“Conventional Powers” Annotations

Warning: Contains spoilers

Page numbers are for Analog Science Fiction and Fact September/October 2019.

Scene 1

pg 118

Adding gloves to Emerald Blair’s costume serves a plot purpose, as will be seen later, but it also corrects an oversight in her Only Superhuman costume design. Emry is durable but not invulnerable, and extra protection for her arms and fists seemed wise, especially for a brawler like her. I think it was in the course of writing this very scene, imagining her experience of punching through a wall, that I realized she’d appreciate greater protection for her hands. But I didn’t want her to hide her gorgeously muscled shoulders and upper arms – she’s too much of a showoff for that – so I (and she) compromised with elbow-length gauntlets.

“Championym” is a term I coined in “Aspiring to Be Angels” for a superhero nickname.

The clear shield, of course, is to protect Kelly from debris resulting from Emry’s wall-smashing stunt. Emry’s breaking through from the side, so the debris would go across the stage and not into the audience. But the people in the front row may have been given safety goggles just in case.

pg 119

The awful biopic about Emry was a running gag in Only Superhuman, but I never got around to naming it there.

A g-clip is a stringless g-string, presumably held on by some electrostatic force or the like.

The “safety rules” parenthetical is, of course, riffing on the famous Adventures of Superman narration used in the 1940s radio show and theatrical shorts and the 1950s TV series, as well as the 1988 animated TV series. “Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive… can change the course of mighty rivers, bend steel in his bare hands…”

The events of “last year” are those of Only Superhuman, of course. This story takes place 6 months after the novel, in June 2108. I had to search for the right balance between making this story accessible to new readers and realistically acknowledging the characters’ reactions to OS’s events. Letting some time pass between the two was helpful. Presumably Emry and the Corps have been busy in the interim dealing with the aftermath of the crisis in various ways: reforming the TSC, testifying in trials, and engaging in small-scale heroics to gradually rebuild the public’s trust. Emry’s visit to ModCon is part of that outreach process.

pg 120

Kyojin is the Japanese word for “Giant.” Originally this character was named Titania, but I was influenced by Mach Fumiake, a striking and charismatic wrestler/actress who was the only good thing about the 1980 kaiju film Gamera: Super Monster. The Decider is named after a much-mocked term that the infamously indecisive President George W. Bush used to describe himself in 2006.

442 Eichsfeldia is a small asteroid with a similar orbit to Vesta, though it doesn’t share a common origin.

The discussion about superhero costumes and skin coverage is partly a deconstruction of the notoriously impractical and revealing costumes of superheroines, though I’ve turned it around by having a male hero be the scantily clad and sexualized one, as gender standards are more egalitarian by Emry’s time. The discussion of how Emry’s costume can seal up in action is correcting an omission from Only Superhuman; this was established in the original draft, but lost when I trimmed it for length.

Spindizzy is a nod to James Blish’s Cities in Flight series, where Earth cities used an antigravity/FTL drive of that name to launch into space and become starships.

15 Eunomia is an asteroid in the central Main Belt, established in OS as a hotbed of organized crime, so Spindizzy has her work cut out for her. Al-Battani and Besht debut here, but in my notes I’ve placed the former in the 3:1 Kirkwood gap between the Inner and Central Main Belt (a region it shares with Bhaskara from OS) and the latter in orbit of 52 Europa, the second-largest asteroid in the Outer Main Belt.

pg 121

Doctor DeMeter is, of course, named for Demeter, the Greek counterpart of the Roman goddess Ceres. She was a minor character in the original sample-chapter sequence, given a more central role and a real name for the novelette version. I spelled her name “DeMeter” to look distinctive and to hint at her intellectual gifts (meter = measure), then derived “DeMarais” from that, figuring that she based her championym on her real name much as Emerald Blair/Green Blaze did. “Ekundayo” is a Yoruba name from West Africa (mainly Nigeria and Benin) meaning “sorrow becomes joy” – a fitting name for a heroine swooping in to save the day.

The Hounds are a pastiche of the “Sad Puppies” and “Rabid Puppies”, as well as similar fandom movements like Gamergate. The Puppies were a pair of right-wing groups who objected to the growing gender and cultural inclusiveness of the Hugo Awards and organized “voting slate” campaigns in 2015-17 (after a couple of smaller efforts by the former group in previous years) to game the system and crowd out all nominees except the approved list that their partisans voted for as a bloc. Hugo voters rebelled against this blatantly dishonest manipulation of the system and chose “No Award” in nearly all the categories monopolized by slate voters, and over the next couple of years the slate efforts were abandoned and the Hugo rules modified to prevent such manipulations.

Emry deflates Knightwolf by comparing him to the Hanna-Barbera cartoon character Huckleberry Hound. Whether that character is still widely known by 2108 or whether this is just Emry wielding her own encyclopedic knowledge of pop-culture trivia to amuse herself is unclear.

pg 122

Emry is right about the founders of the Corps, of course; as seen in Only Superhuman, the TSC’s founder Yukio Villareal was a cyborg, and his close friend (and Emry’s late mentor) Arkady Nazarbayev was a baseline human in a strength-enhancing “symbot” suit.

The people behind the Gamergate movement in the computer gaming community liked to claim that their vicious, organized harassment campaign against journalist Zoe Quinn (up to and including death threats) was motivated by “ethics in gaming journalism” rather than fanatical misogyny.


Scene 2

Most of the memorabilia and Emry’s friends are references to characters and events from Only Superhuman. Shashu was Villareal’s championym, and Arjun and Tenshi are Emry’s fellow young Troubleshooters Vijay Pandalai and Koyama Hikari. Annie Minute and the Time Trippers was a cheesy kids’ show Emry loved a a child.


Scene 3

pg 123-4

The discussion of the rationale behind Troubleshooters’ casual sexuality is another attempt to backfill a bit of exposition that was lost in the editing of OS.

Shippers, to be clear, are fans who focus on romantic relationships, real or imagined, between fictional characters, or in this case real people.

pg 124

“Erwin Coleman” is a nod to the voice actors behind two muscular cartoon superheroes – John Erwin, the original voice of He-Man, and Townsend Coleman, the voice of the animated incarnation of The Tick.

Here’s a very rough sketch I’ve belatedly made of the Ceres Sheaf, front and side views:

Ceres Sheaf rough sketch

Illustration by the author

The O’Neill cylinder and Bernal sphere habitats that make it up are probably more widely spaced than shown, to make room for sun mirrors, heat radiators, and the like. The connecting scaffolds described in the story are not shown in the sketch. But the general idea is that the Sheaf consists of formerly separate habitats (including New Queens) that were brought together and physically connected after they became politically unified, and the Band is an ongoing construction project that would more than double the complex’s living space (when complete, it’d have the equivalent of 36 cylinders’ volume while the Sheaf contains 28 cylinders and 24 spheres). Although the Band’s rotation around the central axis means that it has much wider stretches of flat ground with open air in the upper halves (in toward the rotational axis) and multiple underground levels in the lower halves (outward from the axis). The separate slabs of the Band are being built two at a time in diametrically opposed pairs to maintain rotational balance during construction, and as of 2108 it’s less than half-completed, as described in Only Superhuman.

pg 125

I’m not sure how plausible it is for the Decider’s mods to be all genetic, if he’s really as nigh-invulnerable as he claims. Originally, he had some bionic enhancements, skin and bone reinforcements, etc. But I had to make his mods purely genetic to make the racism allegory work, along with the “not all men” allegory seen here.

In the original version, Emry did sleep with the Decider, who was hired to seduce her and distract her from the theft at the convention. But even though he was basically an innocent dupe in that version, I realized it was essentially a case of Emry being taken sexual advantage of by the villains, and I didn’t want to go there again after Only Superhuman. And shifting it to a contest of strength let me further illustrate Coleman’s blind competitiveness and self-defeating need for dominance.

Oxosi is one of the Orishas, the deities of Yoruba myth. Earlier this year in Star Trek: The Original Series – The Captain’s Oath, I referenced a different spelling of the name (a more phonetic one for English speakers) with the starship U.S.S. Oshosi. The Ijebu habitat is named for the historic Yoruba kingdom that preceded modern Nigeria. 511 Davida is another of the four big Outer Belt asteroids.

The Coriolis effect is a fictitious force that manifests in a rotating frame of reference. Physics puns!


Scene 4

pg 126

Thanks to Kara Mack for introducing me to the wonders of pumpkin-walnut muffins.

I wanted to name Slynx “Hyperlynx,” but I googled the name and found that it’s the name of a fairly major piece of software. It’s not a trademark violation if you use a name for something different enough that it would never be confused for the product or character in question, but given the prominence of this product, I figured it was best to avoid it.

704 Interamnia is the fourth-largest Outer Belt asteroid, established in OS as another crime-laden region. Emry’s old Freakshow gang partner Ruki Shimoda, who was nonconsensually modded with foxlike features by sex slavers, was also from Interamnia. Slynx might have a similar origin.

pg 127

Kopf’s mention of “the recent political climate” refers to the events of OS, in which a group from the Ceres Sheaf took control of the Troubleshooter Corps and twisted it in a more authoritarian direction.


Scene 5

“Clark Kenting”: The etymology here should be obvious. As a tokusatsu fan, I like to think that Japanese-speaking ModCon patrons would pronounce it Kuraaku Henshin, as a pun on the traditional transformation call of Kamen Riders and other form-changing Japanese superheroes.

Quicksylvia’s championym is a pun on “quicksilver,” the archaic name for mercury, because of her shapeshifting silver armor that flows like liquid metal. It’s an older use of “quick” to mean “alive” (as in the saying “the quick and the dead”), rather than “fast” as in the Marvel comics speedster Quicksilver.

pg 128

Rammer is another classic SF reference, to Larry Niven’s 1971 novelette of that name that was adapted into the first part of his 1976 novel A World Out of Time.

I don’t need to explain The Hound of the Baskervilles, do I?

The line about Emry’s ample breasts being the “only part of me without implants” was a joke I deleted from OS, thinking it was a bit much (and probably inaccurate, since she’d have the same skin and tendon enhancements there as anywhere else). But I happened to mention it in a panel at the Shore Leave Convention one year, and it went over well with the crowd and my fellow panelists. Since it’s now audience-tested, I decided to use it here.

Emry being trapped in her costume is sort of a joke at my own expense. In her previous two published appearances, Emry has had a tendency to lose all her clothes in the climactic action, which is admittedly self-indulgent on my part (though it’s kind of a parody of Captain Kirk’s tendency to lose his shirt frequently in Star Trek). I thought it would be an amusing change of pace if she were stuck in her clothes this time. It also resolved the plot problem of how to make Emry physically helpless despite her genetically innate superstrength, by having the light armor’s resistance cancel it out. Best of all (or worst, depending on your tastes), it let me use the “try to get out of the habit” pun.

pg 130

The business of the crowd seeming to ignore Slynx as they begin to leave is awkward. I didn’t catch the oversight until the proofreading stage, so I was only able to make a couple of slight additions to establish that Chaitra was helping her.


Scene 6

pg 131

I’m not sure if Captain Coriolis would literally be in a lower weight class than Emry. She’s 69 kg/153 lb, which is “lightweight” by official mixed martial arts weight classes (which don’t differentiate by gender), although apparently there’s an older, never-ratified female weight class scale by which Emry would be a “light heavyweight” (which seems a more appropriate description of her build). Coriolis is described earlier as “leggy and sleekly powerful,” which suggests something like a dancer’s or acrobat’s build. From what I can find, male ballet dancers typically have an average weight (or rather, mass) of around 67 kg, give or take. So the line could still be literally true if CC is below that average and is in the featherweight class. But it’s probably best taken figuratively to mean that, regardless of his weight, his strength augmentations are far less than hers.

As I mentioned before, Doctor DeMeter was not originally intended as a major character. But she turned out to be an impressive presence here, and I don’t think we’ve seen the last of her.

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