Title: The Ultra Fabulous Glitter Squadron Saves the World Again
Author: A.C. Wise
Publisher: Lethe Press
Rating: 5 out of 5
How I got it: I was given a free copy by the author in exchange for a review
MARS NEEDS MEN!
But the Ultra Fabulous Glitter Squadron will have to do. At least one of them self-identifies as male, Butch in all his spangled glory. He tucks proudly, or sometimes not at all, and fuck you very much if you don’t like it.
By night, they work at clubs with names like Diamond Lil’s, the Lil’ Diamond, and Exclusively Lime Green. Every Thursday, they bowl. In between, when they’re not bowling, or dancing, or singing on stage, they kick ass harder than you’ve seen ass kicked before. And they do it all in silver lamé and high heels.
This is Bunny, their leader, born Phillip Howard Craft the Third. At the moment, she is up in the recruiter’s face, waving a poster of Uncle Sam under the aforementioned tag line, a floating head against a backdrop of Martian red. Her nails are manicured perfection, each painted a different metallic shade, all the colors of the rainbow, and then some. Her hair is piled in a frosted bouffant so high it barely fit through the recruiter’s door. Despite the anger written in every line of her body, she doesn’t raise her voice.
Ladies, gentlemen, and genderqueer/gender-nonconforming/non-binary comrades of all stripes, please bear witness to perhaps the most spectactular, vivid opening paragraphs to a book I’ve read all year. Take notes. Bask in the voice and tone of this whip-smart prose. Glory in the short, precise character sketch above. Because the Ultra Fabulous Glitter Squadron has invaded my tablet and filled my head with a delightful array of characters who kick ass and look amazing while they’re at it.
But who are the Ultra Fabulous Glitter Squadron, you ask? A varied group of cis and trans heroes who are the people to call when you’re menaced by mad scientists, monster bugs, alien eels, and angry ghosts, plus the occasional piece of cursed jewelry.
Its members include:
Bunny, who was originally a bartender named Philip Howard Craft — handsome, but also a love-em-and-leave-em type. Life as Philip was an unfulfilling stream of booze and willing women, but now, with her bouffant hair, bunny ears, and multi-coloured nails, Bunny feels whole and brave. She founded the Squadron; the other members marvel at both her unwavering emotional support and her ability to wield a harpoon like no other.
Starlight, a new recruit. Born with the name Walter, she started presenting as her true self at age 7. Before joining the Squadron, she was the best damned waitress at RollerRama, the local skating rink. However, despite her fierce protective streak, she’s an innocent at heart. She doesn’t realize it, but the other members of the squadron think she’s been a hero ever since she was a child.
Penny, a former solider. Penny has red-hot hair, plus an outfit — and a temper — to match. No matter the gig, with her incomparable array of weapons (including a Big Fucking Gun) and her multiple black belts, her body is ready. Her mind, however, not so much. She has trouble admitting it, but she’s still got her own demons to deal with.
Esmeralda, who lives a double life. Her mother and sister may think she’s a mild-mannered accountant, but it’s the Glitter Squadron where she truly feels like herself. However, it turns out that keeping the unconventional part of your life a secret from hidebound relatives is something that runs in her family.
M. M has a story, but it’s not meant for the likes of you. All you need to know is that behind that all-leather costume is a being who intimately understands pain.
Sapphire and Ruby, the not-so-twins. Sapphire is tall, dark, trans, and poised. Ruby is short, round, pale, cis and one of the strongest women alive. They fit together like yin and yang. However, despite their differences, they’re united by the bond that comes from finding a way out of shitty situations together, and by the fact that they’re still in the process of figuring out who they’re meant to be.
CeCe, the Velvet Underground Drag King. She could probably make a killing as a Bowie impersonator with her androgynous, dapper style. But under that marvelous bone structure is a wounded soul desperately trying to convince herself that it’s okay to remain distant from others. CeCe reminds me a lot of Desire from Sandman.
Madeline, the Silk Songstress. A femme fatale with a voice of honey and smoke, Madeline is the love of CeCe’s life. Too bad it took nearly losing her to a succubus for CeCe to realize it. Still, she’s a forgiving sort. Plus, now that CeCe’s finally decided to stay, they’re working on an even bigger project together: adding a new, pint-sized member to the team.
The world of the Ultra Fabulous Glitter Squadron is one of pulp, bright colours, and in-your-face style. However, don’t let the pulpy, glittery, fun-loving exterior fool you — the stories and characters within tackle complex topics like gender presentation, toxic masculinity, creating families of choice, PTSD, the theft of cultural patrimony, and more.
Plus, A.C. Wise herself is a witty writer who sprinkles references to classic genre literature like candy throughout the book. In addition to the thinly-veiled nod to H.P. Lovecraft, Wise also alludes to the stories of Carnacki the Ghost Finder by William Hope Hodgson, and The Story of O. Plus, I’m sure there are a whole bunch of other hints and nods that I didn’t catch.
The Ultra Fabulous Glitter Squadron Saves the World Again is a story collection well worth reading if you’re looking for something with glitter, mayhem, attitude, and ass-kicking trans characters.