Thursday, 8 February 2018

Velveteen vs. The Junior Super Patriots by Seanan McGuire

Velveteen vs. The Junior Super Patriots by Seanan McGuire is the first collection of the Velveteen vs stories. It's out of print in ebook so I wasn't actually able to get the book, but the stories themselves are all available to read on the author's website, so I'm counting it as having read the book. Because of how I've been reading and posting mini-reviews of short stories, you might have already seen my comments on some of the stories, but I still think it's nice to collect them all in one place.

Velveteen: How dare you? I never asked for you to hunt me down!

No, Velma Martinez hadn't. But when you had once been Velveteen, child super-heroine and one of The Junior Super Patriots, West Coast Division, you were never going to be free, even if your only power was to bring toys to life. The Marketing Department would be sure of that.

So it all came down to this. One young woman and an army of misfit toys vs. the assembled might of the nine members of The Junior Super Patriots, West Coast Division who had come to take her down.

They never had a chance.

Velveteen lives in a world of super-heroes and magic, where men can fly and where young girls can be abducted to the Autumn Land to save Halloween. Velma lives from paycheck to paycheck and copes with her broken-down car as she tries to escape from her old life.

It's all the same world. It's all real. And figuring out how to be both Velveteen and Velma is the biggest challenge of her life, because being super-human means you’re still human in the end.

The stories in this collection are set in a world with superheroes and, more importantly, organisations managing the licensing and public appearances of superheroes. It's also set in the US, which gives it a pretty different vibe to Girl Reporter and the preceding stories by Tansy Rayner Roberts, even while it deals with some of the same themes. (For the record, I like the Roberts series more, mainly for its Australian-ness and humour, but that's not to say I'm disliking the McGuire which, as I said, is a very different take.)

The Velveteen stories deal with Vel's life as an adult after having been a child hero and after quitting the life before turning eighteen and hence avoiding some legal troubles. However, as an adult, she's not allowed to be a superhero without going back to the organisation she's escaped and wants nothing to do with. Her only hope in escaping them is to make it to Oregon, which has different state laws and  where she can be safe. Meanwhile, she's been working minimum-wage jobs and living pay-check to pay-check, so life hasn't been super fun. The stories in this collection follow her journey and eventual arrival in Oregon with a few detours for world-saving and flashbacks.

Overall these stories had a bit of bleakness to them, especially when the Junior Super Patriots were juxtaposed with Vel's adult life. Some of the stories felt more like chapters or instalments in a bigger story, which was fine since I was reading them in order (although not all in a row). For others looking to dip into the series, many of the stories work fine out of order, but some don't quite stand alone, in my opinion (as noted below). In general, I recommend these stories and this collection to fans of superheroes, especially more cynical takes on the superhero genre.

And now the stories:

Velveteen vs the Isley Crayfish Festival — A quick, fun introduction to a retired (for now?) superheroine, who features in several more stories. Recommended for fans of Tansy Rayner Roberts superhero stories and vice versa.

Velveteen vs. The Coffee Freaks — A fun superhero story about a retired child hero that just wants to get to her job interview in Portland.

Velveteen vs the Flashback Sequence — More of a chapter establishing character than a properly stand-alone story in its own right. Nevertheless, an enjoyable read.

Velveteen vs the Old Flame — A less fun read that dredges up some unfortunate back story from Velma’s time as a junior superhero. As with the previous story in this sequence, it feels a bit more like a chapter than a self-contained short story.

Velveteen vs the Junior Super Patriots West Coast Division — The plot thickens as Velma, our retired superheroine, faces off against the new generation of her former child hero team. New characters with interesting back stories are introduced and Velma’s road trip comes to an end.

Velveteen vs the Eternal Halloween — A story set entirely during Velveteen’s teenage years and featuring a Groundhog Day-like Halloween and the world of Halloween. A solid story. It inadvertently had me wondering how the world of Halloween would fit in with the Wayward Children, but this story was, of course, written much earlier. It was also kind of more fun (less cynical) than adult Velveteen.

Velveteen vs the Ordinary Day — Another chapter in adult Velveteen’s life. Having made it to Oregon, Velma reunites with some friends. An entertaining read.

Velveteen vs Patrol — A first look at Velma’s new life superheroing for Oregon. Mostly a pleasant read about her working out her new life, with and additional dollop of foreshadowing doom thrown in.

Velveteen vs the Blind Date — Velveteen is set up on a blind date with another freelance superhero. It seems like a terrible idea at first, but they have complementary powers and hit it off. Another entertaining read.

4 / 5 stars

First published: 2012, ISFiC
Series: Yes. First collected volume of 3 so far
Format read: Individual stories online on the author's website
Source: Author's website

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