From the award-winning author of Cookie Cutter Superhero comes a brand new story about sidekicks, supervillains and saving the world
Back when he was called something else, Griff knew everything about superheroes, sidekicks and the mysterious machine responsible for creating them. Now, Griff is just an average guy, minding his own business. A volunteer handyman at the Boys Home—his former home—Griff spends his days clearing out gutters and building clubhouses for the orphans at the Home. Nothing heroic or remarkable about that, right?
But all of that changes when one of the Home kids starts having weird dreams about another Machine—an evil version that churns out supervillains. Griff remembers the call of the Machine, and reluctantly decides to help the kid on his mission.
And then they waltz back into Griff's life. Those bloody heroes. Including him—The Dark—one of Australia’s mightiest and longest-running superheroes.
Tansy Rayner Roberts is one of my favorite short story writers in the world, so I always get excited when a new story from her is announced. I was particularly impatient to read this one because it's set in the same world as her story "Cookie Cutter Superhero,"* which I absolutely adored. In this version of Australia, new superheros are called to duty by a machine that chooses random names from the population and grants them superpowers...at least for a while. Eventually, they get to retire - or are forced to, by the random decision of that same machine, when it's ready to replace them with someone else.
"Kid Dark Against the Machine" talks about what happens *afterward* - and what it does to your life when you're the teenaged sidekick of a grownup superhero, yanked out of a normal teenaged life to fight adult criminals and to try to fit into an adult peer group on the superhero side. That was what happened to Kid Dark (sidekick to The Dark) 10 years ago...and now 22-year-old Griff, handyman and volunteer at a boys' home, is still trying to cope with the fallout. Mostly, he just stays well away from all superheros (at least as much as he can, when the kids he works with are obsessed with them!), but when one of those kids starts having all-too-familiar dreams, it's time for Griff to re-enter that world and finally face his own superheroic past.
The story is so clever and so funny that the emotional resonance creeps up on you, almost hidden by all the zingy moments of humor and fun - but the absolutely perfect ending made me tear up with emotion.
I loved every minute of the story, especially that ending. There's no need to have read Cookie Cutter Superhero first - this one stands on its own beautifully - but of course it was fun to recognize characters from that story in this one. When I finished reading CCS, I remember thinking "I want a whole novel in this world!" And I still do. But in the meantime, I'm really hoping that at least we'll get more short stories like this one!
It is SO good.
__ *And "Cookie Cutter Superhero," if you want to look it up, was published in the fantasy YA anthology Kaleidoscope!
In 2014 I read the YA anthology Kaleidoscope, which I loved. One of my absolute favourite stories in the book was Tansy Rayner Roberts’ Cookie Cutter Superhero. My first reaction on finishing it was to take to Twitter and ask whether Roberts was planning more in this world. She answered in the affirmative, and Kid Dark Against The Machine is her making good on that promise. And it was everything I could have hoped for.
Cookie Cutter’s main character Solar makes an appearance in Kid Dark, as do her friends, but the leading character of the story is Griff, formerly known as Kid Dark. I loved Griff’s world-weary, somewhat sarcastic voice and I loved the themes Roberts explored with him. As was established in Cookie Cutter, people are chosen by Machines and transformed into superheroes — sometimes legacy characters, sometimes originals — but never permanently; they are always transformed back to regular people after their stint is over, whether after six months, six years, or decades. And they are always adults, except for Kid Dark. So when he is de-chosen, what does that mean for him? How does a teenager adjust to being regular again after being extraordinary? How does he build a life for himself and how does he cope with losing his mentor and team? This is what is at the core of Griff’s journey, along with reuniting with old friends, getting his own protégé, and saving the world of course.
I absolutely adored Kid Dark Against The Machine. Basically my message is go read it, you can read it for free! You can find it on The Book Smugglers, you can also find links there to buy the novella as an ebook, which contains the story, an interview with Roberts and an essay by Roberts on the inspirations and influences that shaped Kid Dark Against the Machine. If you missed Kaleidoscope and would like to read Cookie Cutter Superhero as well, you can now buy the first Book Smugglers’ Quarterly Almanac, which contains not just Roberts’s awesome super hero story, but a number of other awesome fiction and non-fiction as well. Also, check out Tansy Rayner Roberts’ other writing and her fiction podcast at Sheep Might Fly, because it is great and you should listen.
This novella was provided for review by the publisher.
This is the second piece in Tansy Rayner Roberts's short fiction series that started with the short story "Cookie Cutter Superhero" in the Kaleidoscope anthology. The series posits an Earth where special Machines appeared in each country of the world in the 1980s that transform ordinary people into superheroes. But the transformation isn't necessarily permanent, and the Machines transform people back to ordinary as they get called back and a new hero replaces them.
This is the story of Kid Dark, a superhero that was created by the Machine in Australia to be the sidekick for one of the two greatest Australian superheroes, the Dark. Only being a sidekick was a miserable experience, and he was neither accepted as an equal by the team, or accepted by the Dark himself. The disappearance of Kid Dark when he was called back to the Machine was one of the great mysteries of the Australia superhero scene.
The expansion of Tansy's superhero universse is welcome. "Cookie Cutter Superhero" was superb and had a lot to say about disability and women in superhero comices. The subject this time is that of sidekicks and superhero legacies, as well as filling out a bit about the existence of supervillains in this universe.
It's no secret that Tansy is one of my favourite authors of all time. That said, some of her pieces of work spring beyond expectations, and this world is one of them. First seen in the anthology Kaleidoscope'Cookie Cutter Superhero' was one of the most popular with many people demanding that we see a novel in this world at some stage. Tansy has a thing for novellas at the moment however, so that's what we've got in Kid Dark against the Machine.
In this world, Australia has Australia's Mightiest Heroes - an often-changing team of superheroes that are spat out by a machine, changing lives instantly (as you're chosen, it's not automatic to just anyone). Powers come from the machine so you instantly have the most ninja-y of skills within seconds, and the ability to read a room for danger and tactical information like it's as natural as breathing.
While 'Cookie Cutter Superhero' (highly recommended, go read it now if you haven't already) shows someone new coming through the machine, 'Kid Dark Against the Machine' shows what happens to those who have returned to normalcy (if such a thing is even possible) once they are no longer active heroes. We have Griff, who was once side-kick to a type of hero who's quite familiar (sly nods here and there which are rather snicker-worthy), and is now helping out in a boys home he grew up in. Here, he has a chat with one of the current boys about something that turns out rather interesting. I won't give spoilers, but with superheroes there always must be... right?
What Tansy rocks at is presenting you with characters you love in so few words. I so want to see more of The Dark and Catsuit and all the rest. Please, Tansy, please? Like the scene at the end of that movie where they're all sitting around a table eating burgers, can we have that with your characters please?
Ahem. I especially loved the ending for this one. I really hope we get many more novellas in this series and then perhaps a collection of them all (when current publishing rights have ended of course), because there's so much more to explore in this world.
Kid Dark Against The Machine by Tansy Rayner Roberts is a novella published by the Book Smugglers, set in the same world as her short story "Cookie Cutter Superhero" which appeared in Kaleidoscope. If you want to be more surprised by the story, it might be better NOT to read the blurb...
I don't very often read blurbs before I read things and I suspect this is one of the stories where not reading the blurb first is more fun. Especially if you've already read "Cookie Cutter Superhero" and know you want more. And I think this blurb has a few too many spoilers in it.
Kid Dark Against the Machine is set in an alternate Australia where superheroes exist and, in fact, there is a machine (well, several for different countries) that manufactures superheroes. No one knows where these machines came from, but they did and they seem to be governed by a lot of esoteric rules and a degree of randomness. And what about supervillains, where do they come from?
We learn more about supervillains in this novella, but the question of how the system came about at all still remains. I, for one, am hoping that the author will provide us with some more answers in the form of stories. Or just more stories, that would also do.
I highly recommend Kid Dark Against the Machine to fans of superheroes, light-hearted fantasy and Tansy Rayner Roberts. Obviously, if you enjoyed "Cookie Cutter Superhero", then this story is for you. It features a different main character, but Solar and the other superheroes do make an appearance. I am eagerly awaiting more stories set in this world.
Another short story from Roberts set in the world of "Cookie Cutter Superhero", from the anthology Kaleidoscope. It's a world where there's a machine that makes people superheroes... for a time. Where the first story looked at what might happen when a girl with a physical disability got to the machine, this one looks at the aftermath for one person - what's it like when you didn't choose to be a superhero and then you have to go back to being 'normal'?
I love this story, and I love this world. I love Griff, struggling to deal with the ordinary world and how to fit in to it after a period of fame. I love how Roberts imagines super villains. And I love the hints at what it's like to have a sidekick thrust on you when you really don't want one. Very recommended.
I’m an unashamed fan of Tansy’s writing and I absolutely could not resist a follow up story to Cookie Cutter Super Hero from Kaleidescope. I have to say that Kid Dark Against the Machine was a glorious follow up story in this universe. I loved it! Griff is a great character, he’s so likeable and relatable the moment you meet him – and you can absolutely see where he’s coming from as a child superhero trying to figure out what on earth to do with his life after.
I love the themes that this story explores, also in keeping with the original story. Superheroes and tropes used by them and in comics. While Cookie Cutter Super Hero introduced us to some of these criticisms, I really think that Kid Dark Against the Machine brought it home – I don’t think you can read this story (either of them really) and look at super heroes and comics the same way.
I loved that this story made super heroes accessible to me as a reader who is only occasionally interested in the superheroes and comics genre. I didn’t need ten years of back knowledge to understand what was going on, Tansy gave me everything I needed to appreciate every snarky moment and subversive twist in the story. I loved all the names of the heroes and the villains, I loved that the hero and villain processes for selection and being in the spotlight were so different. I loved that being a super hero wasn’t lauded, and that there was this narrative time given to the person and human left behind once the world has moved on to other super heroes.
Kid Dark Against the Machine is a fluffy story that tackles good versus evil in a whole new way – it tackles it in the cheesy fun way that comics do all the time, but it also tackles the assumptions that underpin the genre. Tansy manages this in a way that couldn’t be further from dry and boring, you get your pop culture, gender politics and child hero ethics lesson in a cute package that is over far too quickly.
I’m with all the others who are calling for a novel in this universe, it’s got so much to offer and I’d read it in a heartbeat. If you want a light read, but an intelligent one about super heroes and looking at what that might be really like underneath the surface, this story is definitely for you.
Not really an ebook, but I read it online via Booksmugglers. :-)
This was a masterfully told short story. I really enjoyed getting a bit of backstory as we went into every chapter, slowly putting together what had happened in the past and how it defined the present and informed the future for the characters.
Griff lives in a world where superheros are made (and unmade) by a machine, a random lottery. Fascinating idea! Griff was one of those randomly chosen heros at the age of 12, only to be spit back into the world 2.5 years later, back to being "normal," yet having missed all the experiences and education he should have been getting over the intervening two years. Rough!
He stays as far away from superheros as he can until he is compelled to get involved by one of the boys at the local group home.
TRR's world of machines that turn ordinary people Into Superheroes (and back again) is revisited with a look at one teen hero who baulked at the system. More of the mechanics and ethics of the world are explored through Griff - the former Kid Dark, sidekick to The Dark - and a boy at an orphanage who suspects he's slated to be a supervillian. It's good fun but also thoughtful about superheroics. A worthy companion piece to Cookie Cutter Superhero.