Charlie Jane Anders' Victories Greater Than Death

A departure from Earth brilliantly sets up a queer, gender-binary-defining story

I'll be honest: I'm not the most dedicated sci-fi/fantasy reader. Boring as it may be, I gravitate toward books that take place on earth. But when I read Hugo-award winner Charlie Jane Anders’ debut novel All the Birds in the Sky, I was so hooked by Anders’ writing that I vowed to read whatever she might put out next, even if it’s a young adult space opera romance. But, to be fair, that sounds pretty enticing, even for someone who doesn’t do alien space crafts.

Anders' departure from our safe, familiar planet offers a brilliant set-up for the queer, gender-binary-defying story she tells in Victories Greater than Death. In her first Young Adult fiction novel, Anders doesn't just pen a space opera because aliens are fun – she uses readers' suspension of disbelief to challenge what we know about our earthly lives. If we can believe aliens exist, can't we also believe that some aliens use they/them pronouns?

On Twitter, Anders said she wrote Victories Greater Than Death as a realization of a teenage fantasy: "I *dearly* wished that aliens would take me away from this planet, and show me where I really belonged. And being part of a diverse queer and trans group of kids would have meant a lot to me." This is what happens to Tina, an average teenager who isn't actually that average – she's the clone of a beloved space warrior, and once she's old enough, she'll be whisked back into space to find herself in the midst of an age-old battle. The only problem is, even though she’s a clone, she’s really just a teenage girl – so, how can she live up to the legacy of a magnificent warrior? She enlists the help of her home planet's most brilliant teenagers, who fight intergalactic evil together.

Even though the bulk of Victories Greater than Death takes place on spacecrafts, there's a lot about community, diversity, and acceptance that we can learn from what happens in space. The celestial setting of the first novel in Anders’ young adult series may be new, but the behaviors of these teens are not – it’s always fun to see strange Discord servers represented on the page.

-Amanda Silberling

'Crawl Space' is a Surreal and Terrifyingly Colorful Graphic Novel

A modern take on metaphysical worlds alongside a coming-of-age story

In the first few pages of Jesse Jacobs’ Crawl Space, you meet a girl who sheds her physical body to explore a trippy, iridescent landscape on a higher plane of existence. She stumbled upon it by chance after finding a portal in her basement’s washing machine, you see.

This odd graphic novel first came onto my radar when I learned Jacobs’ art was the basis for a colorful indie game called Spinch. I was immediately pulled toward the bright mix of bubbly, monochrome heroes interacting with geometric, rainbow-hued beings, and when I learned Jacobs created a whole book like this, it was a quick purchase.

The end result is fun, lively, and extremely surreal — reminiscent of Frank comics drawn in a minimalist style. The technicolor creatures and kaleidoscopic environments in Crawl Space’s higher plane are always in motion, changing colors in every panel, and it sharply contrasts with the quieter, black-and-white scenes set in the normal, material world. The plot itself follows a new-in-town high school girl hoping to make friends while hiding her washing machine portal, but as more teens enter this spiritual plane, its environment changes — good vibes keep it bright and friendly, but bad vibes distort the creatures and the artwork into more freeform terrors.

To me, this was a modern take on metaphysical worlds alongside a witty teenage coming-of-age story. But when I showed the book to someone else, they were convinced it was all a perfect metaphor for taking psychedelics. To each their own.

-Jonathan Kesh

Explore the Twisted World of Sweet Valley with Wokefield!

A deep dive into the Sweet Valley High books and their ... problematic elements

If I say the names Jessica and Elizabeth, what’s the first thing you think of? If you identify as a girl and you were born in the 80s, it’s almost certainly a red Fiat convertible, blonde twins that are a perfect size 6, and the extensive world of Sweet Valley High. And if you ask Adrienne Gunn and Elizabeth Gomez, you’ll also subconsciously think of all the ways these books, written by Francine Pascal and a slew of ghostwriters, screwed us up for the rest of our lives.

Gunn and Gomez host Wokefield!, a podcast that takes a deep dive into the Sweet Valley High books and their inherent misogyny, racism, fat-phobia, and more. Prior to each episode, the Chicago-based hosts read one of the books to discuss during the show. After a quick recap, they bring on a guest to chat about it.

One of my favorites so far: Episode 6, Stranger Danger. G&G recap a book where Elizabeth has been kidnapped, Jessica makes it clear she’s a sociopath, and podcast guest Archy Jamjum tries to hypothetically survive SVH as the only queer person of color in town. The episodes are hilarious social-justice-fueled rants about books that both shaped our pasts and destroyed our futures.

New episodes are released every Wednesday. Follow the podcast on Instagram @wokefieldpod.

-Jennifer Billock