"Kid Dark Against the Machine", the new short story by Tansy Raynor Roberts, is the latest entry in Book Smugglers Publishing's season of superhero stories. It's available as an ebook
as well as on the Book Smugglers blog
I can't even pretend to be objective about this story. It's got superheroes and reunion narratives, it plays with tropes and gender roles, and it's got Tansy Raynor Roberts, of whom I am a huge fangirl, mostly for her work on the Galactic Suburbia podcast -- my first foray into the world of fannish podcasting. But for all that I love Roberts as a commentator and fellow fan, I haven't spent much time reading her fiction. Happily, the one story of hers that I have previously read is "Cookie Cutter Superhero", her contribution to the (most excellent and highly recommended) anthology Kaleidoscope
. This story is set in the same universe as Kid Dark and features a few of the same characters. I enjoyed "Cookie Cutter Superhero" a great deal, so when I learned there was a follow-up, I jumped on the chance to read it and spend a little more time in this fascinating world.
The underlying premise is that superheroes are real, their powers and identities chosen essentially by a lottery -- all over the world, there are machines that select one person to gain superpowers every six months, assigning them a codename and skill set. When a new hero is called, the machine selects an existing hero to retire, and they lose their powers. So anyone can
be a hero, but only by the whims of fate, and there's no guarantee of how long it will last -- a few heroes only get one six-month term, while others remain active for decades. It makes for an interesting dynamic, both among the heroes (who, at least in Australia, where both stories are set, live and work together as a team) and the unpowered people.
"Cookie Cutter Superhero" focused on a teen girl who is called by the machine to become powered; "Kid Dark Against the Machine" takes us to the other side of the equation, and introduces us to a young man who was a hero in his youth but has since returned to live among the "mortals". In the good old days, he was Kid Dark, sidekick to a brooding crime fighter named The Dark (if you think this sounds familiar, that's clearly intentional). Now he's just a guy called Griff, doing odd jobs at a group home for children, reluctantly studying for his social work degree, and avoiding his past as much as possible. He thought he was out of that life forever, until one of the kids, a boy named Liam, reports that he's dreaming about another machine -- one that makes supervillians instead of heroes. And Griff is forced to do two things: ask an old teammate for help, and admit that he might miss being a superhero after all.( Cut for spoilers )
All in all, I can easily recommend this story to anyone who enjoys superheroes, coming of age, interesting world building, and/or men and women being friends. And now I'm off to explore the rest of Roberts's short fiction, which I'm sure will be a pleasurable journey.