Kick-ass Sci-Fi and Fantasy Heroines

I’ve been enjoying myself a great deal lately with the latest book in Gail Carriger’s the Custard Protocol series, Imprudence. Observant readers of this blog may recall a time when I read and reviewed the first book of the series, Prudence. Ha, see what she’s doing there with the titles? I hope she doesn’t stop the series here because she runs out of prefixes and suffixes to add onto prudence. Prudence is the name of the series protagonist. She’s a swarthy young gentle lady travelling the world in her dirigible while fighting vampires, werewolves, and other adversaries.

There’s nothing I love more than a good steampunk heroine, except maybe a good sci-fi heroine, or a good fantasy heroine. Each one is a precious, precious piece of candy for me. Since I probably shouldn’t devote a whole other blog post to how much fun Lady Prudence Alessandra Maccon Akeldama is, I will instead dedicate this post to several of my favorite fantasy and/or sci-fi heroines in her honor.

Alexia Tarabotti Maccon- Yes, the first person on this list is in fact related to Prudence, notice the family name. Alexia was Prudence’s mother, and the first main character Gail Carriger wrote a series for. It takes place in the same world, but earlier in the timeline. This series has the interesting title Parasol Protectorate, after Alexia’s main weapon of choice, a lacy parasol full of deadly gadgets. If there’s anything about the Custard Protocol I could criticize, I’d have to say they don’t have enough weaponized parasols. Then again, Alexia never had her own dirigible equipped with a Gatling gun, so I suppose each series has their classic steampunk strengths. I’d recommend any of Carriger’s heroines though, no matter their weapon of choice

Delilah Bard-This girl is another I found in a series I recently discovered, Shades of Magic by V.E. Schwab. It’s an interesting fantasy series taking place in several alternate Londons, with some really interesting and compelling magic. Schwab set up a really fascinating world, one I haven’t quite seen before. It’s set in approximately the late 1700s to early 1800s, an interesting time to set a fantasy novel. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell is the only other book I could think of that dared to set such a magical story in a London starting to come into modernity with the Industrial Revolution.

Delilah Bard fits remarkably well into these magical worlds for an ordinary thief. She’s a outlaw with cunning street smarts as well as several knives and pistols. Her reaction to and interaction with the magic introduced to her London by Kell, the male lead of the book, that makes the books the rollicking adventures they are.

Susan Sto Helit- This girl’s from an old favorite of mine, the Discworld series, which I have also gushed about before, but this article is a very good excuse to gush about old loves once again. Susan is, in an unusual and very Discworld way, technically the granddaughter of Death. She features in several Discworld books, much like her good old grandpops, and shows she has a number of eerie and unusual powers inherited from him as well.  She’s just an utterly unusual girl and eventually an unusual woman trying to figure out where she wants to fit in, and how.

Watching her find a strange but perfect path through life was something I loved. Pratchett’s humor and singular style made her story something to remember too.

Those are only three of my favorite heroines from my most favorite series. Even looking at only my own top books, this list is by no means conclusive. I would be interested in hearing your favorite out-of-this world heroines too. Leave some recommendations below in the comments if you like.

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Real Back to School Reading Prep

Everywhere around me, I see it happening. One by one, the young among us are dropping like flies, going back to school. Even I will be heading to graduate school soon, because when faced with entering the “real world” and quitting academia cold turkey, I just couldn’t quite do it. It’s all I know.

With my many years of experience, I’ve learned that you definitely have to change your reading habits and expectations during the school year. So I’ve picked out some books and reading habits that can help you readjust to the rigors of class-assigned reading. Some of these may seem strange or non-conventional to an outsider but remember, Grad student here; I know what I’m doing.

 

H.P. Lovecraft: While I’ve yet to come across a class that makes this famous old horror writer required reading, I can’t think of a man who acts as a better representation of most all the books you’ll have to read for school. You start out reading him, and he’s an old white guy with kind of dense and dated language. It’s no worse than you’d expect from an early 20th century writer though, and people say he’s really amazing, that he put words and ideas down in a way no one had before him, inventing the cosmic horror genre. Also, his stories do an excellent job of approximating the all-consuming horror you feel when faced with an average night’s worth of assigned reading.

Then you find out, boy howdy he was ridiculously racist. Immigrants terrified him almost as much as giant squid gods and he wrote a poem called “On the Creation of N——” That is about as bad as you could imagine. How are you supposed to reconcile this extreme prejudice with how revered he is today in many literary circles? Well, when you find the answer to that question, there’s hundred more long dead white guys from your required reading list waiting for you to answer the same queries about them.

A Phone Book: I know it’ll be difficult to find one in this day and age, but then again so are some textbooks. It doesn’t have to be an up to date one or even one for your area. Just pick a phone book and attempt to read it, cover to cover. Don’t forget to take notes! This will all be on the test, after all. You are required to try and read through this dull and endless list of names with intense and thoughtful rigor until your brain drips out your ears and life has no meaning. Words have no meaning. Are these words, these splotches on the page? I swear they once seemed so simple and boring but now I can’t even make out what they are anymore. Where’s the coffee? I need it to live. This is the quickest way to simulate midterms and finals week.

This exercise also happens to be a very useful empathizing tool for people who have not been to college, or graduated way too long ago and seem to think that all college students do is party and get black-out drunk. Try to make your way through a whole phone book in one night yourself and you just might wish for the sweet release of SHOTS SHOTS SHOTS SHOTS! Or perhaps a good book and some tea, if that’s more your speed.

Certain Poetry: As an English major, a grad student, and an occasional poet on top of all that, I’m really not sure I’m supposed to admit this, but I will as it serves this back to school exercise too well to ignore. Sometimes, in certain genres poets can be freaking ridiculous. This is many people’s main criticism of poetry, that poets apparently wrote like they never imagined another human being would have to decode their words to get at the sentiment. I find that the more poetry you read, the less this is true, in most cases. I’m still pretty sure that one professor who made me read a Gertrude Stein poem as an undergraduate was punishing the class for some unknown reason.

Yeah, go read Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons and get ready to sit in a discussion like you actually understand what’s going on. Write a 1,000 word paper on it. Oops, okay, now I’m really just asking you to do my homework for me, got a bit too transparent there. Pretty, pretty please guys? I have no idea what she’s saying. Being a graduate student is too hard!

There. You’ll be ready to start up school again in no time, and I’ll be waiting for you to copy and paste my homework into the comments below. Many thanks.

These Books Need More Murder!

I just finished reading Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye, a clever novel built around the idea of it being inspired by classic Jane Eyre. Main character Jane Steele finds and reads the popular novel Jane Eyre. She finds it remarkably similar to her own life. Steele was an orphan, disliked by her family, sent to a cruel boarding school and found herself a governess at a strange manor, only instead of quietly bemoaning her fate and wondering what she must have done to deserve this, Jane Steele decides to murder everyone. That’s right, this is Jane Eyre as a serial killer. Really, the first time I read Jane Eyre, I wondered not if but when she would snap and kill everyone. I thought we were getting somewhere when she started hallucinating strange laughter echoing through the manor, but no. She goes through the whole thing without snapping and going on a vengeful murder spree.  Jane Steele remedies that error, and it’s made me realize that a whole bunch of old classics could be improved by making one or more of the main characters go a bit murder-happy.

Pride and Prejudice– This ones the easiest to explain, so I’ll start here. All the hard work has already been done for this one. We already basically saw the effect I’m going for in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. There’s plenty of zombie murdering in that one, and scenes get embellished with thrilling demonstrations of skills with weapons and so on. It makes an otherwise boringly froo-froo romance tale much more exciting, and gives Lizzie Bennett that real extra edge to her feisty personality.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn– Huck Finn and runaway slave Sam go for a long journey trying to find their freedom together. Sam’s running from his owner and Huck from his own father who tried to kill him. They meet all sorts of figures, some good and some bad. This is definitely not a death free book on its own. A boy and slave desperate and on the run could hardly be called villainous for killing some people trying to send them down south. The Duke and the Dauphin definitely had it coming.

Of Mice and Men– Again here, you might be wondering what I mean by adding more death to this book. Lenny, the simple strong-man  does kill a woman accidentally, and that’s when things all go terribly wrong for the main characters. George has to shoot Lenny at the very end so the angry mob chasing them don’t get their hands on his friend. Here’s the thing though, I’m thinking we could fix this whole mess with even more murder. They’ve already set up Lenny as some Frankenstein monster-like figure, unbelievably strong and all that. George just needs to be smart here and have Lenny snap the necks of each and every person chasing them through the forest. Tell him to think about the rabbits while doing that, George. Then they can go on the run again. Sure, it goes against the entire message the novel is trying to deliver but dammit Lenny deserved to live, and so did that dog they shot in  an earlier chapter as foreshadowing. Maybe it’s a stupid message if a dog and a special needs guy who likes bunnies have to die to prove it. Shut up, freshman English teacher, you don’t know what you’re talking about.

Oh, I guess I probably have warned you guys about spoilers, spoilers for books that came out eighty to a hundred years ago anyway.

There you have it, point proved through practice. Every single classic novel that you’ve ever had to read in school could be made better with at least a little of murder, even the ones that already have some. One writer was smart enough to figure out this rule before me and use it to get a book published. I’ll have to try and act fast before anyone else figures this out and get out my version of Scarlet Letter, where Hester goes after that judgmental bunch of puritans and paints the town scarlet–with their blood!

Best of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Okay, so it’s been a week, which has, of course, been more than enough time for me to get my hands on Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, read it, have the complimentary emotional breakdown, and wonder if there’s ever going to be a chance I could see it in theaters. Okay, I know I can’t, not anytime soon. Still, it’s been a real treat to have another Harry Potter book to read. Maybe I could’ve paced myself more to enjoy the experience a bit longer, but gosh darnit Rowling and Thorne, (Jack Thorne, the guy who actually wrote the script,) just made the story too intense to put down.

I might struggle here to write a decent review, as my analysis may sound a bit one-dimensional. I’m just to much of a fan to sound like a thoughtful critic here.

Did I like the play overall?

Yes! It was awesome!

Did you like the characters?

Yes! They were awesome!

Did you feel it was authentic to the Harry Potter series?

Yes! It was awesome!

Will fans enjoy the story?

Yes! It was awesome!

Will strangers to the series enjoy the story?

What? There are people who haven’t heard of Harry Potter somehow? Where? We have to save them! You guys! Read these books and see these movies! They’re awesome!

You see? Hardly a nuanced critique. Since you already know I loved it, I’ve decided to simply pick the parts I loved the best about the play and geek out about them. This, of course, means there are spoilers ahead. If you want to avoid them, just stop here. You’ve already gotten my spoiler free review up above. Without further ado, here are my spoilerific favorite bits of this play:

  1. Albus and Scorpius’s relationship. Albus Severus Potter and Scorpius Malfoy become best friends in this play, and not just because they have to deal with having really ridiculous names. They’re both awkward outsiders unsure of how to live with the legacy of their family. Their friendship gives us a cool way to look at two very different sorts of fame and legacy causing very similar pain for two young boys. Both Albus and Scorpius have to reckon with what the fate of their fathers has made them, and this wonderfully executed bit of symmetry was a piece of the story I really enjoy.
  2. Harry, Ron, Hermione, the gang’s all here! Another thing I loved was watching the fully grown protagonists of one of my favorite series interact with each other as adults. They work together, live together, and still try to figure out how to save the world together. These parts of the play, the ones where Harry and Ginny and Ron and Hermione show us their lives and what they’ve become  while we were away made me geek out the most. Their personalities, their relationship dynamics, everything felt so right. The dialogue truly made me feel like I was reading the Harry gang as adults, not merely some fan fiction wishy washy wish fulfillment. Trust me on this, that stuff is familiar territory for me.
  3. Anything from the trolley? Reading this screenplay is, in many ways, very different from reading Rowling’s novels. In a screenplay, there’s no room for the detailed prose of a regular Harry Potter novel, and I accept that as a part of the chosen medium, but it is something I missed a bit. That’s why strange little bits of information were so important. Take, for example, the trolley lady on the Hogwarts express. Turns out she’s actually some extremely powerful magical being in charge of not letting anyone escape the train before it arrives at Hogwarts. That’s just strange enough that I know it was a note Rowling had scribbled in one of her drafts somewhere.

Okay, I think I’ve gotten most of the geekery out of my system. I hope you all had or will have as much fun as I did stepping back into the Harry Potter’s world for a little while from a fresh but still authentic perspective.