Camouflage Mom by Sarah Hovorka & Elif Balta Parks

subtitled A Story About Staying Connected.

Wow, this is a weird one for me to review. Coming at it from the perspective of a (theoretical) child whose parent has entered the military, I absolutely appreciate having a book like this, to console a kid who’s missing their parent and to assure them that the bond they have with said parent isn’t at all endangered by distance. This is especially important for kids whose parents have only recently enlisted. I also like that the parent in question here is specifically a mom, as women enter the military in substantial numbers too. I find it particularly meaningful that this story is based on Sarah Hovorka’s own childhood experience of having her mother enlist in the army back in 1987.

It’s always important to emphasize to kids that just because their parents’ work takes them far away from home, the bond between parent and child is not easily breakable, especially when the parent puts in the effort. And it’s just as important for parents to acknowledge that the child is doing hard emotional work in adapting — kids might be resilient, but parents need to understand that change of this magnitude isn’t easy or painless. This is the kind of book that’s perfect in helping to bridge that gap between parent and child, in making emotions clear for each part of the relationship.

Continue reading

Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2024/07/02/camouflage-mom-by-sarah-hovorka-elif-balta-parks/

Saga Vol 11 by Brian K Vaughan & Fiona Staples

collecting issues 61-66 of the long-running comic book series.

It has been a long ass time since I read the first Saga collection, and I have apparently not read anything else of it since, despite quite liking the first book. So when I saw that Volume 11 was nominated for the Hugos, I was super excited to dive in, despite having only the faintest remembrance of what had transpired in Volume 1. That vague memory proved to be only marginally helpful, as I spent most of this volume hanging on for dear life as I tried to figure out who everyone was, why they were where they were and what might have happened in the nine books that I hadn’t read. I definitely would not recommend jumping into this volume if you haven’t read any of the prior books, and think this would likely work best for those who’ve actually read all of the others. Some volumes in long-running series are terrific jumping-on points for new readers: this, alas, is not one of them.

I was actually a little surprised that no introductory material was included with this for the Hugo packet, but I get it. It’s a lot of stuff, and not all authors/publishers are as generous with their backlist as, say, Seanan McGuire or Kieron Gillen. But there is decidedly no “previously on” material here either, which makes me believe that the intent with this series overall is for readers to start at the beginning before getting here. I actually found that reading the back blurb helped me get a better idea of what I’d just read — I don’t usually read back matter on books I’m about to review because I have very little time for that nowadays — as it was super helpful in situating the characters in time and circumstance.

Continue reading

Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2024/07/01/saga-vol-11-by-brian-k-vaughan-fiona-staples/

Hugo Awards 2024: Best Related Work

The Hugo Award category that’s presently known as Best Related Work began in 1980 as Best Non-Fiction Book, and in 1999 became Best Related Book. In 2010 the name took its modern form, as fans recognized that the field of science fiction and fantasy is a diverse one, and sometimes award-worthy work comes in an unusual shape or form. In a way, Best Related Work has become the Hugo Award for Everything Else. In the last five years, winners in this category have included the whole project of an Archive of Our Own, an acceptance speech at the previous year’s Worldcon and a translation of a thousand-year-old poem, as well as two non-fiction books. Finalists took an even more expansive view of both “work” and “related.” Over the same period, they have included documentary films, a convention, a convention “fringe,” critical examination of an animated series presented in video form, and a translation project, all in addition to the more expected books and essays.

City on Mars by Kelly and Zach Weinersmith

This admirable creativity and inclusiveness has led to at least two tensions. First, whether the books for which the category was originally created would get crowded out by works that potentially had a wider appeal. Biographies, book-length collections of critical essays, and in-depth examinations of specific topics (e.g., Queers Dig Time Lords: A Celebration of Doctor Who by the LGBTQ Fans Who Love It, a 2014 finalist) are less likely to find large audiences than an online essay on controversies of the day. Would Hugo nominators lean on the “related” to such an extent non-fiction books might need their own category again? Second, how are voters to choose the best among such disparate finalists? When I was a voter for the 2021 awards, the category included one non-fiction book, two conventions (well, one and whatever an unauthorized fringe of Worldcon counts as), a long video of criticism, an online essay, and a translation of Beowulf. That was not so much comparing apples and oranges as it was apples and cumulonimbus cloud formations.

The answer to the first is to wait and see, I suppose. The evolution of the Hugos is like any other kind: slow. Since the low ebb of 2021, more non-fiction books have made it into the list of finalists. Last year, four of six finalists including the winner were books. This year it’s five of six, though one is almost entirely pictures. The answer to the second is idiosyncratically, as the voters do for every other category. It’s silly to pretend there’s one set of criteria for Best Novel or Best Short Story; it’s hopeless to pretend that there could be one way of selecting the best among so many different kinds of work. The only course is to trust to the voters and their ability to recognize excellence when they see it. For my part, I am glad that no more conventions have been selected as finalists, and I am glad that projects or documentation of projects have become sporadic rather than perennial. My votes reflect my idiosyncratic approach to topics and media; if I am shortchanging something amazing, I hope the other voters will make up for it.

Which brings me to 2024, with notes on each Related Work finalist in order of my ascending preference.

Continue reading

Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2024/06/30/hugo-awards-2024-best-related-work/

Tantalizing Tales — June 2024 — Part Two

Idk what it is about this summer, but my kids are driving me nuts while they’re home on vacation this year. Maybe it’s the heat, maybe it’s the fact that their father decided that he didn’t like my summer camp idea and decided to not actually make alternate plans for them. But they’ve 100% been taking up a ton of my time while I try to work, which means I’ve absolutely fallen behind on my already ridiculous mountain of reading.

Fortunately, this column makes me feel a little less bad about not getting to all these great books in time. Hopefully, I’ll still be able to make time in the future, but why make you wait, dear readers, till I do?

First on this list of tantalizing June releases I want to dive into is the evocatively titled The Vixen Amber Holloway by Carol LaHines. Ophelia, a professor of Dante, is stricken when she discovers that her husband Andy has been cheating on her with a winsome colleague. She figuratively descends into the underworld as she obsessively tracks her subjects, growing more and more estranged from reality the further she goes. For Andy’s betrayal has reawakened a much earlier trauma of abandonment by her mother at the age of eight. When Andy and Amber become engaged, Ophelia snaps.

This story is a jailhouse confessional, a dark comedy, an oeuvre of women’s rage, a suspenseful revenge fantasy, and a moving portrait of one woman’ s psychological breakdown, all in one slender volume.

Continue reading

Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2024/06/28/tantalizing-tales-june-2024-part-two/

Total Suplex Of The Heart by Joanne Starer & Ornella Greco

About halfway through this slice-of-life graphic novel, I realized that what I was reading felt too deeply personal to be anything less than semi-autobiographical. So when I got to Joanne Starer’s afterword, discussing how this story was based on her own life, I was both unsurprised and deeply moved by the grace and honesty she displays in looking back on that time and her legacy, and how she survived.

Total Suplex Of The Heart is based on the author’s experiences in the world of professional wrestling. Our heroine Georgie is a freelance writer pursuing a story when she gets invited to work on the local wrestling circuit. She’s hired to be “just” a valet who escorts the actual wrestlers out to the ring but the rush of applause becomes an endorphin hit that’s amplified when she becomes a bigger part of the performance. Soon, instead of working on her story, she’s hanging out at the ring and making friends and lovers, even as she’s trying to rebuild her self-esteem from the beating it keeps taking from her abusive mom.

Once Georgie settles into a relationship with a nice, dorky wrestler, they move out to Pennsylvania and start working on a wrestling school of their own. But the longer they stay together, the more obvious it becomes that her boyfriend isn’t the decent guy he seems, even as Georgie’s struggles to found an all-women’s company come up against unexpected obstacles. What will Georgie do when everything seems lost? Will she be able to find her way through while figuring out who her real friends are?

Continue reading

Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2024/06/27/total-suplex-of-the-heart-by-joanne-starer-ornella-greco/

Let’s Hang Out by Chris Duffy

subtitled Making (and Keeping) Friends, Acquaintances, and Other Nonromantic Relationships.

Jeez, who couldn’t use a guide like this? Alright, if I’m being perfectly honest: me, as I’ve never really had trouble making and keeping friends. Sure, I’ve had spectacular blow ups with best friends, but that was usually their faults, and I’m pretty good at repairing stuff once they get over themselves, if they ever do. But I’m also one of those irritatingly personable people who loves cultivating other interesting people, who loves listening to others and admiring the cool stories they have to share. I will also gleefully drown any spasms of self-consciousness in my pursuit of doing both what’s fun and what’s right. If anything, I sometimes actively avoid pursuing friendships so I can concentrate on things like work and spending time with my kids.

But it’s really freaking nice to know that there are incredibly accessible manuals on how to meet and cultivate non-romantic relationships, such as this one written by comedian and writer Chris Duffy. Even before the pandemic, adults out of college have been lamenting the difficulty of making friends in real life. The lockdowns limited our in-person social connections out of necessity, but recovering from the experience has proven difficult, as Mr Duffy notes in these pages. But it’s especially because we’ve been starved of human contact that it’s more important than ever that we re-learn how to do something that seemed to be far simpler when we were younger.

Continue reading

Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2024/06/26/lets-hang-out-by-chris-duffy/

Marvel Multiverse Role-Playing Game: X-Men Expansion Preview by Elisa Teague, Matt Forbeck & Marty Forbeck

I had the opportunity to stop by my friendly local-ish game store (shoutout to the wonderful folk at Game Kastle College Park) for the first time this past Saturday because it was Free RPG Day! I’ve missed every single iteration of the day since it’s inception, so was super ready to take part this year, even if only for a while or, if I could manage it, a whole session.

It was actually an email from Marvel that alerted me to this year’s festivities, and their free X-Men Expansion Preview that I beelined to after coming in and having a hello chat with the guy behind the counter. I have wanted to be a member of the X-Men ever since I was a pre-teen, possibly even sooner, but have found most superhero RPGs to be, frankly, underwhelming. Weirdly, I’ve had the most fun roleplaying as a superhero using GURPS. So I didn’t really pay much attention to the release of the Marvel Multiverse Role-Playing Game (I’ve never dreamed of being an Avenger, which is basically the focus of the core book, and understandably so.) When news of the X-Men Expansion Book came out tho, I had to at least get a look at the preview to see whether this would be a game I want to make the effort to play.

The comic-book-sized preview starts by giving you a brief overview of the rules. The system is based on a d616 system, which cracked me up because a) lore, and b) it’s 3d6 like in GURPS! The bulk of the book is essentially the X-Force chapter from the upcoming expansion, giving the history of the group from when Rob Liefeld first debuted the name all the way to their current incarnation.

EXCEPT THEY DON’T TALK ABOUT THE MILLIGAN/ALLRED RUN SO EFF THIS BIO FOREVER.

Continue reading

Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2024/06/25/marvel-multiverse-role-playing-game-x-men-expansion-preview-by-elisa-teague-matt-forbeck-marty-forbeck/

Bea Wolf by Zach Weinersmith & Boulet

When I saw that a copy of this title hadn’t been included in the Hugo Voter’s Packet, I was ready to skip over it entirely. I’d heard good things about Bea Wolf elsewhere, and I’m always interested in what modern creators do with the classic Beowulf tale, but I wasn’t about to do anything to acquire a copy myself till I realized that this was published by one of my all-time favorite imprints. I will read anything First Second Books publishes, as I trust their taste implicitly.

And then when I saw that I could borrow this digitally from one of my local libraries, and read it in my browser instead of being forced to use the terminally dreadfully Adobe Digital Editions that so many other lenders prefer, I was exceptionally pleased. Over this past intensely busy weekend, I cracked open my digital copy whenever I was at my computer, and was deeply grateful for the Overdrive platform that automatically keeps my place in the book no matter how many times I had to close my browser and turn off my PC.

But what about the story itself? Frankly, reader, I was enthralled. I’ve previously drowsed through Seamus Heaney’s translation, and have Maria Dahvana Headley’s version tucked somewhere in the deep archives, waiting to be rescued from neglect. I know the Beowulf story, more or less, tho I’ve never found it as enthralling as J R R Tolkein did — and let’s face it, some of his own narrative choices prioritize linguistic nerdery over actual story, so his recommendations don’t carry the greatest weight with me. But in changing the setting from an old Scandinavian court of warriors to a contemporary neighborhood of kids, Zach Weinersmith has given this story a modern resonance that remains very much in conversation with the themes of the original.

Continue reading

Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2024/06/24/bea-wolf-by-zach-weinersmith-boulet/

Menschen im Hotel by Vicki Baum

A hotel, especially a grand one in the center of a major metropolis, can be its own world. Vicki Baum opens up one such world in Menschen im Hotel (lit. “People in a Hotel” but published under the better title of Grand Hotel), telling interlocking stories of people in Berlin’s finest hotel over the course of a few days in the late 1920s. She sets the scene with a humble porter, whose wife has been suddenly rushed to a hospital for the birth of their first child but who is nevertheless on duty in the hotel. She shifts focus to other staff members who keep the hotel running with aplomb and discretion before settling in on Dr Otternschlag, a disfigured veteran of the Great War, who spends several months each year in the hotel. Each time he enters the lobby, he asks at the front desk whether he has received any mail or whether anyone has asked after him; the answer is always no. Otternschlag settles in to watch the world pass through the lobby, and Baum gradually introduces the rest of her cast.

Menschen im Hotel by Vicki Baum

There’s Otto Kringelein, an assistant bookkeeper from the provinces who has traveled to Berlin for medical consultations. Having learned that his condition is incurable and will kill him in a matter of weeks, he decided to liquidate his savings and live the high life for the little time he has left, if only he knew how. There’s Grusinskaya, a renowned ballet dancer whose name can still fill seats, but whose fame is waning as time and changing tastes catch up with her. There’s Baron Felix von Gaigern, who also came through the war but whose wounds are not visible. In the decade or so of peace, he has squandered an inheritance and now lives as a confidence man and occasional thief. There’s Preysing, the general director of the factory where Kringelein has worked; he’s in Berlin for negotiations that he hopes will save the firm, and also redeem him in the eyes of his overbearing father-in-law, founder of the business.

It’s a cinematic book, with transitions from scene to scene and character to character that read as if a camera were gliding out of one conversation to another, or switching perspectives as characters cross paths in the great lobby, or maybe following one in through the revolving door and following another out. The novel was in fact adapted for both stage and screen, re-titled as “Grand Hotel.” The 1932 film won the Oscar for best picture and is the source of Greta Garbo’s famous line, as Grusinskaya, “I want to be alone.”

Continue reading

Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2024/06/23/menschen-im-hotel-by-vicki-baum/

Ava’s Demon, Book Two: Aftermath by Michelle Fus

I adored the first volume of the Ava’s Demon series, and am even more impressed by this follow-up effort! My biggest complaint about the first volume is slightly alleviated here, too, as this cover is definitely less awkward than Volume One’s.

After the catastrophic events that capped Book One: Reborn, Ava finds herself battling Wrathia for control of a body that barely has enough energy to stay conscious. Odin collects her unconscious form and manages to make it onto the transport that Gil and Maggie, coincidentally, are using to flee the devastated space station. Maggie, ofc, is less than thrilled to be stuck on yet another spacefaring vessel with Odin and Ava, even before Odin explodes her lies to Gil. As the quartet try to figure out what to do next, they slowly learn more about each other and how to become more vulnerable and honest with one another… well, some of them do, anyway.

Meanwhile, Odin’s (adorable) sisters Crow and Raven are reporting back on their errant brother, as we learn far more about their family’s messed up dynamic as well as their fascinating background. Elsewhere, Strategos Six has been tasked with a mission from Titan following the destruction Wrathia caused, and has promoted a soldier to the position of Taxiarch Five.

Continue reading

Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2024/06/21/avas-demon-book-two-aftermath-by-michelle-fus/