2021’s Hollywood Heroine is the fifth volume in Sarah Kuhn’s Heroine superhero series.
Bay Area superheroes Aveda Jupiter and Evie Tanaka head off on another field trip, this time to Hollywood. Having sold the TV rights to their adventures, they think it would be fun to watch the filming.
John Godfrey Saxe once said “Laws, like sausages, cease to inspire respect in proportion as we know how they are made.” Much the same could be said of television shows that are based on one’s own experiences.
The show is being directed by showrunner and self-proclaimed genius and visionary Clint Mayweather. Actors Michelle Chong and Kat Morikawa portray Aveda and Evie. The Japanese-American actor is playing the Chinese-American hero, while the Chinese-American actor is playing the Japanese-American hero. This attention to detail characterizes Clint’s bold approach to biography, which is to say he is only notices the details that support the story he wants to tell. Thus, TV-Aveda must contend with vampires (something she never has done) because Clint thinks vampires are cool.
If the realities of the entertainment industry were not sufficiently grating, LA happens to be where former SF (San Francisco) superhero Magnificent Mercedes moved after Aveda established herself. The blonde Mercedes was convinced she offered SF a universal hero, which is to say a white hero, rather than a trendy diverse figure like Aveda. Once it became clear she could not hip-check Aveda out of the spotlight in SF, Mercedes moved to LA. It’s quite likely that she will object to Aveda’s visit.
In other news: the show is suffering from an outbreak of vampirism. While this could simply be a case of method acting gone horribly wrong, it isn’t. For some reason, vampires — heretofore entirely mythical — have become real. More concerningly, this particular strain is extremely contagious, which as anyone who has ever read Salem’s Lot can attest, is the worst-case scenario when vampires are concerned.
While Aveda and company are still trying to work out the how and why of vampires in order to end the outbreak, the malevolent Mercedes reappears. She has the right connections to worm her way into the production and a vision even bolder than Clint’s. Why not improve Aveda’s story by upgrading the actress playing her to Caucasian Mercedes while relegating Evie to sidekick status? If there’s room for Evie at all.
It’s heroes like Mercedes who make the vampires seem like sympathetic characters.
All superpowers in this universe are demonic in nature, the side-effect of an attempted invasion fourteen years earlier1. The invasion was headed by a demon queen named Shasta who didn’t do proper diligence before venturing into a realm whose natural laws turned out to be inhospitable to demonkind. It’s a reflection of the essential optimism of the series that a US fended off a demonic invasion without succumbing to the paranoia that followed 9/11.
It may help that the negative consequences of the demonic incursion involve threats like possessed cupcakes. Similarly, the powers manifested by the humans who contracted superhuman abilities tend towards the unimpressive: Aveda’s original powerset (since upgraded) was low-grade telekinesis, while Mercedes is a sort of living GPS, able to remotely locate objects by force of will2. In fact, Aveda’s powers were largely irrelevant to her demon-stomping career, although points to Mercedes for discovering a method of weaponizing her GPS powers.
Speaking of Mercedes, she may seem a little bit racist, given her belief that Aveda is popular only thanks to affirmative action and her trendy exoticism rather than Aveda’s hard work, Not to mention that Mercedes is frank about believing only white people have universal appeal. This is entirely unfair to Mercedes, who is incredibly racist. However racist you imagine her to be, add a little more. Nor does she seem likely to have a redemptive story arc at any point in time.
One might expect a novel whose antagonists include a racist blond lady with good PR to be depressing. In fact, it’s not, because this is a fantasy where good intentions and the application of the right force in the right place at the right time can overcome entrenched racism. At least locally. And isn’t that what superhero stories are for?
1: I went back and checked: the invasion was eight years before the beginning of the first novel, Heroine Complex , which came out in 2016. The books are careful not to mention actual dates so your guess is as good as mine when the invasion occurred. Could be as early as Bush or as late as Obama, but the setting doesn’t exactly jibe with either period.
2: There’s a possible Tor essay in a discussion of why people with useful non-combat abilities (like Doug Ramsey’s innate ability to understand every language, or the TV Dr Mid-Nite’s technologically enhanced nerdery) nevertheless feel compelled to don spandex and fight crime. Even though their lack of fighting skills renders this proceeding tantamount to suicide.