The Year of the Superhero keeps on soaring at The Book Smugglers with two new stories, one set in a novel universe and one all new and all adorable. These are stories that mix hope and fear, buried pain and the hope of healing. These look at powers but also powerlessness, about clawing to try and get what power you can and maybe finding that it's not enough, or it's not what you really wanted after all. These are stories with a nice depth and an uplifting stubbornness, and they are definitely worth some time and attention. That said, to the reviews!
|Art by Sparrows|
"Motherlands" by Susan Jane Bigelow (2614 words)
This is a powerful little story about family and about time and about struggle. It's the story of a trans woman, Renna, returning to Earth to visit her very conservative and now dying mother. About how for some things there can be no real reconciliation, how there can be only the hints of it. And in a way larger than that the story is about what people want. It's something that Renna is faced with on multiple levels. In her business life she is striving to be considered legitimate in a field that doesn't see her as a legitimate person. Who still views her as illegal. In her personal life she returns to her dying mother because…well, maybe for forgiveness. Maybe because it's expected of her. Her old life and her new life meet and to me it seems like she discovers in that moment of seeing it all from a distance, that she hasn't examined enough what she wants. That she's been reacting to thing, that she's been wanting relief from the troubles besetting her but not looking deep enough. That wanting relief from something and being content to get it isn't really enough to treat the institutional ills that cause the harm in the first place. Like with how the Reformists came to power. Like with how Renna still has to hide and lie in order to operate, how she has to risk everything when she could be risking everything for something else. For something more like she actually wants instead of just what she can endure. It's a story with a gripping and painful moment in the character's life but one that seems to me to prompt something, some urge t hat has been long growing. That stubbornness and that passion that she's not been feeling so much in her work that might just blossom into something dangerous. And I guess I'll have to read the novel to find out what happens but it's a great scene here and a nice way to draw readers into an ongoing conflict. I've quite enjoyed what I've read from these short stories set in this universe and an excited to find time to check out the novel series. A great read!
"Superior" by Jessica Lack (16,757 words)
Aww. This is a super cute and superpowered story of two young men finding each other and kinda sorta falling in love. It is adorable and it rather hot at times and it is great to see a story like this appear in an SFF publication because there really aren't that many stories like this being published outside of queer romance publishers and The Book Smugglers is definitely doing a great job bridging the gap between SFF romance and more mainstream SFF. Which really needs to happen, because the stigma against romance in SFF is pretty terrible. So yeah, this is my kind of story, full of adorable queer romance while some classic superhero hijinx ensues. Throw in some rather heavy personal beats and a large dose of drama and I am sold. Give me novels of it, please.
The story features Jamie, the intern for a big name superhero, and Tad, who apprentices for a supervillain. The two feel some instant chemistry, and the story does a nice job of slowly drawing them together. Also I just sort of love Jamie's voice, his wanting to do good and caring but also being a flirt and being very open about his likes and his dislikes. The characters are vocal and talk through things and while there is a little bit of some hidden agenda stuff going on, everything is 100% consensual and above board (and again, rather hot at times). This is not a story that shies away from showing the main characters being physical, and while they're a bit younger than I prefer my romance to be I didn't have a huge issue with that.
[SPOILERS] The thing that conflicted me most about the piece was the heavy drama and rather seriously dark back-story of Tad. It's something of a tonal shift because most of the story is quite light, reveling in that no-consequences feel of superheroing, and especially with Jamie who always comes away from things without much damage. So complicating that was nice, but I also wanted to see more of how the conflict would force Jamie to look inward, to see perhaps the harm that goes along with the institution he so strongly believes in. Which didn't really happen, but which is a rather small thing to me, all things considered. What is here is delightful and sweet and very, very fun. What is here is romantic and exhilarating and I couldn't stop smiling at times because of the way that Jamie and Tad interact. It's just a really cute story that uses a lot of superhero tropes and twists them nicely. And seriously, I would read this all day. An excellent read!