Anthology Review: Superheroes edited by Rich Horton

SuperheroesSuperheroes by Rich Horton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Superheroes have been enjoying a century of popularity, building on their predecessors the folk heroes, heroes of tall tales, and mythic heroes. The most successful of heroes are the ones that despite their uber-human status, grapple with their humanity and oh-so-human weaknesses. They also exemplify the potential contradiction between pubic and private personae.

This enjoyable anthology brings together 16 tales of larger-than-life heroes dealing with common themes: family, relationships, and aging. My favorite tale was Matthew Johnson’s “Heroic Measures” meriting 5 stars. This heart-stirring/heart-breaking tale shows familiar, unnamed characters–with a very strong resemblance to Superman, Lois Lane, and Lex Luthur–grappling with the painful sorrow of old age. The very nature of heroism and bravery earns a new definition in this tale.

My honorable mentions, each with 4 stars, are:
“Super. Family.” by Ian Donald Keeling. Sparring with one’s supervillain nemesis may make the papers, but raising teens is the real struggle . . .
Downfall by Joseph Mallozzi. The road to recovery is difficult and unappeciated. But it’s also necessary for this reformed supervillain just trying to do right by his loved ones.
Wonjjang and the Madman of Pyongyang by Gord Sellar. Culture and politics clash when multinational superheroes try to do right by “the people.”

I’ve reviewed and rated all of the tales. Also included are:
Beagle, Peter S.–“Dirae”–3 stars
Beyer, Kat–“The Strange Desserts of Professor Natalie Doom”–3 stars
Bobet, Leah–“Wild Card”–3 stars
Gregory, Daryl–“The Illustrated Biography of Lord Grimm”–3 stars
Kelly, James Patrick–“The Biggest”–3 stars
Marcade, Jei D.–“Superhero Girl”–3 stars
Ronald, Margaret–“Sunlight Society”–3 stars
Schutz, Aaron–“Dr. Death vs. the Vampire”–3 stars
Emshwiller, Carol–“Grandma”–2 stars
Fortin, Elana–“The Los Angeles Women’s Auxiliary Superhero League”–2 stars
Link, Kelly–“Secret Identity”–2 stars
McDonald, Ian–“Tonight We Fly”–2 stars

I’ve previously reviewed a couple anthologies edited by Rich Horton:
The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy: 2015–4 stars
The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy: 2016–4 stars
 
 
 
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Novella Review: Wonjjang and the Madman of Pyongyang by Gord Sellar

4 of 5 stars.

This superhero/supervillain urban fantasy cleverly depicts the complicated relationship between South Korea, North Korea, China, Japan and the United States. The countries, cultures, and politics are personified by the superheroes representing them helping to illustrate the complexities of the divided peninsula.

Wonjjang is a South Korean superhero/mutant working on a multinational team in the superhero division of a company. He leads the team that includes American, Japanese and Chinese members. Most of their attentions are used for thwarting the destructive tendencies of North Korean mutants led by a mad dwarf.

Two major sub-themes run through the tale. Firstly, mis-translations and awkward communication run rampant between both allies and enemies alike. One could include in this sub-theme the 2 mutants with communication-based abilities: the telepath and the mind-reader. The other sub-theme is attraction and romance. Wonjjang, who lives with his mother still, has a crush on the Japanese superhero who in turn is crushing on the American–that’s one way to summarize complicated politics. The hero’s mother would prefer him to settle down with a nice Korean girl, even if she’s from the North . . .

The blend of allegory and superhero works well here. The tale is recommended.

This tale appears in the anthology, Superheroes edited by Rich Horton.
 
 
 
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Novella Review: Downfall by Joseph Mallozzi

4 of 5 stars.

Redemption and rehabilitation aren’t uncommon themes in literature. Here, a man struggles to stay true to his word, a word he’s broken before to those he loves.

Marshall was born with hereditary superpowers. But his single mother has never revealed the identity of his absentee father. So, Marshall grows up with a mental list of potential candidates. But growing up is hard, and Marshall finds himself surrounded by bad influences and users. He becomes a supervillain named Downfall in a gang of supervillains.

For the sake of his wife, Allison, he quits the gang and moniker and promises to lead an upstanding life. A bad decision, and relapse, finds Marshall busted in a bank robbery with his old gang and tossed in prison for 5 years. It’s 2 years before his wife even visits. But he vows to steer straight and is released on good behavior after a few more years.

Life on parole isn’t easy. Especially when one particularly beloved superhero, The Imperial, has made it his personal mission to reveal Marshall’s true identity wherever Marshall and Allison try to hang their hat. They can’t put down roots, or relax–they cannot start a family in circumstances like this. So, when The Imperial turns up murdered, it’s awfully ironic the feds want Marshall’s help to find the perpetrator. Or, is it?

This tale appears in the anthology, Superheroes edited by Rich Horton.
 
 
 
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Novel Review: Sovereign’s Wake by Lee LaCroix

Sovereign's Wake (In The Absence of Kings, #1)Sovereign’s Wake by Lee LaCroix
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This novel opens a High Fantasy series without need of fantastical races and creatures [elves, fae, dragons etc] nor magic. It’s more Medieval meets Les Miserables. The rogues are properly roguish without being too-too clever. Indeed, there’s a refreshing naivete to the working class people in their quest to rebel against the dystopian oppressors who’ve taken hold since the death of the king months prior.

The POV mostly flits between 3 main characters, though a limited few others are allowed a narrative perspective. Garreth and son Novas are the undisputed heroes. Garreth grew up a farmer’s son, but worked up the ranks of the former king’s Crown Aegis before retiring into the deep forest to raise his infant son in seclusion. Novas learns a simple forest life of hunting and gathering without influence of any other humans. Their idyll is shaken when men come to chop down the protected forest.

The heroes embark on a quest to the capital to question the surviving Queen on the ensuing destruction of the land and robbing of all travelers by the company run by the queen’s brother, Lord Vyse. Their path soon crosses that of Kayten, an able smith and daughter to a Mastersmith killed by Vyse’s men. The 3 find the unrest in the capital calling to them. And, Garreth makes for a reluctant leader . . .

Garreth’s style of heart over wile is refreshingly novel, if not without secondary problems to the plot. Also enjoyable is the last chapter’s opening up of the world beyond the narrow caste system to which Garreth and Novas have ever known.

I received my copy of this novel directly from the author through bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “The Los Angeles Women’s Auxiliary Superhero League” by Elana Fortin

2 of 5 stars.

This tale sees adults with emerging superpowers–just not necessarily very useful ones. Camille learns of her ability to disappear when see wishes to get out of the way or not be noticed during a red carpet event. Only, her ensuing disappearing act isn’t just metaphoric. Later, she learns that her two friends had previously learned of their superpowers. Together, they decide to band together for the greater good. End of story. ??

It reads as a prelude to a story that’s not forthcoming. This would be okay if the emphasis was on the characters and not the circumstances. What’s included is not enough for story or even tale status. It’s a story pitch, or the kernel to something that could be.

This tale appears in the anthology, Superheroes edited by Rich Horton.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “Grandma” by Carol Emshwiller

2 of 5 stars.

Like Matthew Johnson’s excellent “Heroic Measures”, this tale depicts a former superhero succumbing to old age as they interact with a loved one. In this case, the superhero was of the Wonder Woman or Supergirl variety. Her end-of-life sees her living a secluded life with her youngest granddaughter who narrates the tale.

Little insight is given into the grandma’s motivations beyond “not wanting to be a bother” as her abilities become increasingly limited. The granddaughter is a compromised POV, as she clearly feels inadequate carrying the family mantle and yet aspires for some sort of greater life despite an overall lack of super-talent.

The narrator can neither face the truth, her grandmother’s legacy, nor the public.

This tale appears in the anthology, Superheroes edited by Rich Horton.
 
 
 
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Novel Review: Jen Air: The Little Queen by John Coutelier

Jen Air: The Little QueenJen Air: The Little Queen by J. Coutelier
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This urban fantasy [with an emphasis on the supernatural fantastic] stands alone though it’s one of a series. Also, the title is a misnomer. Jen Air is but one half of a young adult, gal-pal duo. She gets less face time than her partner Kaya Cade, though she’s better developed. Kaya Cade, like most of the characters in the book, feels like a caricature. And despite the punctuation of the title, the little queen is a different character all together.

Kaya and Jen have a narratively muddled history of friendship and later non-friendship toward each other. But supernatural circumstances perhaps best described as killer faeries draw the two together. Jen brings the techie brains and Kaya brings spunk and little else as they try to unravel a scientifically dastardly plot involving lab-grown fae.

The best backstory is given to Jen Air, but not the narrative space to lean into that strength. Perhaps through the series, Jen’s own mysterious past gets explored. The best scenes are given to Kaya right at the beginning of Chapter 1, the opening lines of which should have opened the book to start it out on the right tone:

Kaya Cade didn’t believe in fate or destiny or in any form of confectionary with messages printed on, and yet some things she knew were just inevitable. It was just down to who she was, who her parents were, her environment–some combination of all those things meant she really had no choice in the decisions she made and so there was nothing anyone could have done to prevent her punching that smug idiot in the face and ending up in the back of a police car. Her only regret about it was that she couldn’t afford a lawyer.

Unfortunately, not 1 but 2 prologues are offered before this catchy hook. Neither prologue earns its keep. Aside from some questionable editorial choices to the plotting and dialogue, my copy carried a fair number of malaprops, missing words, and homophonic substitutions which ultimately distract from the fantasy.

I received my copy of this novel directly from the author through bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com.
 
 
 
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