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A friend just linked to this - two wheelchair-using sisters blogging spoonie life on wheels via comics and snark - The Disabled Life

So much 'yes, that!'

Two comic panels, the first titled 'expectation', the second 'reality'. In the first, a hunky topless fireman has plucked our wheelchair using heroine to safety, In the second, she's still in her chair at the top of the stairs, leaning over and asking 'Uh, is somone coming?'

And the writing is just as sharp:

" With great power comes great responsibility… like having the ability to run someone over, but CHOOSING the right moment to do it."

davidgillon: Text: You can take a heroic last stand against the forces of darkness. Or you can not die. It's entirely up to you" (Heroic Last Stand)

Currently Reading

The Bloody Red Baron, Kim Newman

Carrying on from Anno Dracula, The Bloody Red Baron moves the story on to the Great War. It's 1918 and Dracula is now Germany's war leader as the Allies brace themselves for the German spring offensive using the troops liberated from the Eastern Front by the surrender of Russia. Something dark is brewing on the German side of the lines at Chateau Malinbois, home of Baron Von Richthofen's Flying Circus and Charles Beauregard, now one of the ruling troika of the Diogenes Club, assigns young intelligence office Edwin Winthrop to Condor Squadron to watch over their attempts to penetrate the security of the Chateau. Condor Squadron is an elite assemblage of ace pilots, ranging from Albert Ball to Biggles, each of them a vampire, as are many pilots and infantrymen in this post Anno Dracula world.

Beauregard's vampiric partner, Geneviève Dieudonné, has retired to California to raise oranges, but Kate Reed, the vampire reporter from Anno Dracula, is in France, theoretically as an ambulance driver, and determined to figure out what Charles is up to, when she isn't making a nuisance of herself by exposing incompetence in the high command. Meanwhile, in Prague, Edgar Allen Poe, also a vampire, and exiled from America after fighting for the South in the Civil War, is offered the chance to redeem his flagging literary career by ghosting an autobiography of Baron Von Richthofen.

Condor Squadron's first attempt at Chateau Malinbois sees the drained body of their pilot dumped onto their aerodrome. Winthrop joins the second attempt, made in greater numbers, and becomes its sole survivor, forced to make his way back to allied lines through No Man's Land, with a short diversion as a dinner guest, or perhaps just dinner, in a mash-up of Good Soldier Schweik and Heart of Darkness. He emerges a changed, harsher man. Meanwhile Kate Reed embarks on a peregrination towards the front that shows her the grim reality of life in the trenches, while Poe arrives at Chateau Malinbois to discover the horrific secret of the Flying Circus.

And finally the Spring Offensive launches, and Condor Squadron meets the Flying Circus head on, while Dracula watches his plans unfold from his command zeppelin, complete with Engineer Robur on the pipe organ. Kate is caught at the front, while Charles is stuck at HQ, able only to watch.

Also included with the Kindle edition is Newman's rather different reworking of the story into a film treatment for Roger Corman, and Vampire Romance, a novella set in '20s England. Geneviève Dieudonné is back in London, having fled Prohibition Era America, though Charles is off in India, putting down a rebellion. She emerges from having her hair bobbed, ready to recreate herself as a flapper, only to find Edwin Winthrop waiting for her. The Diogenes Club would appreciate a favour.

Meanwhile, in Mildew Manor in dankest, rain-swept Cumbria, vampire-obsessed schoolgirl Lydia Inchfawn is awaiting the arrival of the vampires invited by her Great Aunt, Mrs Gregson. Mrs Gregson believes that there is a power vacuum at the head of vampirekind, and proposes to annoint the new King of Cats from amongst the elders she has invited. What she gets instead are those who can be bothered to turn up, and Geneviève.

Attendees include Kah Pei Mei, High Priest of the Temple of the Golden Vampire, waited on by his nameless, sailor-suited, child-vampire bodyguard (soon rechristened Mouse); Kleopatra, with her spokesman Professor Bey; Countess Marya Zaleska, daughter of Dracula; the bluff and brutal Australian vampire Hodge, supported by former secret policeman (and antagonist of the Diogenes Club) Caleb Croft, the pair of them likely proxies for former PM Lord Ruthven, and General Karnstein and his wife, supporting their strangely familiar son Liam. And lurking in the shadows is master criminal the Crook.

No sooner have the rising waters cut off the Manor then the traditional entertainments of English Country House weekends start with the first murder. It's up to Geneviève and Winthrop, or maybe Lydia and Mouse, to find the killer, and maybe stop a revolution before it can get started.

I found the opening of this a little irritating, Lydia's vampire infatuation is laid on with a trowel, but Geneviève's sections are fine, and Lydia's soon segue into more traditional girl's boarding school stories territory. Add a couple of nicely engineered plot twists and in the end I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Once Broken Faith, Seanan McGuire

The latest outing for Toby Daye sees her dealing with the fallout from her previous escapade, which saw her unseating yet another fae monarch, while her tame alchemist Walther managed to invent a cure for being elfshot, potentially destabilising the entire political structure of faery. Forbidden to kill each other, the pureblood fae find that elfshot, which puts its victims into a century-long enchanted sleep, makes for a rather nice substitute. Add its use as a judicial punishment and a cure is not seen as a good thing.

Toby has people she needs cured, people she's equivocal about, and people who need to sleep the full hundred years. It's complicated, and gets more complicated when Arden, her Queen, turns up on her doorstep, wanting Toby's help to end-run a couple of cures past High King Aethlin's injunction against any further cures before they've held an all-Kingdoms conclave on the matter. The fallout from that gets Toby commanded to attend the conclave herself, along with Quentin her squire (aka Crown Prince Quentin).

That means Toby as the only changeling amongst a whole ballroom's worth of pure-blood fae, most of whom would look down on her for being a changeling, never mind the kingbreaking, and god forbid anyone should mention the killed one of the fae Firstborn thing. Fortunately Toby isn't entirely without allies. There's Tybalt to start with, her fiancé, and King of Cats, though enforcing his equality among the other royals means he's going to have to snub her, at least at first. And Queen Arden, though she and Toby are still negotiating a way around the pricklier edges of their personalities. Not least of Toby's allies are the High King and Queen, who owe her for raising their son in secret.

And then there's the Luidaeg, Faery's favourite scary monster, and Toby's aunt, who shows up at the Conclave with Toby's 15yo honorary niece Karen in tow. Eira Rosynwyr, the Luidaeg's even scarier sister, and creator of elfshot, isn't content to go unheard when people are debating the destruction of her most famous creation, not even when she's lying elfshot and comatose in the back of beyond, and she's found a way to make Karen her mouthpiece. And then the killings start.

So it's Toby trying to find the killer inside a locked building. We've been here before and even she admits she's not actually very good at it. But she has a clue, and that's more than the rest of Faery, the only question is whether she'll find the killer before they find someone she can't bear to lose.

It's an entertaining story, though I'm not entirely convinced by the murder gimmick. There's still character growth going on: Arden is growing into her role; Quentin into his adulthood, and Toby is still learning how to deal with being the daughter of Amandine, daughter of a Firstborn, without sacrificing all of her humanity to it. And best of all, we get the Luidaeg for almost all of the book, which hasn't been the case in recent books.

Also included is Dreams and Slumbers, a novella featuring Arden as the protagonist. It isn't as frenetic as a Toby story, revolving around Arden dealing with the slow emergence of a decades-old plot against her, but if she doesn't deal with it, it could cost her the one person she's spent her life caring for, her brother Nolan. It's mostly a story of Arden growing in to being Queen in the Mists, but there are also plot developments for Walther, and for Toby's niece Cassandra (Karen's sister), which are likely to have consequences down the line.

Up Next

Probably Dracula - Cha Cha Cha, next up in the Kim Newman Dracula books, Kate Reed flies out to 60s Rome to be with Genevieve Dieudonne and Charles Beauregard as Charles' life draws to an end, but Dracula is also in town for the society wedding of the year - his.

Web Comics

Cut Time, an unplanned new one, its banner ad on one of my regular comics caught my eye. Not very far into the story yet, it's a typical fantasy world (Legend of Zelda influenced?) which is still introducing the key characters. The core character is Rel, a young woman (girl? it's difficult to be sure of her age) with a mysterious mission. Cursed to be blind, she has a guide-falcon, and that concept had me hooked from the moment I realised what the bird was. At the moment she's haphazardly assembling an expedition, including a young noble, Solus, who is disenchanted with his gilded life and Nal, a mysterious doctor cum wizard, there's also an assassin floating about in the background who really doesn't seem overly enamoured of his choice of careers. The manga-influenced art is fine, more than competent, my only complaint is it's very difficult to determine character ages, I initially took Solus for 30-40, while it's more likely he's actually around 20, Rel could be anywhere from12 to 25, and Nal looks 16 and acts 45.

Web Fiction

Great Deeds, I read a bunch of online military AH stuff while I was stuck with no creative energy from the chest bug I had. One of those is APOD, 'A Point of Departure', a collaborative effort that spins out of the published French-Language France Fights On/La France Continue, with the point of departure being that France doesn't surrender in 1940, but evacuates to North Africa. APOD looked at alternate strategies for the British Empire, and one of those was the possibility of invading Norway before D-Day, which is where Great Deeds comes in. It's a 57k short novel, about neutralizing the German battleship Tirpitz, Bismarck's sister-ship, in its lair in the Norwegian fjords; something that occupied British thinking for a large part of the war. Great Deeds is APOD's very innovative, yet traditionally British solution. It reads as fairly traditional British military fiction in the Dambusters/Sink The Bismarck/Heroes of Telemark style. Not quite professional quality, but not bad.


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Recently Read:

Velveteen vs The Seasons, Seanan McGuire

Surviving the previous two Velveteen books has left Velma Martinez, aka superhero Velveteen, seriously indebted to the anthropomorphic personifications of Winter, Spring, and Autumn, and it's time to pay up. Vel is committed to spend one season in the Seasonal Lands with each of the three seasons, and at the end choose whether to move to one permanently, becoming one of its personifications, or return to the Calendar lands (aka Earth).

Being in debt to Santa Claus may not sound too harsh, after all it's Santa, and one of Vel's best friends is his daughter Jackie. But the big man isn't the only power in Winter, there's Jack Frost and the Snow Queen, Jackie's true parents, and there are powers yet un-named, and the seasons have been putting on their best faces for Vel when she visits, Being tested by the seasons is an altogether harsher process. One she isn't guaranteed to survive.And if Vel makes it out of Winter, there's still Spring, the season of destructive rebirth, and Autumn, the season of Halloween, to face

Like McGuire's Indexing series, the Velveteen series is structured as a chain of linked short stories, each entitled 'Velveteen vs'. Threats this time include "Hypothermia", "Santa Claus", "Spring Cleaning", and "The Consequences of Her Actions" amongst others. Scattered in among them are a handful of "Velveteen Presents" chapters as the friends Vel left behind deal with the aftermath of bringing down The Super Patriots Inc.

The theme here really is the consequences of her actions, for both Vel and her friends. The Velveteen books have always been darker than they sound, but this time the gloves are off, and not everyone will make it to the end of the story.

Velveteen vs the Seasons has what looks like a rather gaudy cover at first, but it's worth a second look when you're done. I didn't realise it at first, but all four women are actually Vel.

Definitely one to pick up from the earlier books if you haven't read them, with the stories from Book 1, Velveteen Vs the Junior Super Patriots Inc available on Seanan's site. There's a note there saying the ebook versions of both it and Velveteen vs the Multiverse are out of print for contractual reasons :(

A Red Rose Chain, Seanan McGuire

The ninth Toby Day book opens with Toby reporting her latest bit of heroing to Good Queen Arden, newly restored to the throne of San Francisco's fae Kingdom of the Mists, only to be interrupted by having the body of Arden's chancellor, Madden, dumped on them. This isn't an assassination, Madden isn't dead, he's been elf-shot to sleep for 100 years, it's a declaration of war. A century ago, Mists, under the usurper queen Toby recently deposed, fought a war against the neighbouring Kingdom of Silences, won and installed a puppet monarch, Rhys. Now Rhys wants Mists restored to it's 'rightful' queen, or it's war.

Dealing with Arden's initial panic requires Toby to get a little physical with her monarch, so when Arden needs a 'volunteer' for Ambassador to try and stop all this happening, guess who is first in line. Of course Toby isn't known for her diplomacy, she's much happier hitting things.

So it's Toby, her fiance Tybalt, King of Cats, her squire Quentin and her wierd sister May off to Silences. But with Silences slinging elf shot about, she needs an alchemist for her team, so poor chemistry professor Walter gets dragged out of his lab again. Only poor Walter turns out have been hiding things, such as being from Silences. He's not quite a hidden prince, but he's close.

Silences is a nightmare. Rhys isn't just a puppet of the usurper, he's a pure blood fanatic, and Toby isn't pure blood. She might be more fae than she started out, but she's still a part human changeling, with changeling vulnerabilities. Rhys's game isn't kill the ambassador, but nothing else is off the table (and in fact most of the attacks take place at table). And if the situation is bad for Toby, it's far worse for the changelings stuck permanently in Rhys's court.

There's no hope of bringing Rhys round, not when he's both fanatic and a puppet of the usurper, but Toby tries to stay on the diplomatic path, at least while the threats are directed solely at her. But when they stray to her friends and family the gloves come off, and this is a woman who has already brought one monarchy tumbling down. Her friends just wish she wouldn't bleed quite so much while she's doing it.

This is another solid entry in the series, there's not really any sense of where the series as a whole is going, but Toby is continuing to grow into her power, and there's a sense of every ball that's been tossed in the air still continuing on its arc. About the only thing missing this time is the Luidaeg, Toby's scary monster of an aunt, who only appears offscreen via a couple of telephone calls. But one thing is certain, the consequences of what happened in Silences are going to rattle through Mists too, and probably all of the fae kingdoms.

Red Rose Chain also has a cover that repays another look once finished. It's very subdued, but there's a wonderful amount of referencing to key elements of the story.

Up Next

Defying Doomsday, ed Tsana Dolichva and Holly Kench

An anthology of stories of disabled and chronically ill folk surviving doomsday. I've started with Corinne Duyvis' "And the Rest of Us Wait," with a teenaged Latvian one-time pop-idol and her family waiting out a comet impact in a Dutch public bunker, a situation complicated by her spina bifida. I love Iveta's voice, and Duyvis (who is autistic rather than physically disabled) seems to have done a good job of her research. Iveta and I seem to have roughly equivalent levels of mobility and it seems very well done to me.

Currently Playing

The Amazing Adventures of Van Helsing

Picked up in the Steam sale for £5.20, including all three DLC sets. I'd call this a Rogue-Like, I've also seen it called a Diablo-like, but I've never played Diablo. It's a RPG/shoot-em-up in which Van Helsing and his faithful companion Kristina (who's a ghost) are called to Borgovia, home of things that go bump in the night, which is suffering an outbreak of steampunk. The objective is basically kill anything that moves, while fulfilling various missions. Presentation is basically 3d isometric, but the 3d is somewhat wasted as you can't really see the detail that's there if you zoom in. It might be better on a large screen, I'm playing on my laptop at the minute, but there tends to be a lot on screen.

It's very frenetic, but if I can manage it with my dyspraxic coordination it should be accessible to most people. About the only problem with the game is that Katrina is very cliched. Expect to be annoyed.

If you're playing in Win 10 you need to kill one of the minor Windows services or it will crash after 15 minutes (you can google that on the Steam forums), but apart from that it seems pretty reliable.

I wouldn't have paid full price for it, but for a fiver it's good value.

ETA: Webcomics

I don't think I mentioned starting to follow Shattered Starlight, which is a new comic from Nicole Chartrand, who writes and draws Fey Winds, one of my favourite comics. Set in Montreal, it's only just taking shape, with a protagonist, Farah, who is a former magical girl, now all grown up (she's 28) and out of the defender of the earth thing. Unfortunately she has a temper, and her powers, and blasting her boss through a wall and four cubicles just got her reassigned to work at Cafe Le Dead End, which is as far as the story has gotten so far. The artwork is a real contrast to Fey Winds, which is full colour typical cartoon style, while Shattered Starlight is a detailed black and white style, though with occasional highlight tinting (mostly Farah's pink hair).

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Recently Read:

New Amsterdam, (New Amsterdam #1),
Elizabeth Bear

He’s a wampyr, she’s a Lady, they fight crime!

Lady Abigail Irene Garret, Th.D, Detective Crown Investigator, forensic sorcerer, with a scandalous reputation, a once noted beauty, and connections in the highest places. Now one of only three DCIs in Britain’s New Netherlands colonies, and the only one who is actually competent.

Lucifugous, Over the Atlantic, March 1899

Don Sebastien de Ulloa, renowned Great Detective, less well known as a wampyr, is fleeing Europe and its memories in the company of his protégé Jack Priest by airship, when a passenger goes missing.

Wax, New Amsterdam, April 1901

A disturbed night and a body in the street leads to the discovery of an entire household vanished leads to a case for Detective Crown Investigator Lady Abigail Irene Garret, soon joined to her evident annoyance, by Don Sebastien de Ulloa. But with the case setting her between the Lord Mayor of New Amsterdam, and her lover, the Duke of New Amsterdam, Abby Irene is soon grateful for the help.

Wane, New Amsterdam, March 1902

Abby Irene receives an invitation from an old lover, Prince Henry, the heir to the throne. But there is murder at the ball, a royal reputation to protect, and once more Abby Irene finds herself caugtht between the Lord Mayor and the Duke.

Limerent, New Amsterdam, October 1902

A wealthy Fenian is found dead inside a locked room, a pistol in one hand, a Rosary bead clutched in the other. But if he knew he was in danger, how did they get to him? And then there is the bigger, political, question, is his business partner, pro-independence Lord Mayor Peter Elliot, involved? And will his political opponent, Abby Irene’s patron, boss, and lover, Richard, Duke of New Amsterdam, accept any answer bar guilty?

Chatoyant, Boston, December 1902

Someone is killing high class male courtesans, and if Sebastien can’t investigate, then Abby Irene, newly fled from New Amsterdam, can. And then a figure from Sebastian’s past arrives. And war breaks out.

Lumiere, Paris, December 1902, January 1903

Sebastien and his court have travelled to Paris, the city of Light, city of Tesla’s marvellous broadcast electricity, to seek French aid for the rebels in the American colonies. But aid comes at a price. Ghostly wolves are invading Paris during its harsh winter, and someone needs to hunt them down.

Overall it’s a rock-solid collection. The political aspect took me by surprise, but the forensic sorcery aspects were everything I had hoped for, with a well thought out magic system. And each story stands as a competent mystery in its own rights, while simultaneously contributing to the overall arc.

Garret Investigates, (New Amsterdam #5), Elizabeth Bear

Five more stories from Bear’s New Amsterdam sequence. I actually read this straight after New Amsterdam as I wanted more of Abby Irene

The Tricks of London: London, April 1879

Told from the PoV of a young detective sergeant, London faces the return of an old threat, and a young Lady Abigail Irene is the Detective Crown Investigator charged with hunting it down

The Body of the Nation: New Netherlands, April 1897

A locked room mystery, on a river steamer, with a dead Bavarian princess, and bonus Sam Clemens.

Almost True: New Netherlands, 1900

The first Abby Irene story written, this sees her caught up by an attempt to assassinate her lover, the Duke of New Amsterdam. She’s a rather more physical force in this than in the other stories.

Underground: Paris, April 1941

Despite the collection’s title, this one doesn’t actually involve Abby Irene, the focus here is her former housekeeper, Mary Ballard, now working for the Resistance against Paris’ Prussian occupiers, and charged with getting someone hunted by every side out of the city.

Twilight: London, 1941

The last Abby Irene story. She’s an old woman now, but preserved by her sorcery, and she and Sebastien have not sat out the Prussian occupation. But now the Prussians are fled, the King is back, and the intention seems to be to pension off not just her, but the entire Crown Investigator service. But not before one final case that draws in all Sebastien’s surviving court.

The collection is a little varied, but well worth reading if New Amsterdam left you wanting more of Abigail Irene.

The White City (New Amsterdam #3), Elizabeth Bear

In this double-stranded addition to Bear's New Amsterdam tales, the wampyr Don Sebastien de Ulloa takes his court to Moscow both before and after the events in New Amsterdam and Paris, and both visits are marked by murder. (If the order I'm reading these seems odd, I'm trying to read them in chronological order rather than publication order).

The stories are interwoven, and the second finds his court marked by grief, so this may not be the best place to start (try 'New Amsterdam' for that), but if you like the structure it's well worth the time. Unlike the other books I've read in the New Amsterdam sequence, this is a single short novel (182 pages), rather than a collection of short stories.

In the earlier thread, Sebastien's protege Jack continues his habit of running with the revolutionary crowd, seduced by the artist Irina, and introduced to someone who may have the potential to be this universe's Lenin (Ilya Ilych Ulyanov? - that patronymic and surname combination is too big a coincidence), only for Irina to find herself framed for murder, allowing Sebastien to roll out his Great Detective persona.

The later thread again revolves around Irina and her acquaintances, as Sebastien stumbles on a body in her studio, and into the orbit of the Russian investigator Dyachenko, which allows Lady Abigail Irene to dust off her forensic sorcery skills. There's an interesting contrast in this one as the Russians have done away with forensic sorcery, and invented conventional forensics, so Abigail Irene and Dyachenko get to play 'let me impress you', to the amusement of Sebastien.

And lurking in the background to both stories is the enigmatic wampyr Starkad.

I really liked this, and Bear's prose continues to be gorgeous, but the resolution jarred a little - it makes sense, but there's a sequence that goes 'Ah, it was about A. Oh, it was really about B. Ah, so it was actually about C' that left me a little whiplashed

Penric and the Shaman, Lois McMaster Bujold

Four years on from Penric and the Demon, Penric is a fully qualified sorcerer-divine of the Bastard's Order, once more living in Martenbridge in the court of the Princess-Archdivine and spending his time trying to spread the medical knowledge of Learned Ruchia, the previous host of his demon, Desdemona, through a rather clever spell.

And then, just as winter sets in, there arrives Oswyl, a Locator in the Father's Order, hot on the heels of Inglis, a Royal Shaman, who is suspected of murder. Oswyl is very, ahem, dedicated to his work and the rest of his team have headed off in the opposite direction, convinced they know better than he does which way Inglis will have gone. Penric isn't exactly enthused by the prospect of a trip into the high mountains in winter, but being a sorceror-divine of the Bastard, the god of everything else, means his job is whatever comes his way.

Meanwhile, up in the mountains, Inglis has gotten himself into a bit of a pickle.

Oswyl, and most everyone else, start off dismissing Penric because of his youth (he's 23 in this story), but Penric has matured into his role, and he's actually far more at home in the outdoors than any of the other protagonists. It's also not the first time he's gotten caught up in the affairs of gods, and their habit of tugging the strings of their pieces on the board is one he's a lot better placed to recognise than most.

If you like the world of the Five Gods, this is another solid entry. It's written as rotating third person limited point of view, but once or twice I found myself having to page back to check whose PoV we were in. It's mostly not a problem, and the story works better for it (and maybe I was just tired), but worth your while to pay attention to PoV shifts at the chapter starts. About my only other criticism is we don't see enough of Desdemona. She has her moments, but this isn't a tale that requires overt sorcery, nor much reference to her well-travelled background. If you're new to the world of the Five Gods, this works more than well enough as a standalone, but you'll get more out of it if you've read both the first Penric novella and, especially, The Hallowed Hunt, which establishes the background of the shamen in Wealds society. Marketed as a novella, but at 160 pages it's definitely pushing into short novel territory.

Up Next

Probably Seanan McGuire's Velveteen vs the Seasons if it's out in the UK, S L Huang's Plastic Smile, the new Cas Russell book, if it isn't.

Forgot to mention I've started following another couple of webcomics: How to Be a Werewolf, and Kismet, which has one completed long story, Hunter's Moon, and another, Suncutter, in progress.

How to Be a Werewolf is contemporary set fantasy, the protagonist, Malaya, is a 20-something Filipina-American barista who was bitten by a werewolf when she was five, but has never had contact with a pack to learn how to be a werewolf, and has led a deliberately sheltered life. Now someone has found out about her and she's in trouble, but she turns out to have more allies than she realized. Several great gay characters and a core mixed race family.

The Kismet stories revolve around the eponymous moon, home to a small colony basically run by crime families, which makes it pretty idosyncratic. Hunter's Moon is about the local offworld militarists running a particularly nasty plot to take out an old terrorist threat. People die. Lots of people die. Suncutter is a separate tale running partly in parallel, about a bootleg spacedrive development programme also being run on Kismet by those same militarists, with some deep family linkages between the two stories, but only limited crossover characters. Despite that I'd definitely read Hunter's Moon first.

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... for this week's 'After Daylight', with reactions from the man in the street to vampires outing themselves (which is the comic's major story arc), and specifically that last panel!

In other webcomics news, 'Spare Keys for Strange Doors' has started updating again after a couple of years of planned hiatus, it's probably easiest to describe it as a sort of very British X-files, if Scully and Mulder were a couple outside of work as well as partners. The storytelling is elegantly sparse - the average story length is about twenty pages, the characters play well off each other and the art works well with the telling. There's ony a couple of pages up in the new story - 'In the cabbages', and I've no idea where it's going as yet, so maybe worth delving back into the archive, which is only just over 100 pages for six complete stories, if you want to get a feel for it.

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I was trying to avoid dealing with my line edits yesterday, and the avoidance behaviour eventually stretched out to the point of reading all seven hundred and something pages of Ursula Vernon's webcomic Digger. Despite it winning the Hugo for Best Graphic Story in 2012 (at which point it had completed its arc) I'd somehow managed to miss it before now. Actually that may not be entirely true, the first half dozen pages seemed slightly familiar, it may be I looked at it and wasn't taken by them. I should have stuck with it, because it really is some of the best web-comics writing and world development I've seen.

Our title character, Digger, or Digger of Unnecessarily Convoluted Tunnels if we're being formal, is a wombat. A five foot or so, fully intelligent wombat, from a civilization of wombats, who digs a tunnel one day (this being what wombats do) , hits some bad earth and comes out she knows not where. Well, actually she knows it's in a temple of Ganesh, the statue of the god tells her so, but where that temple is is nowhere she's ever heard of. And heading back down that tunnel is contra-indicated as there's definitely magic involved. (No decent wombat gets themself involved with either gods or magic, so this whole scenario is a problem for Digger).  So Digger's stuck trying to work out a way home, and what the magicked tunnel means, with the help of the local population. Which includes said intelligent statue of Ganesh, the local hag (19), who keeps patching her up, Murai, a teenage priest/religious warrior with a somewhat tenuous grasp on sanity after her previous mission (actually PTSD might be a better label, but it's presented as a sanity issue), and a nameless outcaste intelligent hyena. Helping or hindering as the mood takes them are Jhalm, head of the local religious warriors, and a tribe of intelligent hyena hunter-gatherers. And then there's the Shadowchild, a talking shadow that keeps approaching Digger for moral guidance, and then disappearing half-way through the explanation. Not to mention a back-up cast of soothsaying slugs, trolls, shrews and vampiric vegetables.

The individual character arcs, and the way they are developed out of the world-building and mythology are really fantastic. Digger is just utterly practical, Murai is badly broken, but desperate to do the right thing, and the nameless outcaste hyena who becomes Digger's closest friend is equally broken, utterly lonely and just trying to survive. Grim Eyes and Boneclaw Mother, two hyenas introduced later in the story, are equally as good.

If I've got a criticism, it's that the ending is very abrupt. There are reasons for the main story ending suddenly, but I'd have spent a bit more time on the epilogue.

The artwork is black and white (apart from the intermittent coloured covers for the different printed volumes) and is always at least good, while some of the black-dominated scenes, where effectively you're drawing with white, are quite spectacularly good.

Content warning for domestic violence. Well handled,  but utterly, utterly tragic.

(Oh, and I got to the line-edits eventually).

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Whoops, 2 months since the last of these, sort of explained by the disruptions of two holidays and the need to get Graveyard Shift ready for Pitchwars

The disruption means I haven't been doing as much reading as usual, or as planned, so there's a significant number of books on the To Be Read list as I was buying on the assumption I'd be doing more reading, not less.

Books Read

The Night Watch,
Terry Pratchett

Another of the Watch books, with Commander Vimes waiting for Sybil to deliver their child when he gets the call to go after Carcer, the murderer who has been weaving a bloody trail through Ankh-Morpork, a trail which includes two of Vimes's men. Inevitably it comes down to Vimes vs Carcer on the roof of Unseen University, in a thunderstorm, and when the lightning clears Vimes isn't where he started, or when.

He's still in Ankh-Morpork, but in the years before Lord Vetinari, with Homicidal Lord Winder on the throne, and days before the revolution of the Glorious Revolution of the 25th of May and the short-lived Republic of Treacle Mine Road, a revolution whose 30th anniversary Vimes has just been attending, in the cemetery at Small Gods. The Watch are about, including a very young, very green Sam Vimes, and Sam Vimes the literally elder finds himself forced into the role of his own mentor, the newly arrived Sergeant John Keel (also newly killed, by Carcer). Keel may have been brought in to help shape up the normal arm of the Watch, but Snapcase's watch also has another arm, a dirtier arm, the Cable Street Unmentionables, a not so secret police dedicated to stamping down on, and torturing, any opposition to Snapcase, which makes them the sort of organisation to take in Carcer with open arms. They are led by Captain Findthee Swing, who believes the nature of a man can be determined by measuring their skull. Vimes, he proclaims, has the head of a mass murderer.

Vimes quickly runs across a selection of his old acquaintances, all 30 years younger. Fred Colon is still a copper, but not yet an old soldier, Sam Vimes, is, as mentioned, an even younger copper, while Nobby is a ten year old Artful Dodger clone. CMoT Dibbler is just starting out in business with his pies, and Reg Shoe is a young and idealistic activist, not yet a zombie. He also runs into, and into the debt of, Rosie Palm, not yet Mrs Rosemary Palm, the power of the Seamstresses Guild, and her room-mate, Sandra, who, confusingly, is an actual seamstress. Never directly met, but often in the background, is the young Havelock Vetinari, the future Patrician, who is studying to be an assassin (and doing so well in his studies that no one else realises).

As Vimes establishes himself in the Watch, Carcer is digging his way into the Unmentionables, and Lord Winder is convinced that the city is about to erupt into revolution. He's right, Vetinari's aunt, Lady Roberta de Meserole, is putting together a coalition of nobles to replace him with Lord Snapcase (known in Vime's own time as Mad Lord Snapcase). And, moving in the background, are the History Monks, who promise Vimes they can get him home, if he'll just keep on playing Keel for a while longer.

Winder unleashes the Unmentionables and the military on the city, resulting in rioting and massacres, and Vimes is forced to take action, throwing up barricades to protect a small area around the Watchhouse. But first he takes the Watch to clear out the Cable Street station, killing Swing for what he finds there. While he's asleep Fred and the others extend the barricades to cordon off a quarter of the city, an area so large they have no means to defend it. Perceived as a potential threat because things are so calm, the military are sent in to reconnoitre and conclude two things, one that Vimes isn't a threat, and two that Vimes is clearly so competent they don't want him as a threat. Unfortunately Snapcase orders them in anyway, but Vimes handily defeats them by turning their own siege engine against them.

Then Vetinari makes his move, assassinating Winder unseen in a room full of people, and Snapcase's first order is to send the surviving Unmentionables, under Carcer, now Captain of the Palace Guard, to kill Vimes as a potential rival. Vimes and the Watch face off against Carcer and the Unmentionables, and all those fated to die by the original history do in fact die, including the surprisingly heroic death of Reg Shoe. When Vimes fights his way through to Carcer the History Monks make their move, transporting them both back to their proper time, and dropping in the body of the real John Keel to take Vimes's place.

I really did like Night Watch, it's Vimes at his most Vimesian, able to concentrate on being a copper, but I found it irritating for the way it handled the female characters. Lady Sibyl not so much, she's mostly going through a difficult birth, which the time loop provides a solution to, but Lady Roberta's, Rosie Palm's and Sandra's roles all feel strangely incomplete, we never do find out why Rosie and Sandra are so deeply invested in Lady Roberta's revolution, nor why Lady Roberta wants one.

The Winter Long, Seanan McGuire

Eighth book in the Toby Daye series, this is a book about finding your place. Toby has found hers, she's just been named an official hero of the Kingdom of Mists, but that is taking her farther from the friends who formed her, Sylvester, her liege and substitute father, and especially his wife Luna. And now there's a new power in town, someone capable of reducing series-scary-monster the Luidaeg to a bleeding chew-toy, and Toby is going to have to put the pieces together, because everything says this is a figure from her past, a figure capable of taking control of half the nobles in the kingdom at will, and a figure who wants what is hers back. The problem for Toby is figuring out just which one of her friends she never really knew.

As if that wasn't bad enough, someone else from her past is back, Simon Torquil, Sylvester's twin, the man who turned Toby into a fish for 14 years and sent Sylvester's daughter Rayseline half-mad, and, confusingly, Simon seems to want to be on her side (not that Toby is about to let that happen easily). So it's gather up the allies and try to gather up information on the run, and hope that there's a loophole in the information they're getting about the powerful-enough-to-scare-the-Luidaeg newcomer.

On The Go Right Now

Accessing The Future,
ed Kathryn Allan

The anthology of disability-themed SF I nearly succeeded in getting a story into. I'm most of the way through, with mixed feelings, and I need to figure those out, because I think some of them are about what I wanted from the anthology, and that doesn't seem to have been quite what the editor wanted.

Cold Magic, Spirit Walker Book 1, Kate Elliott

This came up in conversation somewhere I was reading, intrigued me enough to look it up and I'm glad I did. This is a fantasy alternate universe in which Carthage, Qart Hadast, fought Rome to a standstill, but later fell to the Persians, but also a world in which ice rules over most of the North and trolls, clearly a form of sapient feathered dinosaur, evolved in North America, while most of Africa has fallen to an outbreak of ghouls from deep salt mines. 20 years after the defeat of a Napoleon-figure power, Europa has returned to the traditional division of power between petty princedoms and the Cold Mages, whose magic-wielding clans have the power to break princes at need and rule as despots in their own lands.

Catherine Hassi Barahal is the almost 20-year-old orphaned scion of a Carthaginian merchant clan, though actually they're more in the line of soldier-spies, taken in by her aunt and uncle and raised as near-sister to their daughter Beatrice. Cat and Bee are students at the local university in Adurnam, somewhere around our Southampton, though as it's an ice-age scenario we're probably closer to the southern edge of the Isle of White (there is a map, but Kindle's habit of opening at the first page of the text means I've only just found it). Cat's main occupation is keeping them out of the trouble Bee keeps getting them into, having been told from the moment she arrived after the death of her parents that she must protect the younger Bee (even though the difference in age is only a couple of months).

Then a mysterious Cold Mage arrives on their doorstep, arrogantly forcing his way inside, and before Cat knows quite what is happening she finds herself caught up in a bargain between her clan and the mages, a bargain that possibly predates her birth, a bargain that seems to have promised her to them if they should claim her before her majority on her twentieth birthday. With no time for anything but a reminder from her aunt that she must protect Bee, she finds herself married to the man, and dragged off across country on an unexplained journey of sabotage and flight.

I'm only half-way through this one so I'm still not sure where things are going. They are becoming clearer, but I'll leave that for when I've finished it. What this half-summary can't give is a flavour of Cat's voice, it's a first person narrative and I find her extraordinarily compelling. I'll definitely be seeking out the rest of the series.

Web Comics

I've started following several new web-comics lately:

Alice Grove

The new comic from Jeph Jacques, the author of Questionable Content, this revolves around the eponymous dungareed Alice, who is the local witch for a small, low-tech, post-apocalyptic town. It initially revolves around the (unheard of) arrival in town of two visitors from the orbital colonies, Ardent, who is blue and tailed, and mostly interested in the possibility of sex, and his sister Gavia, mostly interested in protecting Ardent/keeping Ardent out of trouble. Despite the initial comic notes there are hints this is headed in a much darker direction than QC. Having mentioned QC, I can't help noting how much Ardent and Gavia look like QC characters/protagonists Marten and Hanners, though they're fairly different characters. Line drawn and inked, updates once or twice weekly.

Our World

I stumbled over this one. It's a furry comic, but there are hints that the evolved animals are inhabiting a post-apocalyptic version of our world, and that the powers that be are covering this up. The protagonist is Jill, a dog who was washed up on a beach as a teen, with no memory of where she came from. 12 years later she's a scientist with a metallurgical firm, living with her adoptive brother Pete, a slacker hare, and his childhood friend Alex, a hyper and utterly irresponsible female cat. Then one night she's mugged, and zaps her attacker with some kind of electric shock.

Then there's the other protagonist, Trilby Dobler, a snarky mechanic with some kind of vision impairment, living in a military base, a base that experiments on people that its agents are sent out to snatch, and that kills them when they've outlived their usefulness. We haven't seen how the two storylines are going to intersect, but the hints are there. Line drawn and shaded, updates weekly(?)

Wilde Life

This one focuses on Alex Wilde, a writer who throws up his life in Chicago to move to the sticks and ends up renting a haunted house from a Miss B. Yaga, which should hint at the sort of town he's moved to. So far he's encountered a very friendly ghost, a grouchy teen who's a werewolf, less than friendly werewolves, spiders who may also be some sort of bear-spirit, and the juvenile ghostly daughter of his pregnant neighbour. Each is worked rather neatly into chapter length tales with some ongoing story development. Line drawn and inked, updates weekly.

Scurry and Cover

The one I've picked up most recently, this is about Nozomi Sasaki, a 15 year old Japanese girl moving to Tokyo for school, the difference being that she's 1/4 rat (ears, tail, sidewhiskers), and is being accompanied by her 100% rat grandfather, the back story being that the Noble forms of the animals (sort of a herd for their individual species, just as the ents were tree herds) have re-initiated contact with the humans because of concerns over pollution and are gradually integrating. So you've got a slice of life tale, with hints of discrimination, and suggestions that there is more going on than we understand, a job interview has turned into surveillance, and I don't think she's learning ninjutsu just for entertainment. I find the story intriguing and the art rather gorgeous. Lined and shaded, updates weekly.

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Nearly three weeks since the last one of these? How did that happen?

Ashes of Honour, Toby Daye Book 6, Seanan McGuire

There's quite an odd opening to this episode in October's progress, the first chapter is essentially set-up for book 7, giving us an info-dump on Faerie's Goblin Fruit problem, goblin fruit being a nice legal high for purebloods, but lethally addictive for changelings like Toby. Toby is trying to shut down the trade, which isn't making her popular, and there are questions about what she's truly trying to achieve. And then it doesn't come up again. The real plot crops up after the weird opening, with perfect knight Etienne, the knight she always measures herself lacking against, desperate for Toby's help - he's just found out that 16 years ago he got a mortal pregnant, and that's double trouble because 1) it means a faery half-blood has been in the possession of her mortal parent for 15 years or so without the needed camouflage and 2) someone just snatched her. So Toby has to do her only private detective in Faery thing with the police watching and a human parent who's convinced that even if they get her back Faery will steal her child the first chance they get (she's right) and that's before the complications of a political cat-fight in Toby's boything Tybalt's court, escalating problems of the China Syndrome variety in the missing kid's magic, and Duchess Riordan, the opposition to Toby's liege Sylvester, is Up To Something.

It's a good read, but I was a little disappointed with it structurally. Duchess Riordan has been built up as an off-camera threat since the start of the series, we finally meet her here, and she's everything we might have hoped for, but then there's an unexpected plot twist which makes absolute sense for Riordan to follow, but means all that build up towards an expected confrontation falls flat. The role Riordan plays could have been handed to any reasonably powerful Faery noble, leaving Riordan's threat intact, and if there's one thing Faery has no shortage of it's annoying nobles. There's also a definite retcon feel to the introduction of the widow of Countess January O'Leary as a character, which even Toby notes is a little odd as no-one mentioned January being married when she was playing a major role in book 2.

Chimes at Midnight, Toby Daye Book 7, Seanan McGuire

Chimes picks up where the opening of Ashes left off, with Toby trying to shut down the Goblin Fruit trade. When she realises just how many changelings are dying she tries to appeal to the Queen of the Mists for help, which given their daggers-drawn relationship was never going to be easy, but she certainly wasn't expecting to be banished for it. Toby might have 3 days to get out of Dodge, but neither her lover Tybalt nor her squire Quentin can follow her, so if Toby can't go, then she'll just have to overthrow the monarchy, in three days, with the Queen's guards dogging her every move. It's another fun read, and we finally get confirmation of what every reader has to have suspected about Quentin, but I was left with a deep desire to scream 'Just how stupid are you people?' There's one overlooked fact with literally the whole kingdom hanging on it that can be explained away as people choosing political convenience when faced by a larger crisis, but then there's another one, that the queen has one thing going for her, something that makes it almost impossible to move against her, and the entire set of good-guys, renowned heroes and legendary warriors and all, forget about it.

Toby suffering for her quest isn't new, this is a woman able to use 'and then I was disembowelled' _in the plural_, but the plot pushes her to new limits this time, and sitting there in the background is the Luidaeg, noting she has plans for Toby and everything to date has really just been getting her warmed up. Somewhat intimidatingly there's a comment in the author's notes that this was the first of the Toby Daye stories to be plotted - which half-way implies the six novels preceding Chimes are just the backstory for the main event.

Other Media

Spinnerette is a webcomic about a female grad student who develops superpowers after the traditional exposure to radioactive spider DNA. In her case six arms and the ability to shoot web from, well let's just say she has aiming difficulties. It's semi-anime styled, with mostly good art and writing. I say mostly because a couple of the female supers have overly large, in one case ridiculously large, breasts - and Super-MILF? Seriously? But there's enough good here to make me overlook that as they aren't primary characters. And for all the juvenilia of Super-MILF, it actually handles the romance between the two female leads (Spinny and Mecha-Maid) pretty sensitively, and so far it's managed to handle Mecha-Maid being disabled by ALS without making me cringe. OTOH you have to mark it as NSFW because of the two breast-fixated characters, one of whom crops up pretty regularly. OTGH it's positively staid in comparison to an ad that kept popping up while I was reading, which manages to combine being pornographic with being simultaneously boring and distracting. I eventually blocked it because it was irritating the hell out of me, not because of the subject matter (animated cartoon masturbation - I presume it turns someone on). If you want to check Spinnerette out, and I think it's well worth reading if you're a webcomic fan, particularly a fan of superhero webcomics, then I'd block http://hlamedia.adk2x.com/* in advance.

Other Projects

Graveyard Shift, By Me

Health issues (both mine and my dad's) have kept me from my novel-in-progress for far too long, I was hoping to be able to pick it up again around March-ish, but having to wait until May for surgery has left me distinctly behind schedule in comparison to where I wanted to be by now, not helped by having a laptop with a semi-functional keyboard (I can't write on my desktop, sitting is too uncomfortable,  I write with the laptop sitting on my chest while I lie flat on the couch). But the replacement laptop should finally be arriving in a day or two so I sat down last night to reread Graveyard Shift, and read all 134,000 words in a single sitting. That's promising. I dropped it mid-second-draft when dad had his stroke, and I seem to have gotten further into that second draft than I remember. There's some fairly minor plot surgery needed, finishing the deletion of a character who turned out not to be going anywhere - and I've already handled the most difficult scenes for that, reversing who is framing who in a sub-plot,  and renaming a character because her name turns out to completely overlap with the protagonist of an existing fantasy series, who works for exactly the same police department as my character in Graveyard Shift, and I think even out of the same precinct house. There's coincidence, and there's bloody ridiculously annoying! But what's needed most of all is a really tight line edit to pull the wordcount much closer to the recommended 120,000 words, which I think is doable. Anyway, hopefully I'm now back at it.
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An Artificial Night, Toby Daye Book 3, Seanan McGuire
As the book opens, and bar fending off a barghest infestation, Toby's life seems to be relatively stable, she even has time to go to the birthday of one of her best friend's youngest kids. Then she wakes up and everything goes to hell. Never mind the (very personable) portents of her death, two of her friend's kids are missing, another won't wake, and they aren't the only faery kids missing. Nor are only faery kids vanishing, the human girlfriend of her protege Quentin has disappeared, too. Toby might be at a loss, but her powerful friends aren't, the Wild Hunt (it's never referred to as the Wild Hunt, simply Blind Michael's Hunt) is recruiting, and it needs both faery riders, and ridden. Someone needs to get the kids back, and though she protests that she's not a hero, that person looks like Toby.

In Seanan McGuire's version of Wild Hunt mythology the hunt is run by Blind Michael, child of Oberon and Maeve, one of Faery's Firstborn, which makes him the next best thing to a faery god, but he's not the only child of Oberon and Maeve living in San Francisco (or parts of Faery accessible from SF, anyway) and so Toby finds herself on the Luidaeg's* doorstep once more,  asking her very spiky, very dangerous friend to set her on the road with some of her scarsely less dangerous help. And then it's off into Blind Michael's lands with little more than an enchanted candle to guide her (admittedly when it comes to enchanted candles, the Luidaeg produces the Swiss Army Knife of enchanted candles).

If you find children in distress upsetting, this probably isn't the book for you, but what's interesting about Blind Michael's lands is that much of their internal logic operates to children's rules - games don't have to be safe, but they do have to be fair, and when you're one not very powerful changeling trying to take on the next best thing to a god, then that may be the only chance you have. Of course, being as bad tempered and stubborn as Toby doesn't hurt either.

This is another good entry in the Toby Daye series, there's a solid plot well told (I was particularly impressed by a set-piece near the end which channels a well-known bit of faery-lore), we find out about some surprising inter-relationships amongst Toby's friends, and Toby, and others, are forced into character growth, they aren't static characters, which can sometimes be a problem for serial protagonists; Toby in particular has to face a couple of uncomfortable truths about the kind of person she is.

(* Given Luidaeg is pronounced Lou-sha-k, I keep earworming myself with The Loveshack every time Toby ends up on her doorstep)

Next up: State Machine, Rachel Peng Book 3, by K B Spangler

Other Media: I've been catching up the backstory (several hundred pages worth) of Magellan, which is a superhero webcomic someone recommended to me a few weeks ago.

The basic setting is a superhero academy (sort of Tracy Island meets Starfleet Academy), in a world with a lot of superheroes, with the primary protagonist being Kaycee Jones (there's a name with history attached), a non-superpowered Australian girl/woman (she's supposed to be 16 at the start, but I consistently read her and a bunch of the others as adults), who is getting through on grit and determination, with one secondary protagonist being Go!Anna, an Australian superhero who once saved Kaycee from a serial killer who had just killed Kaycee's older sister. and another being Gola Bey, a retired psychic superhero. There's a pretty incredible number of named and recognisable characters: All of Kaycee's year, most of the year who come after them, a fair number from the years in front, staff and instructors, the complete Australian and US superhero teams, retired superhero teams, and of course sufficient supervillains to keep them occupied - I think Magellan has the highest character count of any webcomic I've read, probably several times over.

Storywise there have been two major arcs and a number of shorter stories focussed on limited numbers of characters, The first arc covered introductions and then segued into a time-travelling, cross-dimensional infiltration of Magellan that was pretty good, the ongoing arc spins out of that and has a major problem breaking out while a whole bunch of characters are visiting the nearby supervillain prison island for various reasons. It's 200 and odd pages in, and may be about to start it's final act (or may not - difficult to tell for sure). Artwise it's okay, the drawing is passable to good, colouring varies, some pages with depth-shading, on others its a a little basic with no shading - I'm not quite sure if that's a 'run out of time this week' issue, or a deliberate artistic decision for when they're on the astral plane (and it's long enough I'm not about to try a systematic check), but I'll let that go given the sheer number of characters and character designs involved - in fact that may be part of the issue, the artist tends to have a lot of characters in frame, which is going to restrict the time they can devote to each one.

There have been a couple of things that left me a little uncomfortable, there seem to be a disproportionate number of non-white supervillains, and there were a couple of pages where someone taunted a villain named Gaius as 'Gay-us', but equally Go!Anna is clearly Aboriginal, Gola Bey is Jewish, and a bunch of significant secondary characters are black or Asian, but for the supervillain issue I'd have said racial diversity was pretty good, if not better than most webcomics. There are a handful of characters who are disabled, but it tends to be 'superhero disabilities' - blind but can 'see',  a couple with facial disfigurements behind the mask, even the wheelchair-using retired hero has a hoverchair rather than something that needs an accessible environment. I can't think of any characters who are gay, but there's potentially  room for that to develop.

It updates Sundays and Wednesdays, and I've added it to the comics I follow, if you're into webcomics it's definitely worth a look.

davidgillon: A pair of crutches, hanging from coat hooks, reflected in a mirror (Default)
Harbourmaster is doing a flashback arc to when primary protagonist Tal first met Partasah, the Aquaan he eventually replaced as Governor/Harbourmaster, and as Aquaans are hermaphrodites he gets a short, sharp lesson in personal pronoun ettiquette which some of you may like: here and here (his sister Anthemys catches on a lot faster, for all she's a child here).

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"I for one welcome our new tyrannical marsupial overlords"

(For those who aren't fans, Speedy, the sleeping (and therefore not currently talking) koala in question, is a raging conservative and would count as a super-intelligent evil genius but for the fact that he mostly uses his powers to consult for the Federal government and work out ways to impregnate every female koala he can find. He recently visited a koala reserve and is a little, ahem, worn out)

(Does it pass the Bechdel test if it's two women trying not to talk about koala sex?)
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(This is the post I accidentally deleted a couple of days ago, fingers crossed for this time)

Four years ago I wasn't reading any webcomics, today - about 30 that are actively updating, with a few more that are on hiatus with some hope of restarting. I've been meaning to do this for a while, but it's probably going to work best if I split it up over several updates (no promise when the next one will be).

Requiem: Huge Sfnal webcomic updating three times weekly over the past decade. Backdrop is a Celtic derived society that seems to have crossed over into another world sometime in the Classical Era. The plot evolves out of an initial coup attempt that reveals deep manipulation of society going back thousands of years, along with a separate?/interlinked? threat from the obelisk-like technology that predates humanity's arrival. The stakes are high as our heroes have uncovered evidence of at least one technologically-mediated near extinction event that had been erased from their history. Strong characters (mostly female) and good storytelling. Also probably the best art of any of the Poser/Daz based 3D webcomics, I use Studio and the amount of work that goes into putting out three multi-panel updates a week doesn't bear contemplating.

Project Skin Horse: Skin Horse is the black project charged with dealing with problems among the various non-human intelligences, zombie communities, intelligent swamps and whatever that get left behind when the mad-scientists lose interest (it's a spin-off from the mad-scientist oriented Narbonic). Our heroes include Sweetheart (talking dog and the team-lead), Unity (zombie killing-machine/patchwork girl), Tip (cross-dressing psychologist and lothario), and Nick, who is a black helicopter (he's actually the brain of a foul-mouthed gamer wired into the controls of a V-22), plus frequent guest-star Doctor Lee, who is the Korean-American mad-scientist who created Unity and Nick (she's also Nick's girlfriend). Often silly, but very well written. Updates daily.

Girl Genius: The 80-stone Hugo-winning gorilla of webcomics. Covers the adventures of Agatha Heterodyne and her friends as she attempts to reclaim her family heritage as the most feared of Europe's Sparks (mad-scientists) in a steampunk world. Well written and drawn, though with an unfortunate tendency to strip Agatha down to her bloomers more frequently than the story truly requires. Updates three times weekly.

Gunnerkrigg Court:
The adventures of Antimony Carver at her new boarding school, the eponymous, and mysterious, and huge, Gunnerkrigg Court. I'm not quite sure how to categorise this - aetherpunk? - but bring your knowledge of myth and fable. There's noted art evolution, from okay-ish to perfectly passable and occasionally down-right gorgeous, but the writing starts out good and just keeps on getting stronger. Updates three times weekly.

Schlock Mercenary: Another Hugo Winner. The ongoing adventures of Tagon's Toughs, a group of space mercenaries, including the eponymous Schlock, who is a cheerfully homicidal 'carbo-silicate amorph'. Notable art evolution from its earliest days and the story-telling progressed fairly quickly from gag-strips to increasingly complex year long arcs  (and there's an underlying arc we're told will see things come to an eventual conclusion). The Toughs have totally remodelled galactic society twice so far, and it looks like they're headed for a third time.  Updates daily, and hasn't missed once since 2000... (but has a really good archive page!).

Freefall: This started as gag-scripts around an amoral alien and his stupid robot sidekick on a colony world where the robots outnumber the humans several hundred-fold, but then they acquired an uplifted female wolf, Florence, and it has evolved into a complex story revolving around Florence and the rights of AIs (and Florence is seen as an AI just as much as the robots) to be seen as sentient beings and own property, as opposed to actually being property. Updates three times weekly.

A Girl and Her Fed: If I had to pick a single comic as my favourite, this would be it. It splits into two books, the first is about the surveillance society, with the eponymous Girl (who we eventually find out is called Hope), finding out that she is on a terrorist watchlist and under surveillance from the eponymous Fed. Fairly rapidly Hope has things turned around so that she's helping the Fed(/Pat/Sparky) investigate what the government did to him and every other agent in his agency and why so many of them are now dead (quote 'We probably lost several future Presidents'). Along the way we meet Hope's best friend, Ben Franklin (yes, that Ben Franklin), Pat's best friend Speedy the hyper-intelligent Koala, and Ben Franklin's undead pixie army. The second book picks up five years later, with Pat and Hope married, Pat now running the agency and they and the other agents investigating a plot involving the rogues who weren't caught in book 1. The current art is fairly standard inked look, but the comic was originally done in a quirky black and white style (which I rather liked) and there is still a chunk in the middle of book 1 that hasn't been updated. Updates twice weekly.

(The AGAHF setting is also the backdrop for the author's Rachel Peng technothriller series of novels, The Digital Divide and Maker Space which are set between the two AGAHF books and involve the first OACET agent assigned to liase with the Washington DC PD. As Rachel is Chinese-American, gay, and, technically, blind, she's one of the most spectacularly diverse lead characters I've come across.)


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David Gillon

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