By: Noah Murphy
This book gave me cancer.
The next several paragraphs are completely true to the book and not made up.
Liza is a regular old cheerleader until one day, as she’s driving by the mall after cheer practice, a giant magic axe falls out of the sky and crushes her car. This axe is special and has the power to transform Liza into the Axe Wielder. Her clothes are instantly torn asunder as she grows into a larger, more masculine version of herself. But she is not alone. Two girls have come to say hi and not to worry, one of them is naked, too! The girls instantly retreat to the nearest plus-sized clothing store and cry in the dressing room.
The NHC, which stands for something that we learn in the beginning of the book has something to do with enslaving powered people, is on the case! They show up at the mall in droves. After an epic battle where some guy named Silver Arc makes some arcs of electricity and some special force little people chase the half-snake naked girl around the air ducts, it becomes clear that there’s no use. Liza is captured and taken back to the NHC compound, which is exactly like a high school except that everyone there has super powers.
It is a very diverse school. You get that message right off the bat because everybody is described by race. Here a black girl, there a white girl, there an Asian girl, there a Hispanic girl, and of course a Hispanic cafeteria lady named Maria. Liza tries to starve herself to get her lady figure back but quickly loses the battle and scarfs down a bunch of sausages while she meets some of her new classmates. One of the first people she meets is Sakina, whose superpower is to do all the drugs without dying. All the drugs. Sakina grew up in a bad area, I guess, and wants to save the world by doing all of the drugs in it so nobody else can. I’ll spare the leap of logic this… just…. THEY’RE RENEWABLE RESOURCES, COME ON! Briefly, we also meet
a morbidly obese girl scooping lard directly out a tub. [sic]
and the triplets, Arianna, Brianna, and Carrie-Anna, three white girls who sport blonde hair and a blue dress, brown hair and a green dress, and red hair and a red dress respectively.
They hate each other because they can read each other’s minds and therefore one of them knows that the other totally stole her boyfriend.
Things seem to be going well enough until night time when Liza retreats to her dorm room and is immediately greeted by a team of girl bullies, all wearing skimpy silk lingerie except for the one who’s naked for some reason. “I’m Isabelle” declares the main bully “the Chinese girl is Jade and the other is Viera and we know who you are. You may be important to the NHC, but in this house, you’re an ugly she-male and part of the freaks.” Liza and the RA defeat the main bully in a battle of sorts and then the naked girl and the other lingerie girl are finally free from the tyranny of the main bully, for which many of the girls are grateful. Liza then goes to bed and realizes that she can “spirit walk” which means walking through the ethereal (rather than physical) plane. This affords her powers like traveling through space rapidly. In the Ethereal realm, she meets Meadow, the naked one from before. No, wait. That was Jade or Viera. The first naked one was Janola though. This is a new naked one. Meadow spreads her legs for some reason and gives Liza a talk about body confidence, then introduces her to Phoenix, a girl whose superpower is that she can kill herself and walk through the ethereal plane and then come back.
Meanwhile, Liza’s former bestie Macie is unfriending Liza on facebook because she looks totes ugly now that she’s muscly and stuff. The next morning, Macie wakes up and a giant sword chunks itself into her room, giving her new powers and bigger, firmer boobs. Macie, as it turns out, is the ultimate villain now that she has the sword of evilness and her sole purpose in life is now to murder people. Murder, murder, murder. This is bad obviously, but it’s even worse because the ethereal plane is now filling with windego, which as far as I can tell is a black cloud that turns people into dead cannibals or something. Zombies, I guess.
Again, the last several paragraphs were completely true to the book. I made nothing up.
Ethereal Girls is a book. That’s its first problem. It was obvious right off the bat that this book looked really good in Murphy’s head. The scenes are certainly dynamic. Lots of stuff happens. There’s never a dull moment. There are magic powers that are consistent and kind of interesting. Frankly, it read like Michael Bay’s bedside notepad where he writes all of his surprise ideas.
It reads like an outline, like somebody just wrote a bunch of notes and said “this sounds cool, and that sounds cool,” and then just gathered up all their notes and put it on Kindle. It makes for an interesting enough set of stage directions, but it doesn’t work at all as a novel. The fact that it’s a novel was simply incidental.
One of the other problems is that Murphy clearly set out to be… I don’t know, inclusive or something? Let’s see how that worked out:
“When I first moved here forty years ago, combat heroines were delicate little flowers who were all either violently raped, crippled, or dead by thirty. Times have changed for the better it seems… although I believe it’s because your male teammates can now save you.”
I wish I could say that was the only time this cropped up. Alas, by the end of the book I had been solidly schooled on how much weaker women are.
Or this part, where Jonola explains how Lamia – snake people – have polyamorous groups composed of 5:1 female:male ratio because male Lamia are more attractive the more mates they have.
“How does he get the first mate then?”
“He clubs you on the head and drags you back to his burrow where he has his way with you.” Her eyes glistened. “It’s so romantic!”
Ahh. It’s not really a male gaze novel without a fucking polygamy/rape fantasy.
“You should think about dressing more modestly,” he said. “It would give you some self-esteem to not [sic] expose your body to lustful gazes.” If covering up wouldn’t be really, really hot, she’d take his advice.
Oh how about this part where Liza learns that Phoenix is from “the hood.”
“No offense, but you don’t talk like you grew up on the streets.”
She put her hand on her hip and cocked her head. “Yo, I be talking like ‘dis as a lil’ shortie. But I learned to speak English after I moved out of that life. Most of us do.”
Good old fashioned racism.
Without spoiling just about everything, I can’t reveal one of the more horrible things at the end of the book, wherein a certain female character becomes super extra massively muscular and then is suddenly referred to as “he” for the remainder.
To its credit, Ethereal Girls did feature a race of aliens called the Brac’Tai, amoeba-ish little things that wore speak-and-says on their chest to communicate with earthlings and flew spaceships modeled after our television spaceships cause they’re such huge fans or something. Gosh, I’m just getting the strongest sense of deja-vu, though. Oh, well.
I came upon this book when a friend of mine pointed me in its direction. This friend of mine showed me to Murphy’s twitter, where he was letting loose on some people who were telling him that his book was objectifying to women and otherwise disrespectful and creepy. He disagreed. Murphy insisted that everyone’s problem with this book is that it features female characters that aren’t made for them. He thinks he just can’t find an audience that would appreciate an all-female cast.
That’s not what the problem is. The problem is that Ethereal Girls is a shitty game of bait and switch. Murphy put big muscly girls with superpowers on the cover and he got what he was looking for: people that want to read about muscly superpowered women. Then, he made the entire book rife with naked, jiggling boobs that made no sense in the scenes. He wrote line after line after line about how big and ugly Liza was. He wrote about how women are weaker than men, would die without men, and of course fought over men for no reason. He gave us a book where women’s femininity was compromised or altogether erased by musculature, where a black woman speaking AAVE then converted to a more respectable vernacular to which to which he referred simply as “English.” Contrary to what Murphy might believe, we’re not so desperate for books about women that we’ll accept anything some white dude shits into existence and call it empowering. We can write too.
Oh, and he couldn’t edit his way out of a wet paper bag. He so many words I couldn’t count them if I tried.