Girl From Mars
So I was a female nerd during my twenties: watching every Star Trek: The Next Generation episode, meeting for role playing evenings (and nights) sometimes several times a week, and spending one night per week playing darts with my mates, always in the same pub. As you can imagine, I could relate very well to Fil, the heroine of Girl from Mars by Julie Cohen, and was thoroughly delighted to come across a heroine of this specific and rare (in fiction) type, even more so when I liked the book a lot.
Philomena Desdemona Brown, commonly known as Fil, is a successful comic book artist in her mid-twenties with a deplorable lack of social skills. The daughter of academics, she was a shy outsider at school and only made friends with Jim, who introduced her to the world of science fiction and of comic books, especially her all-time favorite superhero Girl from Mars. Fast forward several years, Fil and Jim share a house in a platonic relationship, with Jim a computer specialist and Fil having reached her greatest ambition in working as an artist for Girl from Mars. They have admitted to their circle Digger, who makes a living selling stuff on Ebay, and Stevo another comic artist who draws for the same publishing house as Fil. Their small world comes under threat when Stevo admits he met the love of his life on a plane journey and withdraws, refusing to introduce his partner to the others.
Simultaneously, Fil meets an extremely attractive and sociable American named Dan in a café, but she feels so awkward that she rather runs away than talk to him. Soon after, Jim, Digger and Fil try to chat up some potential love interests at a club, with disastrous (if hilarious) results, and then they get so drunk that they swear a terrible vow, in Klingon no less, that they will never permit romance to break them apart. Now if ever there was a challenge to fate…
There was a great deal to like in this novel. Fil is a deeply sympathetic character in spite of her considerable oddness and occasional blind stubbornness. In my eyes, Julie Cohen manages to describe spot on what goes on inside a woman who really does not know how to be a woman, how to dress, to flirt or just to normally interact with strangers (the novel is written in the first person). I also loved the way that her relationship with Jim and Digger is described. They are in a rut indeed and need to get out of it, but there is a great deal of loyalty and sweetness there that is admirable and valuable, and although they are gently made fun of, they are also described with sensitivity and understanding.
I also loved reading about Girl from Mars and the whole artistic process that goes into creating a comic book. I really longed to read those comics myself! The image presented of London is not so topical as to be intrusive, but the glimpses we get sounded true to me. The romance is moving without getting sugary, and there is a very well-written groveling scene on behalf of the heroine. What I loved best about the book is how Fil, and to some lesser extent, the other characters, develop: They grow, but they don’t abandon where they come from, tempering their individuality with some maturity instead.
So why is this no DIK? In short, the hero. He’s delicious, but I didn’t understand what made him tick for too long a time. I realize that’s almost always a problem with a first-person narrative, but there it is.
If you love nerd characters, because you are a bit of a nerd yourself, I hope you will enjoy Girl from Mars as much as I did. If you’re no nerd but are curious to find out how they think, this novel is a good starting point. In any case, I’d like to recommend it very strongly!