Friend or Foe: A MenoPausal Superhero Short Story Collection by Samantha Bryant

Friend or Foe: A MenoPausal Superhero Short Story Collection by Samantha BryantCombining diverse characters with the comic book action, Bryant creates a series of tales of realistic people in a world of superhero physics.

Then, when the reader looks at the review, my mechanical squid drops the spoiler bucket over their head!

This collection contains four short stories set in Bryant’s Menopausal Superheroes universe:

  • ‘Intervention’: When Patricia goes to visit Dr Cindy Liu after the death of Cindy’s boyfriend, she discovers a radical change in behaviour. And witnesses the first step toward Cindy’s superhero-making quest.

  • ‘Friend or Foe’: – Immediately after the events of Going Through the Change, Dr Cindy Liu escapes the Department, only to be scooped up by a sinister stranger who claims to be her father. Meanwhile, Patricia decides to strike out on her own rather than accept a job offer from the Department, assuming she can get them to accept her decision.

  • ‘O Scaly Night’: Patricia gives a man the sort of present only a nigh-indestructible lizard-woman can.

  • ‘The Right Thing’: With Cindy having agreed a deal to work with the Department, Patricia thinks her quest to track her friend down is over. Until Cindy mysteriously disappears from her room.

Bryant opens the collection with a short introduction that places each story within the arc of the novels. This includes a warning that readers might wish to read the appropriate novel(s) before the later stories. While Bryant does seek to avoid obvious spoilers within this introduction, her entirely reasonable decision to include a small amount of context for those readers who are not familiar with the novels does mean that astute readers wishing to avoid any spoilers will need to put even the introduction aside temporarily.

As with all collections that fill in the spaces between existing works, it is hard for a single reviewer to assess accurately whether the stories both stand on their own for readers who have not read the novels, and maintain tension and freshness for readers who have. However, Bryant’s choice to not provide vast swathes of backstory in the works and use the introduction to provide context, skilfully balances not confusing new readers with not boring established ones.

Perhaps ironically, the sense that these stories are tales in themselves feels slightly weaker in ‘Intervention’, the story set before the first novel. While it is a complete arc, the sight of a youthful Cindy and Patricia starting along the road toward the first novel is likely to resonate less with those readers who have not been immersed in the modern Cindy and Patricia.

As with Bryant’s other works, these stories focus on complex people with real lives who also have powers rather than superheroes who face only the challenges of the young, rich, or single.

While there is a decided slant toward Patricia (who features as a major protagonist in every story) and to a lesser extent Cindy, the other main characters also feature in two of the stories so even those readers who find Patricia’s powers and life the least interesting aspect of the world will have plenty to hold their attention.

Overall, I enjoyed this collection. I recommend it to readers who are interested in the human side of superhero tales.

I received a free copy from the author with a request for a fair review.

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