The Refrigerator Monologues by Catherynne M. Valente. ★★★1/2
Catherynne Valente tackles gendered superhero tropes with this collection of six stories. The girls of the Hell Hath Club are dead, but they’ve found each other for company is the strange expanse of Deadtown. They gather together, drink Styx water, and commiserate about their lives and deaths. Superheroines, girlfriends of superheroes, supervillainesses… they all got the short end of the stick.
I’m not super knowledgeable about comic books. I’ve seen some movies, read a few issues of Ms. Marvel, but that’s pretty much it. However, I could still tell which comic book characters most of the dead girls were supposed to be. The first one, a scientist who accidentally gives her boyfriend superpowers, is clearly based off of some girlfriend of Spiderman. The extremely powerful, only woman on her team heroine with psychic powers sounded a lot like a certain X-Man. An off kilter villainess with an impressive but misplaced loyalty to her man could be no one but Harley Quinn. Another’s the wife of Aquaman, not quite dead but slipped out of her asylum to search Deadtown for her murdered son. Of the six women, there were only two I couldn’t connect to any Marvel or DC characters. One is the famous girl in the fridge, who I’ve heard of before but don’t know much about. According to other reviewers, the last is a riff off of Karen Page, who I only know from the Netflix series.
Of Sorrow and Such by Angela Slatter. ★★★★
I didn’t know what to expect when I picked up this novella by a new to me author, Angela Slatter. What I got was a beautiful if dark tale with a feminist heart. I most certainly need to read more by Angela Slatter.
Mistress Gideon is a witch, and her life in Edda’s Meadow is tenuous at best in a world where witches are regularly killed. When a local and foolish shapeshifter gets herself caught, Gideon finds herself unwittingly involved. And as the authorities are roused to the existence of the supernatural in Edda’s Meadow, Gideon’s life gets more and more dangerous.
The Stars Are Legion by Kameron Hurley. ★★★★
The Stars Are Legion is quintessentially Kameron Hurley: violent and feminist. This stand alone science fiction novel is as dark as I’ve come to expect from Hurley, but it has an optimistic heart.
Zan wakes with no memory of who she is. She’s told that she’s a great general and the only person capable of boarding the Mokshi, the mysterious world ship that’s capable of leaving the legion of artificial planets. She knows there’s a lot she’s not being told, especially by Jyn, a woman who claims to be her sister.
Rejected Princesses: Tales of History’s Boldest Heroines, Hellions & Heretics by Jason Porath. ★★★★
Several years ago I stumbled across the blog Rejected Princesses. Jason Porath, a former animator at Dreamworks, one day had a conversation about what women were too out there to ever become a Disney princess movie. The result was Rejected Princesses, a blog full of illustrated entries of women from history and folklore. This book collects twenty entries from the website plus eighty entirely new entries, the vast majority of whom I’d never heard of before.
Ammonite by Nicola Griffith. ★★★
Ammonite is a science fiction from the early 1990’s that takes place on an all female planet. I found the beginning very promising, but I ultimately wanted more from the book.
The planet of Jeep is home to a virus that kills all men and a large percentage of women. Centuries later, it has been rediscovered by the greater world. Marghe Taishan is an anthropologist sent down to Jeep to learn about the women living there and to test a new vaccine. She also hopes to learn the answer to the greatest question of Jeep: how do these women reproduce?
An Accident of Stars by Foz Meadows. ★★★★
An Accident of Stars is a queer feminist portal fantasy told from the point of views of four female characters. Saffron is a high school student in Australia who follows a strange woman through a portal and enters another world, Kena. While born on earth, Gwen has been traveling to Kena for over thirty years and considers it home. She even became involved in local politics and made an unwise choice in supporting a man called Leoden in his bid for the throne. Now Gwen and her allies are hunted by him, including Zech, the adopted granddaughter of an exiled matriarch, and Viya, Leoden’s runaway consort.
An Accident of Stars hits a lot of high points for me. For one, it has a greater focus on the relationships between female characters than almost any fantasy novel I’ve seen. I particularly loved the mentor/student relationship between Gwen and Saffron. While the official blurb frames Saffron as the protagonist, I think that’s belittling the role played by the other POV characters. Saffron serves as a clear reader insert but all four women have their own story lines and no one receives the clear majority of page time.
The Geek Feminist Revolution by Kameron Hurley. ★★★★
The Geek Feminist Revolution is a collection of essays by science fiction and fantasy author Kameron Hurley, who’s written a continually growing number of novels (hint, readGod’s War!) and the Hugo Award winning essay “We Have Always Fought.” While the topic of the collection is nominally the intersection of feminism and SFF pop culture, the collection actually spans a broader array of subjects varying from analysis of media such as Mad Max: Fury Road, to what it takes to be a writer, and to elements of her personal life, such as her near death experience and living with a chronic disease.
Many of the essays are adapted blog posts. Since I occasionally read Hurley’s blog, I was already familiar with some of the essays included in the collection, such as “On Internet ‘Bravery'” and “Wives, Warlords, and Refugees: The People Economy of Mad Max“. There were also some new pieces written specifically for the collection, although I couldn’t always identify which these were. Was the Hugo Award mess a new essay? Going in, I was fairly certain going in that I would enjoy Hurley’s collection. I’ve previously enjoyed her essays for her insights as well as the sense of focused anger that comes through almost everything she writes.
If you’re interested in this collection but unsure if you want to commit, I’d suggest reading some of the essays which are posted online to get a feel. “We Have Always Fought” would be a good one to start with.