Hey kids! I’m doing a holiday fundraiser! I’ll give a short explanation for those of you who can’t wait, and a longer explanation right after.
Short Explanation: Science fiction writer and publisher Vera Nazarian is about to lose her home due to various medical and legal expenses. Various folks are fund raising to help her make the payment on her home. My contribution is to offer you a free short story behind the cut below. If you like it, consider donating a small sum via PayPal, which I will send to Vera next Saturday. For the first $1000 sent to the PayPal via the address provided in this entry, Subterranean Press will match the contribution 1-for-1, effectively doubling your donation.
Vera Nazarian is a Nebula-nominated SF writer and publisher of the small press Norilana Books. Due to a confluence of truly depressing economic issues (which are detailed here, but which include the costs of a frivilous lawsuit and her care of an elderly parent), Nazarian is far behind on her mortgage and will lose her home unless she comes up with $11,200 dollars by December 20. A number of her friends and colleagues have rallied behind her and are offering up auctions for books and other services and are helping her meet the shortfall; I decided I would try to help out too.
As it happened, I had very recently turned in a short story to Bill Schafer at Subterranean Press, for him to use at Subterranean Online, or in the Subterranean Press e-mail newsletter. When I asked him if I could use the story to help out Nazarian, he not only said yes and let me use it here (he’ll also use it again at some future point in time), but decided to pitch in himself by offering to match donations generated by me posting the story, up to $1,000. Because Bill and Subterranean Press are awesome like that, you see.
So, here’s the deal: below the cut in this entry, you’ll find my latest short story, a quick and funny Q&A on the state of super-villainy around the world. Think of it as a companion piece to “Denise Jones, Super Booker.” The story is free for you to read… but after you’ve read it, if you’ve enjoyed it, consider giving by following the donation instructions below. When you donate, your donation will go to me, and on Saturday, December 13, I will forward the entire sum raised by 6am 12/13/08 (less PayPal fees) to Vera Nazarian, to help her make her house payment, and if there is anything left, to help her address some other house issues (for example, she needs new plumbing in her home).
Why am I having you send the money to me rather than to Vera Nazarian directly? I need to keep track of how much money I raise because Bill Schafer and Subterranean Press have pledged to match the first $1,000 dollars we raise here. This is a fine way to make your contribution count twice as much, so even if you can only offer up a buck, it can still make a difference.
How to donate: Go to PayPal, click on the “Send Money” link, and then send money to the following address: “firstname.lastname@example.org”. Please put “HELP VERA” somewhere in there so I can track the donations. Donate whatever you feel like.
Feel free to link to this and to let other people know about it and the other things folks are doing to help Vera Nazarian.
And now, the story, just behind the cut. Enjoy, and remember, if you like it, consider giving.
Subterranean Press Presents:
The State of Super Villainy
By John Scalzi
Q: Please state your name and occupation.
A: I’m Albert Vernon, and I’m a super villain analyst for Smithfield Tyson Baker, which specializes in asset management for high-value clients.
Q: Why would such a company have a super villain analyst?
A: Well, obviously because on behalf of our clients we have business and financial interests all over the world, and super villains intentionally or unintentionally have an impact on our investments and ongoing business concerns. Someone needs to track what these villains are up to, and if they’ll adversely affect our asset management.
Q: Can you give us an example?
A: Say we’re thinking of investing in a tin mine in Peru. One of the things we do is fund an archeological survey of the surrounding area to see if there are any Inca ruins or burial sites around. Those things are super villain magnets; they like to comb through them for mystical objects of ancient power or for portals to demonic planes.
Q: And this affects you how?
A: Lots of ways. First, as long as they’re in the neighborhood, they’ll send some henchmen for looting. That’s an extra security cost. If the mine is actually above or very near to the ruins, the villain might try to take over the entire mine as a secret lair. That’s either even more security, or alternately additional lawyers to hammer out the terms of the lease. Finally, in the highly unlikely event the super villain does open a portal to demon planes, we have to deal with that.
Q: More security.
A: No, more lawyers. You can’t stop demons. But you can reach settlements with families of demon-consumed miners.
Q: Well, fair enough. So, tell us, what is the current state of super-villainy on the planet?
A: Frankly, it’s in a bit of a depression.
Q: It seems that the current economic chaos would be perfect for super-villainy.
A: To the layman, sure, it seems that way. But in fact basic natural, political or economic chaos is not a super-villain’s friend. I’ll give you an example. Earlier this year, the super villain Colonel Unbelievable was working on a master plan to destabilize the Icelandic krónur, depressing its value and allowing him to snap up the country and use its geothermal energy to build an army of killer mecha-droids. But before he could launch the plan, the country’s three banks went belly up as a natural consequence of being overleveraged.
Q: The same plan, but accidental.
A: Not accidental, just stupid. But — and this is key — there was no super villain plan behind it, so from the super villain point of view, it was a completely wasted effort. And because Colonel Unbelieveable had himself overleveraged his own assets to fund the destabilization effort, he went bankrupt just like Iceland. Now the only thermal energy he’s using comes out of the prison shower. And that’s not nearly enough for a mecha-droid army.
A: Yes. And given the Colonel’s name, ironic. But he did us a favor — since we were aware of his super villain plans in advance, we were able to quietly extract our own investments out of the Icelandic banks before the crash. And now you see the value of having a super villain analyst.
Q: How did you know about Colonel Unbelievable’s plan ahead of time?
A: Well, that’s proprietary information. Let’s just say our information collection budget is significant.
Q: I guess what I’m saying is that if you knew about the plan, why didn’t you tell Iceland about it?
A: They’re not one of our clients.
Q: Even so, it seems like something you might want to share with someone.
A: Again, to the layman. But, look: Iceland’s three banks had their own analysts. I can’t tell you if they factored in super villains in their own investment risk analysis, but if they didn’t, how is it the problem of Smithfield Tyson Baker or its clients? Legally we’re in the clear. Just ask the SEC.
Q: But you knew an entire country was about to go under. It just feels a little insider-tradery, you know?
A: I see what you’re saying, and I resent it, but there are two things here. First, in fact a super villain didn’t bring down Iceland; simple, non-super villainous banker greed did. Ethically, we’re in the clear. Second, we didn’t know if Colonel Unbelieveable was going to succeed, we just knew he had plans. You have to understand that most quote-unquote “super villains” are in fact spectacularly incompetent.
A: Well, think about it. How often is an army of killer mecha-droids actually unleashed on the planet? Can you think of the last time?
Q: I have to admit I’m drawing a blank.
A: It was January 1, 2004.
Q: I don’t remember that. I think I would remember that.
A: Every single float in the Rose Parade was in fact a killer mecha-droid. The plan was to rise up and at the precise moment in time, assassinate the entire USC football team at the Rose Bowl, thus forcing a forfeit to Michigan.
Q: That’s a pretty small-bore use of a killer mecha-droid army.
A: The plan was masterminded by The Scarlet Wolverine. Michigan fan. What are you going to do. But after that, then the mecha-droids were going to stomp down to the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station and cause a meltdown.
Q: But none of that ever happened. The San Onofre reactors are fine. And USC beat Michigan 28-14.
A: Because The Scarlet Wolverine outsourced his mecha-droid system code creation to a bunch of shady Russian programmers. Rather than write up new code, they just delivered a stack of chips taken out of “Tickle Me Elmo” toys. So instead of rising up and slaughtering Matt Leinart, the floats just vibrated slightly and let out high-pitched squeals of joy.
Q: Which is horrible in itself.
A: Sure. But not like Chernobyl on the Pacific would have been. But this is my point. The overwhelming majority of super villain plans fail and fail hard. We weren’t too concerned about Colonel Unbelievable actually bringing down Iceland. The man’s 0 for 14 in his super villain plans. He didn’t take over Liberia either, which he had planned a year before. He also didn’t revive the zombie Jefferson Davis, turn the world’s oceans to marshmallow or release Guns N Roses’ long-delayed Chinese Democracy album, all of which were on his schedule.
Q: Chinese Democracy did get released, though.
A: Yes, but not with subliminal sonic pain generators encoded into the tracks.
Q: Some would argue.
A: Fine. The point is, Colonel Unbelieveable wasn’t involved. And just because he and other people call themselves “super villains” doesn’t mean they actually do a good job at what they do. When I turn in a risk assessment, it’s very rarely about the consequences of the whole earth being destroyed or enslaved or being turned into gum, or whatever. It’s about, well, this character is going to be a minor nuisance at a tin mine, we might as well hire two night watchmen instead of one.
Q: Got it. What else can you tell us about the current state of super villainy?
A: The economic situation of the planet is affecting super villains in other ways. Most notably, where their secret lairs are. The classic hidden volcanic island in the South Pacific, for example, is very much out these days.
Q: I would imagine Google Earth took away a lot of the secrecy.
A: Yes. Once eco-tourists start geo-caching your lair with their Android Phones, it’s all over. But it’s more that they’re just so expensive. There aren’t that many islands with active volcanoes, for one, so the market’s overinflated. But more than that, it’s the cost of shipping. It takes tons of money just to ship basics, like food and dry goods. Add to that the shipping charges for a laser that can etch the moon or a robot capable of crushing a skyscraper, and it all begins to add up. Infrastructure is expensive. So now we’re seeing a lot of smaller, cheaper lairs. Old bowling alleys. Barns. Former K-Marts.
Q: Their mom’s basement.
A: You’ve heard about The Chubby Destroyer, I see.
Q: What about minions? I would think that rising unemployment would mean it’s easier to find lackeys and lickboots and such.
A: Yes and no. Certainly it’s easier to find unskilled muscle these days, and even some white collar help; the layoffs in banking and publishing have made for a glut in money laundering experts and villain monologue writers. But the top level of help — we’re talking mad scientists and assassins here — are still difficult and expensive to get.
Q: A good ninja is hard to find.
A: Well, yes, actually, being hard to find is the whole point with them. Although as it happens, ninjas are on their way out as the skilled muscle and assassin class.
Q: Why is that?
A: Because everyone has ninjas these days, don’t they? They’ve become so common. You can’t walk down the street without bumping into a ninja, metaphorically speaking, anyway, since they’re actually usually hanging from a lamp pole or jumping across a roof or something. And that’s the problem; everyone’s expecting ninjas. People these days are surprised if there are not ninjas. And obviously that’s an issue for surprise attacks.
Q: So what’s replacing ninjas?
A: That’s right.
Q: As in, the shock troops for the Ottoman Empire from the 15th through the 19th Century.
A: The very ones.
Q: Why them?
A: Why not? The Janissaries are highly competent soldiers and killers, feared in their day, and have fabulous uniforms. Really, it’s a great look. All of these are key for a super villain, particularly the uniforms, since it means the super villain doesn’t have to reach into his own pocket to kit them out. It’s a small thing, but in these days of economic distress, these little things add up.
Q: I’m just wondering where they’ve been keeping themselves since the early 1800s.
A: Where did all the ninjas come from, right? Look, they’ve been around. They were just waiting. Now’s their time.
Q: At least until everyone expects an attack from a turbaned warrior in the pay of a super villain.
A: Well, yes. Ultimately it’s a fashion thing. Spandex and capes are out this year, too. I note this all in the appendix to my annual super villain assessment report.
Q: So even though it’s a bad time for super villains, you expect them to keep at it.
A: Of course. Like everything, the field has its ups and downs, but it never goes away. And I think we’re going to see some breakout stars in the field. Gunthar, The Claw of the East, for example. Took over the entire Gulripsh District of Abkhazia, in Georgia. Did it last summer armed only with a cannon that fired highly acidic yogurt. That’s pretty impressive.
Q: I didn’t hear about that.
A: Shortly thereafter Russia invaded Georgia. That kind of stole his thunder. And then he ran out of yogurt.
Q: It’s always something.
A: Yogurt’s for eating, not for killing.
Q: Unless you’re a super villain.
A: It keeps me employed, at least.
Q: Ever think of crossing to the other side and trying super villainry yourself?
A: Nah. I already worked for Enron. Once is enough.
If you enjoyed this story please donate to help SF writer Vera Nazarian keep her home.
How to donate: Go to PayPal, click on the “Send Money” link, and then send money to the following address: “email@example.com”. Please put “HELP VERA” somewhere in there so I can track the donations. Donate whatever you feel like. The first $1,000 donated will be matched by Subterranean Press.