includes a list of each plant and creature’s common name.

The story itself revolves around Kai, a young girl who likes exploring the ocean floor. This exploration sometimes feels more fanciful than scientifically rigorous, even if one accepts the conceit of Kai being able to pilot underwater alone. Which, to be clear, I was happy to do! Sometimes, the best way to teach scientific fact is with a framing of scientific fiction. But the bit about shoals of fish shying away from her red protective suit made me raise an eyebrow, and I absolutely cringed when she reached out to touch the coral. Aside from harming yourself — and cuts from coral are notorious for taking weeks, even months to heal — you could harm a fragile ecosystem. Far better to just admire by looking, or even taking a picture.

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Bitch Planet, Vol. 1: Extraordinary Machine by Kelly Sue DeConnick & Valentine De Landro

One of the best things about my favorite local bookstore is the way they host so many cool events and book clubs, and offer the book club selections at 15% off for the month. I’d previously been to an excellent non-fiction gathering to discuss Britney Spears’ The Woman In Me last January, but hadn’t really felt moved to come to another one till I saw that Bitch Planet was the Heavy Graphic Novel Book Club selection for April.

I greatly enjoy Kelly Sue DeConnick’s work… oh, wait. I just looked it up and I think I must have confused her with someone else, as both of her other books I’ve read — Captain Marvel and Pretty Deadly — were firmly middle-of-the-road for me (and now I don’t know WHO exactly I was thinking of. Maybe Kate Leth? Why do so many comicbook writers have such gorgeously glossy red hair?) Anyway! I went to People’s Book in Takoma Park for an amazing combined (and free!) Tarot and Oracle reading the other night, and purchased this volume in gratitude. Absolutely devoured it over sahur the next morning and knew I had to come back for the book club a few days later. Led by the lovely Simone, four of us discussed the themes and art of this amazing title, before wonderful Milo ordered in copies of the other two volumes of this still-to-be-completed series for us to purchase. Gosh, I hope Ms DeConnick and Valentine De Landro get the chance to finish it soon: it’s so good and I’m completely hooked after the first volume alone!

Anyway, Bitch Planet is the nickname for an off-world penal colony where women who are “non-compliant” are sent in exile from Earth’s patriarchal society. It’s a brutal women’s prison, and non-compliance can mean basically anything that displeases a man. Former athlete Kamau Kogo is a prisoner here, but is quickly tapped to lead a team of fellow inmates in competing in the globally televised pastime of Megaton, a rugby-like sport with billions of fans and viewers. Kam has zero interest in participating in the regime’s circuses, but some of her fellow prisoners persuade her to do it, with unexpected and devastating results.

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2024/04/10/bitch-planet-vol-1-extraordinary-machine-by-kelly-sue-deconnick-valentine-de-landro/

The Ultimate RPG Game Master’s Guide by James D’Amato

subtitled Advice And Tools To Help You Run Your Best Game Ever!

There is so much useful information packed into this relatively slender volume, not only for anyone aspiring to run role-playing games but also for more experienced Game Masters looking to hone their skills. All the advice here is system agnostic by design, which makes this a really great resource that isn’t limited to just one kind of game. Its 200+ pages also make it very accessible for readers who already have a ton of material to get through with prepping most RPGs and don’t need yet another massive, small-text tome on top of that.

And frankly, most GM’s guides written specifically for one game are kinda terrible. I’ve been running Dungeons & Dragons for years and still haven’t been able to get past the very first chapter of the official Dungeon Master’s Guide, as my eyes keep glazing over from the potent mixture of confusion and boredom it evokes. Plus, it’s fifty bucks! (And don’t get me started on the diminishing quality of Wizards Of The Coast book bindings over the years.)

Fortunately, The Ultimate RPG Game Master’s Guide is a much more budget- and brain-friendly alternative to collecting a whole bunch of different guides that may or may not prove helpful to the vocation of being a versatile and successful GM. The contents of this volume are well-structured, really going over everything GMs need, from prep to actual play. The bulk of the book is organized into two large parts: GMing Basics (mostly philosophy) and Leading The Game (mostly exercises.)

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2024/04/09/the-ultimate-rpg-game-masters-guide-by-james-damato/

After the Apocalypse by Maureen F. McHugh

The cover of After the Apocalypse looks crinkled and dog-eared, as if the calamities within its pages have begun to seep out into the world beyond. The clock on the book’s cover is set to a few minutes after midnight, a reminder that after the worst has happened, things go on for at least some people. These nine tales are their stories.

After the Apocalypse by Maureen F. McHugh

Maureen F. McHugh does not do cozy catastrophes, and some of these stories are hard ones indeed. They’re not splattery, in-your-face, can-you-take-it hard stories; they’re hard like talking to a cheerful Russian grandfather some time after glasnost, when he could speak freely. He mentions how all 100 boys in his school class went off to the war, and three of them came back with serious injuries, they were never quite the same again, but he got lucky and got married and sure they had to scrimp but there was a thaw under Khrushchev and even in the Brezhnev years you knew where you stood, plus there was booze and you didn’t have to work too hard. He dotes on his grandchildren and he’s such good company that it’s only much later you realize the reason he never mentioned any of the other 96 boys from his class is that not a single one of them came back from the war. McHugh’s apocalypses are like that. They’ve happened before the stories start, and she shows people getting on with their lives afterward; sometimes making the best of things, and sometimes even getting ahead, but more often broken by events, even if they pretend to competence.

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2024/04/07/after-the-apocalypse-by-maureen-f-mchugh/