Monday, October 26, 2020

The Supernatural Workplace Comedy I have been waiting for

At some point a few years ago, I came across a book called Zombie Inc about (ostensibly) this company that handled zombie removal, similar to the way you'd hire an exterminator to deal with a rat problem. And at that point I realized what I really want is a funny book that takes place in an office setting but instead of the business dealing with something boring, it's in the business of something ridiculous and supernatural. Like zombie removal. The key is the crazy is mundane, at least to the characters in the story.

Now that I type this out, I realize that this might go further back from that first book, to the first time I listened to Welcome to Night Vale. Or I suppose before that listening to PBS Idea Channel describe the podcast as"borrowing Lovecraft's (as in H.P.) spirit" but with "paralytic terror replaced with drab mundanity", taking "unspeakable abomination and turning it into unremarkable absurdity,"and YES GIVE THAT TO ME PLEASE.

But it has been a journey to find something that really fits what I want. Not The Regional Office Is Under Attack!. Not The Intern's Handbook. Not even the Night Vale book, though it came the closest, except it's not really about these mundane office politics SO it's not totally fair to group it in. 

Most of the books that I thought would be what I wanted started that way, but then quickly focused on ACTION of jumping into these crazy worlds and NO, you guys. That's not what I want. I don't want Max from accounting to be the unlikely hero who can actually kick lots of ass when he's pulled into the fray. I want to know who is still making the coffee and what sort of expense reports do you file if you're an assassin for hire

Now I know, as I type this, what I am looking for sounds super boring. I'm not looking for a boring a story, I'm looking for a ridiculous one. A few times I thought do I need to write this story I want to read and then realized that that was probably not going to happen. And so, my search carried on, though with perhaps less optimism than before.

Lucky for me, Alexander C. Kane also has this same desire and wrote a couple books called Andrea Vernon and the Corporation for UltraHuman Protection and Andrea Vernon and the Superhero-Industrial Complex and hopefully more. This is exactly what I was looking for. Andrea Vernon is the administrative assistant to Ms. Persephone Oh, VP of a corporation that manages superheroes. Because in this world, there are tons of superheroes and super villains, so a number of private businesses have been established to handle things. She is not a superhero. She does not have secret superhero abilities. Unless it's being a super awesome administrative assistant, cos she's good at that, especially in a job where one of the rules is no asking questions. This can be troublesome when say, trying to figure out what type of coffee Ms. Oh wants but she figures it out. Spreadsheets are involved.
The stories leans into the ridiculous. There are scenes where she's trying to get the superheroes (or Supes) to learn the company database and make sure they're filling out the appropriate paperwork and passing on memos from marketing about the importance of branding. There's also the supes themselves: 
  • King Tiger - half man, half tiger, originally from Mumbai. Somewhat leader of the supes
  • The Big Axe - really big guy with a really big axe. Always include the "The" when referring to him (e.g., how's it going, The Big Axe?)
  • Senora Fuego - proud Latina from the Bronx, controls fire, loves gossip
  • Lightning Hwang - originally from China, now owns a hardware store in Chinatown NYC, can turn into a bolt of lightning. Prouder of the store than his powers
  • Inspector Well Actually - super-genius but powers are only activated when correcting people, not well liked, his fedora glows when his powers are in full swing
There are more and they're all great and of varying levels of usefulness. Sure there is danger and there is action (in the first book, a giant mysterious space egg appears over Yankee Stadium) but the scenes of people fighting the egg have equal weight to the sales team trying to add a new region to the registrar. And that's the fun.

The super villains are pretty great too. Never More is part woman, part raven and knows everyone's greatest regret. Deinonychus is half-woman, half-deinonychus and is VERY angry that the velociraptors in Jurassic Park were actually closer to deinonychus but they didn't get the credit and 10 year old me made this SAME ARGUMENT. Kane, you get me.
Plus the cast in these books is diverse. I named some above, and there's also Andrea who is Haitian-American and Ms. Oh who is Korean-American from Georgia with the thick accent and Southern similes to go with it. AND MORE. It was nice to have a superhero story not just filled with white people. 

The books are so much fun and several times I had to interrupt Tom to tell him some great moment that just happened and Kane gets me and what I've been looking for. Which is nice. And now I just need so many more in this series.

I didn't start this with the intention of writing a review, which I guess this kinda turned into. I really just wanted to write something and moreso, want to tell many people about these silly books. The only downside is, as far as I can tell, these are only available as audiobooks and only through Audible, which is a bummer, especially with indie bookstores hurting right now. But still, these books are great.