Tales of The Starbuck Avenger! by Jeffrey “Channing” Wells is a 2011 fix-up of material first published on his Livejournal. (Remember LiveJournal? It’s a social media platform, like MySpace or Ello, still used by several people. More than two or three, outside Russia.) Fix-ups, novels created from shorter works, have a long history in speculative fiction and I am genuinely happy to see this tradition continue.
Tricia “Trish” Hocking’s life as an unremarkable barista was doomed the moment an excited man forced his way into the Gorham Street Starbucks where Trish worked. Demanding a “venti sulawesi double-shot dulce de leche espresso within the next three minutes,” the agitated customer insisted that it was a matter of life or death. Well, some people take their coffee very seriously.
But Trish’s old life really ended when on a whim she went out one night to scale buildings and lurk on rooftops. Given the time of night and the icy conditions, her multi-story plummet was likely inevitable. The fact that she did not. on reaching the sidewalk, explode like a tripe-filled balloon was more than a little odd.
There are superhumans walking Trish’s world and Trish is one of them.
Enhanced agility and a healing factor may be superhuman but they do not in themselves make someone a superhero. Trish needs a mentor or two, and allies as well; people who can teach her the peculiar rules governing her new life, people who will have her back. Luckily for Trish, she finds mentors in Corpseflower and Garuda.
Trish has entered a new and strange world, filled with garishly costumed figures whose skirmishes go curiously unnoticed by the mundane folk around them1. It is also a dangerous world, where theologically obsessed atom-powered robots try to beat piety into unbelievers, a world where purse snatching may conceal darker activities.
A world where an overeager would-be hero can discover the limits of their healing abilities …
It’s good that Trish is as hard to kill as she is, because while she’s not incapable of ratiocination, she isn’t keen on it, preferring adrenalin-driven direct action. Let her subconscious “track and field mind” deal with the details: Trish wants adventure!
Trish’s relationship with her own mind is an odd one: there are portions of it she treats as another person:
My track and field mind doesn’t worry about my physical safety. It doesn’t waste time thinking about consequences. It is all about angles and bones and springs and distances and numbers and muscles and lights, and more than anything, it is all about the now. It is my private opinion that my track and field mind is a lot weirder and a lot smarter than I am, and this scares me a little.
This is a comic novel about comic book characters; it is also one that didn’t work for me. Part of the problem is that I lack any detectable sense of humour. Another demerit (at least for me) is that the book tries too hard to be wacky and over-the-top. Frequent shouting and all caps may be trying to signal excitement! and adventure!, but that signal is not getting through to me.
A bigger part of the problem is that this book is written from a first-person POV and that person (Trish) is what some call a Genki Girl2. Genki Girls are a lot more fun observed from the outside than from their own hypercaffinated POVs or at least they are for me. Her manic energy was convenient for the plot, but I kept wanting to smack her on the back of the head.
Still, this is an interesting example of a net-driven creative process, complete with fan-made supplementary material. I wasn’t crazy about the story, but the fact that books like this are being written and published is pleasing.
People less humour-deficient than I am may enjoy this more than I did. You can find it here.
1: There is an unexplained agency that ensures no mundane ever notices the superhuman battles or their aftermath — which is utterly creepy. The superhumans are aware of this force or being, and operate in ways that depend on it. What is responsible and why it does what it does remains a mystery. Now if I were a superhero, unravelling this mystery would be my first order of business. None of the supers in the books and comics I read seem to worry about it anywhere as much as I would. But perhaps they are puppets of whatever it is that controls the great masquerade.
2: She isn’t a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, which is probably just as well. She’s close to indestructible, but the unfortunates she sweeps into her wake demonstrably are not.