Friday, July 27, 2018

Regular Sip - Girl Reporter by Tansy Rayner Roberts

Returning to a beloved setting and checking in with its characters and world is always a treat, and one of my favorite speculative worlds from the past few years has been revealed in the Australian superhero stories of Tansy Rayner Roberts (starting with “Cookie Cutter Superhero” and further expanded in “Kid Dark Against the Machine). Now, the setting has a new(ish) novella thanks to The Book Smugglers’ novella initiative and I could not be more excited to dive back into the world of superheroes and villains and people young and old whose lives have been impacted and shaped by the machines from space with the power to give people powers. To make superheroes. So without further ado, the review!

Art by Emma Glaze

Girl Reporter by Tansy Rayner Roberts (novella)

No Spoilers: Friday Valentine is a YouTuber and new media journalist who focuses on superheroes, and most specifically with following the ins and outs of Australia’s superhero scene. It’s something of a legacy for her (something very much explored in the story), as her mother, famed reporter Tina Valentina, who was the first to really put a human face on the superhero story when it broke in the mid 1980s. Of course, that legacy comes with a heavy price tag, in this case in the form of her mother going missing during an attempt to set up an cross-dimensional interview. It also comes with a large supporting cast of heroes, retired heroes, sidekicks, and would-be villains. But Friday tackles it all with sarcasm and a genuine love of what she does. There are some heavier emotional beats, and a very nuanced take on representation and ethics, but the novella is first and most a really fun ride. It’s sweet in how it establishes and complicates its relationships, and I love how it looks at legacy, generational change, and history. It’s really really good, basically.
Keywords: Superheroes, Australia, Queer MC, Family, Journalism
Review: So, let’s talk about Legacy. Within the setting of the story, and within superhero stories in general, this refers to a newer hero taking on the name and powers of an older one. Specifically within this world, it means that someone going into the superpower machine comes out with a similar costume and powers as a different hero. It’s an incredibly important idea that has threaded the short works of this world together, beginning with “Cookie Cutter Superhero,” where the main character becomes Solar, directly replacing the previous hero of that name. “Kid Dark Against the Machine” revisited the idea with Griff, aka Kid Dark, who was a hero sidekick to The Dark, the most popular of Australia’s heroes. This novella takes both of those instances and complicates them further, bringing them to a place of...well, not resolution really, but to a place where they’re more or less at rest. Plus it hads in the Fridays, and the very non-superhero way that Friday is taking on her mother’s legacy. As girl reporter, as well as in other ways.

And I love the ways that this deals with legacy and with family. How it reveals the deep pressure on people, and especially on women and other marginalized people, to live up to expectations, to bear that legacy of heroism with a kind of perfection. And, even when perfect, how it might never be enough. This is seen most clearly with Solar, who has stepped into a role long held by an older man. Widely popular, many people have never forgiven Solar for being...well, for being a woman. She’s the subject of deep scrutiny and has to try twice as hard for a fraction of the payoff. Even some of her own teammates don’t accept her as Solar, thinking of that name only in terms of the man who wore it first. And I love that the story acknowledges that seeking approval in that way is often an impossible thing, a task that can never be complete. Because there might always be doubt, and fear, and insecurity. But that part of taking on a legacy is owning it and not letting other people tell you want it means. For Solar, it means being herself, and speaking her mind, and maybe getting a bit friendly with a certain girl reporter.

In with this idea of legacy is also representation, though, and the added pressure Solar and Friday and other heroes feel because they are seen as role models to marginalized communities. And they hold power in that, to break down walls and to seek to push boundaries. But the story also shows that pressure can also be very dangerous, and it’s a very complex thing to require or even to want people to put themselves into a situation where they can reasonably expect hate-based violence against them or those they care about. That it’s not always a thing to say that passing is wrong, or that passing is even what the issue is. There are very real concerns about history being washed to benefit dominant groups, but at the same time the burden of that cannot be solely on those most at risk from the system, those who have the least protections. There’s a clear look at ethics here, where for Friday and her mother, they’re treating journalism with an eye toward what stories they should not be telling—which stories are theirs to tell and which they have to wait either for others to tell or for people to fully consent to what it is that would be reported.

And did I mention that the story is a lot of fun? I love the brother-sister relationship between Griff and Friday, and the sexual and perhaps romantic (though maybe not) relationship between Friday and Solar. Plus, just like all the characters are delightful. It’s great to be able to check back in with Solar and Astra, and get to seem more of Griff and the orphans. Plus, there’s finally some movement in the mystery of who The Dark is and what his story is. And, as said, a lot of things lingering with Solar and the original Solar, and with The Dark and Kid Dark, and brought to a point where they can move forward. Plus I’m a sucker for found family narratives and this is definitely one of those. Plus it’s got some steam. Plus all the cute and fun Easter eggs and everything. For fans of the series, this is a must read installment that answers a lot of questions and features so many amazing ideas and characters. For new readers, I’d probably suggest checking out the other stories first, but even without those this is an amazing novella. Go check it out!!!


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