An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green

I spent most of Hank Green’s  An Absolutely Remarkable Thing wanting to have Stern Words with the protagonist.

Maybe that’s because I’m 44 and April May is 23. Maybe it’s because April May made bad decisions that Past Me was quite good at making and hello I didn’t really need that kind of introspection in The Year Of Oh God Seriously 2020. Especially in 2020. Especially in June of 2020.

Maybe it’s because the world deserved better than what April May was able to deliver. Maybe it’s because the world right now deserves better than any one human being is able to deliver.

There’s also a part of me as a UX Designer that relates a little more closely with April May and the way that when we lock onto something fascinating it can easily become all-encompassing in our lives and shape who we are just as much as we shape what it is. The title is completely true and the driver of the book: the Carls are an absolutely remarkable thing. They’re the kind of thing that frankly would terrify the shit out of me and I would have definitely not gone down April May’s path because April May’s path is scary. (Some of where April May and I disagree definitely comes from “April May is an extrovert and anne gibson is much more willing to hide from all of humanity”.)

Or maybe it’s because this book doesn’t work at all if the protagonist isn’t deeply flawed.

But here’s the thing: in most cases, a protagonist that annoys the piss out of me is exactly the kind of thing that makes me put a book down and move on to the next book, and that didn’t happen here. Hank wrote real people who make real decisions and some of those decisions are really bad, and, most importantly, There Are Consequences.

And to that I give Hank profound credit. His characters are real. They all make mistakes. Some of them acknowledge those mistakes in the book. Some of them don’t. And the world is real, with all its warts and fights and distrust and fear and horribleness.

In that way, it reminds me a bit of Ferrett Steinmetz’s Flex series. Hank’s book is much more science fiction than magical realism, and Ferrett’s book is much more of an adult voice than Hank’s (mostly because Hank’s protagonist is a 23-year-old marketer and Ferrett’s is an adult bureaucrat). In both, though, the protagonist is riddled with bad mistakes compounding bad mistakes, and it’s only through their overall hope in humanity and their closest friends that they muddle through.

In tone, this is Young Adult For Actual Adults, which I love. In structure, it’s an autobiography written by a much wiser version of April May. It ends on a cliffhanger, so be prepared to get the next one in the series even if you want to have Stern Words with April May.

Swordheart by T. Kingfisher

I probably should have known Swordheart by T. Kingfisher was the beginning of a trilogy when the bird slipped through a plot hole there at the end and didn’t amount to anything. Screaming birds generally aren’t put in the plot for no reason and this bird is way too much a Chekhov’s Bird to just be sitting there.

Anyway, this book is fantastic, and I’m now hungry for the next two.

This book is the story of Sarkis, a man whose spirit has been placed in a sword, and Halla, a 36 year old widow who was planning to kill herself with the sword until a warrior appareted into her bedroom when she tried to do the deed.

And then from there it gets weird.

It gets weird in the ways of the Clockwork Boys stories, with strange creatures on a road that disappears and reappears, bandits, murderers, ruthless priests, not-ruthless lawyer priests, a gnoll that drives the ox, an ox named Prettyfoot, hands-down the nastiest aunt I’ve found in a book in quite some time, and a clammy-handed man who nobody should marry.

And then somehow everything works out and the people who need to be dead are dead and the people who you were kind of hoping would be dead are banged up at least, and the people who should be in love are in love.

I’m pretty sure that although Ursula Vernon insists she writes “fluffy romance” on Twitter that this doesn’t qualify as “fluffy” unless you ask Halla what she thinks of her own weight. But romance it is, and relatable romance so much as it can be without traitorous relatives and a ensorcelled sword.

This is good, in short. Read it.

Guess what I’m playing again

Screenshot from Minecraft where the wandering merchant is walking his llamas across the middle of a river. No bridge, mind, just walking across the water.
Nothing says relaxing like sitting back and watching someone walk their pet llamas across a river… a very deep river… but for some reason they only sink about 1 foot into the water. I wish I was that buoyant.

Firefly: The Sting by Delilah S. Dawson

Delilah Dawson is rapidly becoming one of my favorite authors. The plot of Firefly: The Sting  (a graphic novel that is set in the Firefly universe) is complex, and lots of characters “take the lead” in this ensemble story of the women of Firefly. The premise (that Saffron had been hiding on board Serenity, and thus able to cause a full set of hijinx) felt a little beyond what the character (to me) is capable of, but everything after that was true-to-character and strong.

Props to the many artists, colorers, and letterers involved, especially for the interstitial art between chapters. It was impressive and intriguing.

I hope that there are more stories like this coming.

On Eugenics

This one's long. Transcription below caption.
Colossus talking to Chrissy Pride in Secret Wars: Years of Future Past (5 issue Miniseries) written by Marguerite Bennett. It’s something that gets passed into my Twitter feed every few years. Always retweet this panel.

I post this so often on twitter it’s been my pinned tweet for over a year. I keep it on my phone. But neither of those allow for the full transcription, so here’s a transcribed version.

One panel, many many word balloons. Colossus kneels, holding his daughter Chrissy  Pride’s hand, looking up into her face as he speaks. Wolverine’s son Cameron stands in the background, arms crossed, but listening.

Colossus is the only speaker.

It always begins as a joke. Listen to me, both of you. One sees a father or a mother of whom they do not approve—and their brats won’t shut up and the parents are so exhausted that they just let their children scream, all sticking, and crying and hitting and wild. 

And you say to your friends “you should have to pass a test to breed.” Do you understand? “You should have to get licensed to have kids.” 

It starts as a joke. 

Then perhaps there is tragedy. A postpartum mother who should’ve gotten help, but her insurance didn’t cover therapy. A father who erred because he was raised believing men are pathetic if they are caregivers. 

The first tests are drafted.  

And you think, “Good.” You think, “Those children will be safe now.” 

The tests come out, and yes, there’s some problems, but nothing that cannot be ironed out, yes? 

But now, anyone with a mental illness, with a criminal record, is barred from becoming a parent, and you think, “well, that is sensible, yes?” Because you’ve never known anyone like that, so who is to tell you they are not like they are portrayed in stories? 

Sick, dangerous, criminal — those words expand. Suddenly it is anyone with diabetes, anyone with cancer, because they could die and leave their children orphaned, so how dare they ever try to have children? It is deaf couples, disabled couples, interracial couples, gay couples—because don’t they know how hard they’re making it for their children?

This it is whoever they want. 

You think you are working for the greater good. You can’t even fathom the life of someone who isn’t exactly like you. 

Then one day—it is you. 

Some gene, some history, some past behavior—and suddenly, you too are sick dangerous, criminal. 

Because the truth is this—human hate can adapt to anything. 

You think you are safe. But if someone hates you, they will come up with the reason after the fact. 

Only then do you realize what you put in power. Only then do you realize what you stripped away. 

There is terrible power in a joke, in a story, in taking the truth and making it ugly. 

Do you understand, children?