Chilling Out In the Afterlife

Catherynne Valente’s The Refrigerator Monologues is a treat-sized bag of short stories set in a homebrewed but decidedly familiar superhero universe – specifically, the afterlife of said universe. The Hell Hath Club are a group of dead women who lunch together at the same infernal cafe, swapping their stories of how they ended up dead; it is these stories which are the titular monologues, offering a take on The Vagina Monologues with less genitalia (though not no genitalia) and more… well… fridging.

Valente happily admits the debts she owes to Gail Simone for documenting and shining a light on the whole “women in refrigerators” thing, but through these stories she does an excellent job of teasing out different levels of insight into the phenomenon. There is, of course, the straight up comics criticism angle, and if you know your comics – or, at least, are close enough to geek culture to have picked up some knowhow via osmosis and are happy to Wikipedia the rest – you should be able to figure out which characters Valente is analytically spoofing most of the time. Though her self-made superhero universe isn’t ragingly original, she does do an excellent job of erecting a scaffolding where Totally Not Harley Quinn, Totally Not Jean Grey and various other Totally Nots inspired by different companies’ franchises can coexist in the same world – and she also throws in just enough original ideas and twists to make her reimaginings of the stories come alive. (In this vein, my favourite is probably the way she’s able to do an undersea Atlantis realm which doesn’t rely on the old fallbacks of a) humans under a dome, b) merfolk who are basically just humans with water breathing and maybe fish tails, or c) Deep Ones.)

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This Town Ain’t Big Enough For the Monogamous

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

Palimpsest is a city that is home to a range of wonders but which is only accessible from our world via a convoluted route; specifically, you need to have sex with someone who’s been there, which will cause you to experience a visit to Palimpsest the next time you sleep. The first time you go, you and three other newcomers are brought together and marked before being set loose on the streets; when you wake up, a section of the city map will be marked somewhere on your body. This is the sign by which the underground community of visitors recognise each other; from here on in, you can only access parts of Palimpsest depicted on the bodies of fellow immigrants you have had sex with.

People have a range of reactions to this. Some flinch from it and try to forget all about the city. Others dabble to a limit extent but set firm boundaries. Still others become obsessed. Dotted around the world are small communities of visitors who arrange discreet hookups; some make an active effort to stop knowledge of Palimpsest becoming widespread for fear of the consequences if it became generally known. For many, sex becomes a means to an end, rather than an end in itself.

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