And it’s, objectively, the best thing.
The story, “Photon Girl Ascending,” appears as the finisher in the May 2014 issue of Penumbra. Here’s a link, if you’d like to check it out. It does cost $4 to purchase the issue, but that’s a pretty reasonable price for the content, which includes five stories about superheroes.
I just read through the whole thing, and it’s good. As someone who spends exactly the right amount of time thinking about superheroes, I’m generally pleased. Each story plays with a convention from superhero fiction, and most of them play it pretty straight (meaning they give the concept of primary color crime fighters a measure of dignity). There’s one really lighthearted send up of superteam dynamics (the perennial problem of how you create a balance between characters who in their solo adventures deal with conflicts on drastically different scales) that ends with the sort of resolution that makes me appreciate the time travel option all the more for resetting the stupid things that heroes do sometimes. Also, it carries strong overtones of Mystery Men in its execution, which is always a good thing. Besides that one comedic story, the rest all succeed in being pretty dramatic without indulging in melodrama.
If I have one complaint about the issue, it’s going to be the feature story. It’s not a bad piece, but it’s very long, and because it’s a tie-in with a novel series, it has this odd feeling of bonus material for a larger work. Rachael’s always been happy to share with me what she’s learning about the art of the short story, and one bit of wisdom she repeats regularly is that short stories are one of the most difficult forms of fiction because everything about them has to be extremely tight. When six thousand words is a long story, you realize just how little room you have to work with. Everything about the story needs to fit together and really resonate. The feature story here doesn’t really do that; it feels more like a chapter from a book rather than a standalone story. Also, while the worldbuilding of the piece is intriguing and the setting for the scene is fun (think Zoolander, but where Derek is highly competent and there are killer invisible space parasites), there doesn’t feel like there’s any greater point to the piece besides telling a fun story. There’s nothing wrong with that objective, but the short fiction that really sings is the stuff that manages to pull you into thinking about interesting issues and problems of the real world.
Now, if I can get just a little gushy, I’m going to say that I think Rachael’s piece is hands down the best one of the collection. That may simply be because I’ve read about twenty different drafts and I know more or less everything that she was thinking about and trying to communicate in writing it, but it honestly feels so much more charged than the rest of the issue. Photon Girl’s not a cardboard cutout of a hero, but a very fully realized person. She’s flawed; she has regrets; she can smash villains with uprooted telephone poles. I care about this character, and I think that anyone who reads the story will too.
Check it out.