Authors: Seanan McGuire
Other Books by ISFiC Press
Relativity and Other Stories,
by Robert J. Sawyer
Every Inch A King,
by Harry Turtledove
The Cunning Blood,
by Jeff Duntemann
Worldcon Guest of Honor Speeches,
edited by Mike Resnick and Joe Siclari
by Jack McDevitt
by Tanya Huff
When Diplomacy Fails,
edited by Eric Flint and Mike Resnick
The Shadow on the Doorstep,
by James Blaylock
Assassin and Other Stories,
by Steven Barnes
Aurora in Four Voices,
by Catherine Asaro
Win Some, Lose Some,
by Mike Resnick
VELVETEEN VS. THE JUNIOR SUPER PATRIOTS
Copyright © 2012 Seanan McGuire. All Rights Reserved.
Cover Art Copyright © 2012 Dave Dorman.
“Velveteen vs. The Introduction” Copyright © 2012 Jim C. Hines
“I ♥ Superheroes” Copyright © 2012 Carrie Vaughn
Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written consent from both the authors and copyright holder, except by a reviewer who may want to quote brief passages in review.
Published by ISFiC Press
707 Sapling Lane
Deerfield, Illinois 60015
Series Editor: Steven H Silver
ISFiC Press Logo Design:
Todd Cameron Hamilton
Book Design by Robert T. Garcia / Garcia Publishing Services
919 Tappan Street, Woodstock, Illinois 60098
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
e-book ISBN: 978-0-9857989-4-9
mobi ISBN: 978-0-9857989-5-6
PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
by Thomson-Shore, 7300 West Joy Road, Dexter, Michigan 48130-9701
For Emma, Amethyst, Illyana, Kitty, and Sue,
who taught me that girls and comics were
the perfect combination.
UIRE WERE A
superhero, her power would be—
Oh, who am I kidding? You and I both know Seanan would be a supervillain. She’d wear a sparkling tiara and a glittering orange and black costume (complete with machete and a builtin battery pack for the chainsaw attachment). She’d laugh from her secret virology laboratory as she manipulated a hundred strains of beautiful, microscopic, viral doom. Naturally, her home would be guarded by giant genetically enhanced mantis shrimp in a dazzling rainbow of colors. And also velociraptors. And maybe a zombie or two.
On the bright side, when she destroys the Earth, you can bet it will be both exciting and so much more than you were expecting. Much like the Velveteen stories.
The first time I started reading “Velveteen vs. The Isley Crawfish Festival,” I smiled and settled back for a fun, fluffy tale. I enjoy Seanan’s sense of humor, and she did not disappoint me. But Seanan is a devious one, and in the tradition of authors throughout history, she used that sense of fun and whimsy to do something far more powerful.
She told the truth.
Not about the existence of an ex-superhero who can bring stuffed animals to life and control them like her own unstoppable army, of course. But about the world around that superhero. About our world. About evil and villainy. Not just red-clawed supervillains, but the much more mundane and human variety.
Enter The Super Patriots, Inc., the organization behind the heroes. If you think their marketing division is implausible, think about any pre-teen Hollywood star. Think about child labor laws, which have existed for less than a century in the United States. Think about the many places where such laws still don’t exist, or are ignored for the sake of convenience and profit.
Seanan McGuire thought about those things. She thought about power and the people who manipulate that power from the shadows. She thought about what would happen to the youngest superheroes, so powerful and yet so vulnerable. And then she created Velma “Velveteen” Martinez, the girl who brought toys to life. The girl who saw the truth behind the glitz and the glamor. The girl who grew up and walked away, choosing a civilian life over the superhero lifestyle.
The truth is that supervillains are easy. When Lex Luthor launches a nuke at the San Andreas Fault, planning to dump the California coast into the ocean, it’s pretty obvious who the bad guy is. And we all know the Boy Scout in red and blue tights will swoop out of the sky to save the day. In real life, evil is rarely so straightforward. Bad guys don’t come with their own minor-key soundtrack. It can come from those people you’ve been taught to trust. It can come from children too young to question what they’ve been told. It can come from an old boyfriend whose biggest flaw was that he wasn’t strong enough to follow you.
And occasionally it comes from coffee-worshipping cultists. Because sometimes the world is just that ridiculous.
Velveteen is a very human hero. She drives a crappy car. She struggles to cover her expenses and takes minimum wage jobs to get by. She struggles with her feelings for her ex. Her powers help her to fight a variety of super-nasties, but it’s her humanity that gives her power over her mundane foes. Her stubbornness, her determination, and her friendships.
Somehow, Seanan takes all of this insight, all of this truth, and wraps it in a big old crinkly ball of pure, shiny fun. Much like her music, which is both delightful and powerful. Or her blog, which combines quirky humor and powerful emotion. Or her artwork, or her novels, or—
You know, maybe
her real superpower. I’ve often envied Seanan for her ability to do so much, so well. I wondered if she had super-speed, or could create energy-based multiples of herself. Maybe she had her own personal TARDIS or a time-traveling DeLorean. But having read this collection, along with much of her other work, I think I’m finally starting to understand her true power: unreserved honesty.
Seanan McGuire gives herself to every story, every song, every sketch she creates. Velveteen’s fears and pain are McGuire’s own. Genetically mutated lobster-hero? An out-of-work woman who can turn your stuffed Snoopy into a vicious attack beagle? Yeah, those are pure Seanan McGuire too. Whatever the words or the medium, the emotions she puts into her art are genuine and true.
Like your favorite teddy bear, these stories are much more than mere fluff. Sure, they’re fun and comforting, but their snuggly surface masks their power. Read on to unmask that power as they come to life, show us some truths about our world, and punch evil right in the metaphorical giblets.
T WAS A BEAUTIFUL
afternoon in the sleepy little town of Isley, California (population 840, on a good day, when no one had decided to drive up to Sacramento for some big city thrills). The sun was shining, the birds were singing, and best of all, the crawfish were practically crawling out of the river all by themselves
All the fishermen had to do was scoop them up.
Naturally, the locals were ecstatic. Islay’s one real claim to fame—a claim made often and loudly, since there wasn’t much else to talk about—was their annual Crawfish Festival. Four days of fun, frolic, festivities, and, of course, food. Any kind of food you could imagine. . . as long as your imagination was fond of putting crawfish in everything.
Crawfish stew. Crawfish casserole. Pasta with sautéed crawfish and crawfish sauce. Deep-fried battered crawfish on a stick. Crawfish pie. Crawfish salad. Vegetarian crawfish sculpted from tofu and cunningly painted with food coloring to mimic the real thing. Crawfish ice cream (not for the weak of stomach or the faint of heart).
And, of course, the festival’s crowning glory: the steam tables, where fat river crawfish were steamed to a bright, celebratory red, tossed into bushel-baskets full of steamed corn and potatoes and zucchini, and dished up by the pound, filling the bellies of every hungry tourist between Sacramento and San Francisco.
The annual Crawfish Festival had been happening in the town of Isley for over a hundred and sixty years, ever since the day when one of their founding fathers realized they needed to do
if they wanted to keep themselves from becoming just another ghost town on the river road between Vallejo and Sacramento. Since they didn’t have a citrus crop and six other towns in the area already had artichoke celebrations of one stripe or another, they needed to find a gimmick no one else had thought of. Something new. Something different.
And then Michael Donnelly, who was the closest thing they had to a village idiot, fell into the river and came up with half a dozen crawfish in his pockets. In that moment, and in the screaming of a half-witted man being pinched in the most sensitive of places, a tradition was born.
It was a tradition that certain lurking figures had come to Isley intent on bringing to a fast and, most of all, final end.
The life of a professional superheroine (or, if you want to be politically correct, “super-powered member of the civil service”) involves a lot of complications that nobody outside the business ever really thinks about. Giving up carbs, for example, because the sexist assholes in Marketing continue to insist that the only properly heroic attire for a female protector of the people is based primarily on spandex. A sensible haircut that requires a minimum amount of maintenance and can still look good even after a hand-to-hand battle on the back of a moving Cessna. Lipstick that needs to be removed with turpentine and probably comes with an increased risk of cancer, but doesn’t smear and always looks good in the photos.