Friendship to the Max!

In the graphic novel series Lumberjanes the phrase to remember is “Friendship to the Max!” It hangs on the sign above ‘Miss Qiunzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet’s Camp for Hardcore Lady-Types,’ gets repeated by the characters, and is supported by the narrative. Equally supported, but more subtly stated, is the idea that diversity is not just okay, but good. Right off the bat, we’re introduced to an ensemble cast whose wide range of visual designs and personalities make them easy to track on the page and engage with in the story.

Lumberjanes jumps feet-first into adventure by introducing the girls of the Roanoke Cabin chasing supernatural creatures through the woods in the middle of the night (to the horror of their counselor Jen). The creatures lead them to an amulet, which leads them on a quest through an underground obstacle course, that involves even more supernatural creatures, and the adventure never slows down from there. Most supernatural story arcs take one volume to tell, while character arcs span several and a number of mysteries are quietly growing throughout the whole series so far.

Sometimes, in stories about teamwork and friendship, it can be easy to trip into the pitfall of conformity. To paint different interests as sources of conflict, and individuality as a threat to teamwork. Lumberjanes does not fall into this pit. Instead, Lumberjanes takes a running leap and vaults over it. In every adventure the Roanoke Cabin goes on, their diverse interests and skills are what saves the day. April’s arm-wrestling, Molly’s archery, Jo’s engineering, Mal’s on-the-fly planning, Jen’s vast science knowledge, and Ripley’s sheer enthusiasm to tackle things head-on all come in handy.

Above all though, what drives the emotional heart of the stories is the genuine care and support the girls give each other. This care is for the most part expressed platonically, but some campers explore romance as well in a way that is serious, low-key, and relatable.

Lumberjanes knows that there is no one way to be a hardcore lady-type and makes sure to give readers two canon transgender characters. One has already transitioned before attending camp, and her gender status is treated in such a way that it is easy to imagine that any other camper could be transgender as well. The second character is introduced attending an associated summer camp for boys and questions where they belong over the course of the story, eventually deciding to join the Lumberjanes and use singular-they pronouns. Both characters are treated with respect and kindness by both the story and their friends.

“Friendship to the Max” not only means getting to know about and support your friends, but also getting to know and support yourself, finding balance between conflicting needs. A good friend doesn’t want to run roughshod over you! They want you to reach out to them, and in the world of Lumberjanes you will always find a friend waiting for you, hand outstretched.


The Imperial Radch trilogy

The first book in Ann Leckie’s Imperial Radch trilogy, Ancillary Justice (winner of the Hugo and Nebula awards) opens with the protagonist, Breq, taking on a complication to her revenge quest by helping a familiar figure lying near death in the snow. It’s a quest that’s taken nineteen years, which we’re introduced to when the end finally seems in reach.

Leckie splits the timeline to show readers Breq’s motivation in one chapter, her current progress towards revenge in the next, and back again. Each chapter explains more of the far-future Breq inhabits, while raising more questions and building foreshadowing.

Told from the perspective of a former warship AI, now stuck in one single human body, the Imperial Radch trilogy interrogates the horrors of imperialism, the ripple effects of care and kindness, the ethics of placing controls on a non-human sentient entity for the supposed safety of humans, and the classic science-fiction question of “how do we decide who is a person?”

By writing entirely from the point of view of an AI character, Leckie deftly places the answers to those questions in the hands of the subject itself.

Outside of the revenge quest, Leckie uses the future setting to explore the interaction of language and gender. The culture that builds AI warships exclusively uses ‘she/her’ in its official language. Over the story, Breq must use other languages, with a variety of pronouns, and avoid giving offense or making her culture of origin too apparent.

Her frustration over inconsistencies in cultural gender markers ties back to her identity struggles; Breq’s first two thousand years of life were spent with constant access to information networks and databanks, in which she could know the appropriate pronoun for anyone around her in multiple languages in a blink. Nineteen years in a single, isolated body, the arbitrary need to choose pronouns for other people and for self-reference constantly drive home how different she is from what she once was.

With a debut trilogy this fascinating and hard-to-put-down, Leckie has established herself as an author worth watching.