If you’re a speculative-fiction fan and aren’t plugged in to Escape Pod, shame on you.
There’s a great series of stories you’re missing by Jeffrey R. DeRego. DeRego’s Union Dues series is sort of the Revisionist Western of the superhero world, imagining all the mundane details of superhero recruitment, training, and PR spin that go along with a legion of “supers” trying to live among—and apart from—us “normals.”
The most recent tale, “All About the Sponsors” (published on Escaped Pod on Jan. 2) finally gives us the origin story of “The Union.” And while it answers some long-burning questions, it’s not the best of the Union Dues series.
My favorite so far has been “All That We Leave Behind”, in which Megaton, a “superstrong” is charged with recruiting a bullied teenage boy whose own superstrong powers are just starting to manifest. The Union’s policy is to remove manifesting supers from normal society, give them an “identity,” write them into comics, and send them on missions that are often little more than glorified disaster relief—all to create and preserve a fragile, self-serving myth that allows the morphed characters to coexist (however tenuously) with a public that doesn’t always appreciate their “help.”
“All That We Leave Behind” sees Megaton wrestle with a crisis of conscience over what to do with a teen superstrong whose single-parent mom is dying of cancer and needs him as her sole caregiver. It’s a touching story that perfectly illustrates DeRego’s antihero universe, touching on all the themes—doubt, frustration, a sense of pointlessness—that are hallmarks of this world in progress.
The Escape Pod podcast has been a bit erratic lately, with the publisher, Steven Eley taking a much-needed break. I do hope the recent tardiness (Jan. 16’s Escape Pod is still MIA) is a minor aberration because I couldn’t bear to see this outlet for DeRego’s excellent work vanish.
And Escape Pod has been one of the only places that I’m aware of that has published DeRego’s Union Dues pieces. (The kid-produced podcast Clonepod publishes his companion series, Union Dues: Team Shikaragaki, which explores the Union from the POV of recently recruited teenage supers (think Power Rangers meets Partridge Family—though a bit more dark).
I’d love to see DeRego get a book deal for this series, and, who knows, maybe one’s in the works. I’d certainly buy it, even if I’ve listened to all these stories multiple times already. Below are links to all the pieces so far, in chronological order.
Union Dues on Escape Pod
EP Episode 27: “Union Dues: Iron Bars and the Glass Jaw”
EP Episode 49: “Union Dues: Off-White Lies”
EP Episode 62: “Union Dues: The Baby and the Bathwater”
EP Episode 80: “Union Dues: Cleanup in Aisle Five”
EP Episode 128: “Union Dues: Send in the Clowns”
EP Episode 149: “Union Dues: All That We Leave Behind”
EP Episode 154: “Union Dues: Freedom with a Small f”
EP Episode 172: “Union Dues: Tabula Rasa”
EP Episode 185: “Union Dues: All About the Sponsors”