Starfish and Coffee
Starfish and Coffee (Sparkletits 1): On the use of power
Calisto is a local and a friend. I try to read all my friends’ books. (I read slowly; if I haven’t gotten to you, be patient.) This is a superhero novel, not my usual speed, but a sufficiently interesting premise to dive in.
Our protag is struck by a falling star or something (it isn’t clear) and thereafter her chest glows and fascinates people. She also learns she’s more-or-less bulletproof and immune to fascination effects from others.
The writing is good. A couple extra commas here and there, whatever. Prose is streamlined, pacing is good. This is a longish novel for the genre and I read slow, so it took me 3 weeks to finish, but I enjoyed it. I even expanded my reading hours a little to find out WTF was going to happen next.
Maybe most importantly, this is feminist writing.
Sparkles is the only woman ever to have superpowers. She faces a little chauvinism from gangsters, politicians, and a little bit from inside the superhero union. More than anything, she offers a critique of the use of power, refusing to be pushed around but, at the same time, refusing to respond in kind.
I’m an existential psychologist. The use of institutional power concerns me greatly, as does the use of personal power. Existential psychology is all about preserving the agency of the client. I’ve written before about the meaning of this in everyday life. Spiderman famously learns in episode 1 that power is responsibility. To me, the only responsible use of power is to give it away. Equalize it, refuse it, or refuse to use it.
Calisto, at least in this story, is the only person who ever outwardly agreed with me. And this is feminism. The point of feminism isn’t to wrest power from male-dominated cultures and then wield the power as men have. It is to equalize power, and increase agency; to free people. Men and women suffer under patriarch. Rape culture hurts us all, and sexual violence is almost the least part of rape culture. Authoritarianism won’t fall to the rise of new authoritarians.
So Sparkles can fascinate people with her breasts, but she’s modest. She doesn’t want to flash them around. The victims wouldn’t remember seeing anything but she’d remember them having seen. That’s such a metaphor for how to treat people. Modesty aside, lets say you could hurt someone and get away with it. Does that make it right? Victor Frankl faced this choice in the camps. A dying man under his care finishes his soup and wants more. Frankl shares his own ration with a man who won’t be around to thank him tomorrow. The rational thing would have been to steal his soup. He can’t resist and isn’t *really* harmed; he’ll be dead before morning and some watery broth can’t save him.
But Frankl thought, If I survive, who will I be?
Sometimes the preservation of self requires the sacrifice of the body. The dying patient wouldn’t remember, but the doctor would.
Sparkles never initiates violence. She always tries to be reasonable, even deferential. She treads carefully and, the more powerful she becomes, the more carefully she steps.
We’re seeing this insurgence of immoral super-powered people. Starting with the antiheroes but becoming outright evil (Brightburn) or corrupt (The Boys). This probably reflects what’s happening in our politics, where billionaires and our political leadership are often evil and corrupt right out in the open, right in front of our very eyes. The people we trusted turn out not to be trustworthy, and they’re utterly bulletproof.
This is a cynical but perhaps accurate narrative. The sparkly Greer Ianto offers an antidote to this growing discontent, a feminist critique of power and its uses.
Congratulations to Veronica Calisto.