Friday Five: 50 Final Favourites

Kronk-Yzma-high-five-Emperors-New-GrooveThis is our 162nd Friday Five column. 

Over the past decade, we - with the help of some spectacular guests - have made over 1,500 recommendations - from vegetables to Star Trek novels, cover-tentacles to character-swapsgeek anthems to fanfictions, memes to Pakistani action heroes

Friday Fives only had one rule: be positive. They were always an excuse to talk about something we loved, no matter how niche or geeky or mundane. As a result, we got interesting people, being really passionate, about a lot of very silly things. They were a joy to read and even more fun to write.

Our last Friday Five is a Friday Fifty [actually 58, as 'cheating' is another long-standing Friday Five tradition], as we pick, well, whatever. Enjoy.

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Review Round-up: Squadron Supreme, The Bug Wars, Crownbird and Beasts of the Burnished Chain

Four reviews with nothing in common, really. Squadron Supreme, Robert Asprin's The Bug Wars, Kit Thackeray's Crownbird, and Alex Marshall's new novella, Beasts of the Burnished Chain. Featuring: Military science fiction, four-colour superheroes, colonialist espionage action, and some grimdark skullduggery!

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Squadron_supreme_titleSquadron Supreme by Mark Gruenwald and Tom DeFalco (1986)

Squadron is really quite spectacular, and every time I read it, I'm more impressed. It is, for those that missed it, a pre-Watchmen (barely) examination of superheroism. Squadron's thematic heft is made all the more weighty by the fact that the Squadron is a group of C-list Marvel heroes that are all thinly veiled versions of DC characters. That makes them expendable and strangely liberated - despite their immediate familiarity, there's no backstory, canon or future. The result is, quite possibly, the most mature, most interesting take on the Justice League that ever existed - all courtesy of Marvel Comics.

The twelve issue series begins with a world that's in bad shape, thanks to a battle between the Squadron and a mind-controlling super-villain. The Squadron steps up and declares itself 'in charge': the team is going to fix the world. From infrastructure to disarmament, they go about their utopian plan - forcing everyone to be better, if necessary. The situation becomes more extreme when the Squadron find themselves with a machine that can 'behaviourally modify' people. Now, as well as sweeping social and infrastructural change, they can now literally make individuals Be Good. The ethical situation doesn't go unchallenged, and the discussion - and fallout - is explored over the course of the series.

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YA Y'all: Moxie, Part-Time Princesses and Sarah Dessen

One more round-up of Young Adult reading - Jennifer Mathieu's Moxie, Monica Gallagher's Part-Time Princesses and a whistle-stop tour through the ouevre of Sarah Dessen. Steel yourself for angst, anxiety, young women finding their agency, and some floppy-haired love interests.

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33163378Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu (2017)

Vivian’s high school, in a small town in Texas, is a hot mess of misogyny and harassment. The administration doesn’t care, the boys are a disaster, and Viv and her friends are left to suffer in silence.

And then she discovers Punk. It turns out that Viv’s mom was a Riot Grrl in the 1990s. After finding a cache of her mom’s zines, Viv sees them as the perfect way to express herself: angry, anonymous and, most of all, loud. ‘Moxie’ (the zine) succeeds beyond her wildest ambitions, introducing Viv to new friends, creating an underground of female empowerment, and of course, getting them heard.

It isn’t without trouble, of course, and Moxie contains all the ups and downs that you might expect. Moxie is a Disney After School Special version of Friday Night Lights, with all the conflicts (oh no! Moxie is banned!) and ‘surprises’ (oh wow, the cheerleader is on-side!) that fit the formula. There isn’t quite a moment where they all jump on their desks... but it isn’t far off either.

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4 Kids Walk Into a Bank: Childhood is short, brutal and hilarious

4 Kids Walk Into A Bank #1 (2016) - Page 11 (1)

The age where your creativity and the ability to realise said creativity meets must be somewhere in your 30s.

I know this because the rolling wave of nostalgia in TV and film has now firmly hit the 80s and doesn’t look like it’s going to be moving on for a while.

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If/Then: The 2017 Pornokitsch Gifting Guide

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ODY-C (Matt Fraction and Christian Ward)

[Updated! Now with recommendations from Becky Chambers, Stark Holborn, Adam Kranz, Jesse Bullington, Anne and Jared]

[Updated again! More recs from Jesse!]

[And again! New recs from Kirsty Logan!]

Tis the holiday season! But giving stuff can be hard. Not because you're a bad person (you're great!), but because people are really difficult, and, odds are, they've got all the obvious stuff already.

To help you spend your hard-earned money on the people you love, we've asked our contributors, guests and online-passers-by for some gifting suggestions.

We've all followed a simple 'If/Then' formula - helping you find the right gift for that very specific oddball in your life. (Or, yourself. We don't judge.) We'll keep updating with more recommendations over the next few weeks, so check back for even more assistance with your last-minute panic-buying!

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Hubble, bubble, toil and feminism: Witches in comics

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Halloween is upon us and the usual parade of monster, ghouls and goblins are sure to be out in force. Chief among those will be the 'big three': vampires, werewolves and, of course, witches.

Unlike the first two, however, witches have a real-life history every bit as chilling as the stories in literature and film. The persecution of women (and, less often, men) for the crime of witchcraft is widespread and well known, with the most famous example being the witch trials in Salem in the 1690s. 

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Growing Up On The Ice: Tillie Walden's Spinning

SpinningTillie Walden (A City Inside, The End of Summer) says of her new autobiographical novel, Spinning - covering her teenage years as a figure skater - that "it ended up not being about ice skating at all".

Instead Spinning ends up being one of those rare books that's not particularly about anything, but potentially about almost everything. This quality means that what you get out of this book really does depend on what you bring to it.  In writing about it, therefore, you may end up revealing more about your own preoccupations than you'd really like to.  With that in mind, let’s delve into just what I thought Spinning was all about.

The graphic novel, published by SelfMadeHero, written and drawn by Walden, covers the years of Walden’s life between 12 and 17, the prime teenage years, and so sits firmly into the ‘coming-of-age’ genre. While it is mainly set on or around ice rinks, its first movement features the 12 year old Walden discovering her family is moving from New Jersey to Austin. This unexpected and life-altering change is, I believe, characteristic of much of a child's life. So often children face massive, inexplicable upheavals and go through their lives without control or consent. Coming-of-age stories can be seen as a move from the lack of control a child has, subject to the whims of parents, teachers and (as we see) ice-skating coaches. 

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The End of the World(s) as We Know It

I'm fascinated by instances where the creators of video games, RPGs, or comics change their worlds. The joy of fantasy is that everything is completely malleable. The history, the politics, the very physics of the universe - all can be changed at the creators' whim.

But what happens to the readers and players who are committed to that world? How do they deal with the upheaval?

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50 Books on Imagining and Re-Imagining Cities

image from https://s3.amazonaws.com/feather-client-files-aviary-prod-us-east-1/2017-08-12/8cef1c9a-0c5b-4709-8d9f-88c5b1bf0a13.png
Moil houses from China Miéville's Un Lun Dun

I've been thinking about cities - and how we imagine and definite and interpret them - since the panel at Nine Worlds was announced. The panel itself, chaired by architect Amy Butt, and featuring Verity Holloway and Al Robertson, was brilliant and free-ranging.

One thing we didn't do is lapse into 'here are some books about cities that I recommend'. I'm grateful we skipped that because a) that's boring on a panel and b) that makes cracking blog content. Listicles are good fun.

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