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Literature / Playing for Keeps

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Playing For Keeps (link goes to the story on Scribl, as the original site crashed and burned) is a Podiobook series by Mur Lafferty (also published as a book), which takes place in the shining metropolis of Seventh City, home to many powerful and successful superheroes... and also home to a number of superpowered humans who didn't quite make the cut.

Laura "Keepsie" Branson is a third-generation superhuman whose sole superpower is that nobody can steal anything that belongs to her. Deemed too weak and unworthy to be allowed to put on the spandex and call herself a "hero," she now runs a bar where the employees and many of the patrons are low-powered supers like herself; people who don't get the flight or energy blasts but have perfect control over elevators or the ability to smell the past. They're the "riff-raff" of the metahuman world; shunned by the "real" heroes and forbidden from using their powers to aid in the battle against evil, they try to keep their heads down and live their lives as best they can.


But one day, Keepsie encounters supervillain and Gadgeteer Genius Doodad, who slips her a mysterious metal sphere. A mysterious metal sphere that it turns out both heroes and villains really want to get their hands on. Before they know it, Keepsie and her low-powered friends have to use whatever powers and abilities they have in order to survive as they find themselves pitted against both corrupt, jerkish heroes and manipulative, vengeful villains in a struggle that might bring the entire city to ruins.


Tropes Include:

  • Action Girl: Both Keepsie, Michelle and Collette, despite having less-than-impressive powers, can kick quite a bit of ass when they need to.
  • Affably Evil: Clever Jack is a quite personable and charming guy... but, as the characters are reminded, this does not mean he's not a villain.
  • Blessed with Suck: What many third-wave supers feel they have been.
    • Sam's is a standout example: She can know anything, but at the cost of one year of her life per answer. She looks old despite being a young adult because of how she experimented with her power. Except her real power is the ability to perfectly lie to anyone who doesn't know that that's her power, which is morally iffy but far less sucky.
  • Born Lucky: Clever Jack's power. It also gives him Improbable Aiming Skills with ranged weapons.
  • Captain Ersatz: Surprisingly averted. There are a lot of original superheroes and -villains in the story, but while you will recognize some of the powers, there doesn't seem to be any real analogues to any Marvel or DC characters — with the possible exception of Pallas, who has more than a bit of Wonder Woman in her.
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  • Even Evil Has Standards: On two levels. The supervillains don't join in the discrimination of the third-wave superhumans but treat them with some level of respect (possibly because the villains themselves have been treated poorly by the heroes in the past). Also, while not directly evil, Jerkass hero The Crane is more than willing to use brutal methods when interrogating suspects... but he's appalled when he finds out that some of his fellow heroes are actively getting innocent civilians killed.
  • Flying Brick: Pallas, probably — though it is questioned in-story whether she is actually flying or just jumping very far.
  • Freudian Excuse: The supervillains turn out to have this.
  • Fantastic Racism: Third-wave superhumans, who have weak or non-conventional superpowers, are discriminated against by both normal people, who'd rather not have anything to do with them, and by the superheroes, who treat them with contempt and disdain.
  • Gadgeteer Genius: Doodad is a villainous example; his superpower enables him not only to build all kinds of devices, robots and gadgets, but also gives him control over machines and mechanics that he didn't build.
  • Gentle Giant: Tomas, the resident Norwegian, is very tall and possesses Super Strength (which he can only sustain for five seconds at a time, but even without it he proves to be pretty strong), and is also a kind, gentle soul — if sometimes rather puzzled about the behaviors of Americans.
  • Gullible Lemmings: A lot of the citizens of Seventh City seem to be suffering from this trope, both normals and heroes. Villains and third-wavers seem a little more resistant.
  • Healing Hands: Alex is a low-powered version of this; he can only heal one square inch at a time, and using his power tends to drain him terribly.
  • Heart Is an Awesome Power: The entire point of the story. As the protagonists in this story gradually discover, powers that seem useless can become not only very useful but in some cases lethally so, when used with a bit of imagination.
    • Keepsie's power is that anyone who tries to steal anything from her ends up petrified until she lets them go — not a very versatile power, it seems at first, but it turns out that this also extends to people trying to take her life, making her effectively unkillable and anyone who tries to kill her will instantly find themselves unable to move at all. Later on, when she gets powered up on Zupra Ex, and learns to control her powers, she finds that her power can make her friends unkillable as well, since they're "hers"... and she can even learn to petrify people at will for "breathing her air."
    • Peter can learn things about other people by smelling them. Turns out this means he can not only track people like a bloodhound but also know exactly what they're doing and where they're going, and he can instantly find out anyone's biggest strengths and weaknesses.
    • Michelle's only power is that she can carry any tray, no matter how full it is, without dropping or upsetting it. This means she can carry anything, no matter how big and heavy, as long as it's technically on a tray — and it also gives her lethal aim if throwing the tray like a discus.
    • Ian can send out high-pressure beams of feces from his hands. Extremely gross, but actually a very effective weapon.
    • Alex has Healing Hands, though can only heal one square inch at a time. He still ends up saving the lives of quite a few people with this power.
    • Collette is a Supreme Chef who instinctively knows exactly what kind of food everyone wants. Comes in handy when someone is trying to impersonate one of your friends, because while they may be able to mimic his appearance and voice, they have more trouble mimicking his exact food preferences. Also, it's amazing how useful an intricate knowledge of cooking oil and its boiling point might prove when you're under siege...
    • Tomas has Super Strength, but only for five-second bursts. Still, it's incredible what you can do in five seconds.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Light of Mornings, who turns out to simply be a fifteen year old girl and a victim of Clever Jack's manipulation. Also, Ian after his Face–Heel Turn switches back to the side of the protagonists when he realizes what a huge mistake he's made.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Ian and Light of Mornings, who have both temporarily been on the side of the bad guys, both stay behind in the strange demon dimension so that Keepsie and Peter can close the interdimensional portal and keep the Eldritch Abomination from entering Seventh City. It's fairly heavily hinted that they'll survive, though.
  • Immortality: It's discovered that as an extension to her power, Keepsie is immortal, or at least unkillable, since her powers interpret her life as one of her possessions, and anyone trying to kill her is effectively trying to steal her life away from her. Whether she can still die from old age, disease or accident is unclear, and she's not in any particular hurry to find out.
  • Jerkass: Most of the heroes from the Academy, to varying degrees. The only real exception among registered heroes is Pallas, the first superhero who inspired the founding of the Academy.
  • The Mole: Keepsie quickly figures out that there must be one in their midst, with how the Academy seems to know everything she and her friends do. At first, the main suspect is Patricia, the grouchy waitress, but the real Mole turns out to be the kindly Samantha, in actuality the "hero" Ghostheart.
  • Mundane Utility: Collette uses her Supreme Chef power as cook for Keepsie's bar, Michelle's ability to carry any tray perfectly makes her an amazing waitress for the same, and Keepsie's lost and found is the safest place in the city, since until the stuff in it is claimed, it's her property.
  • Lethal Harmless Powers: So many examples.
  • Polite Villains, Rude Heroes: Clever Jack, being Affably Evil, is far more polite to the main characters than the "heroes".
  • Power Perversion Potential: Tattoo Devil has the power to make any of his tattoos come to life and take physical form, and in battle uses this power to call forth wild animals to attack his opponents. Later on it's revealed that he also has a tattoo of a naked woman... and one of a naked man.
  • Rubber Man: The Crane can stretch any part of his body at will — unlike other examples of the trope, however, he also has wings.
  • The Smart Guy: Peter, who feels he has the weakest power, is the one who comes up with the majority of the plans and also makes brilliant suggestions to the others on how to use their powers more effectively.
  • Sequel Hook: At least three. Dr. Timson is still at large and Peter is going to track her down, Ian and Light of Mornings are probably still out there, and Keepsie hints she might join the reformed Academy.
  • Super Serum: Zupra, the Fantastic Drug that's the source of all the superhumans' powers is a variant on this. If a pregnant woman is treated with the drug, her baby will develop superpowers of some sort either upon birth or when reaching puberty. The upgraded version, Zupra Ex, can give powers to adult humans as well as enhance and increase already existing powers, but can also cause temporary or permanent insanity.
  • Super Zeroes: The third-generation supers, but most in the story find ways of using their powers anyways.
  • Supreme Chef: Collette has this as her power; she can cook anything to perfection and knows instinctively exactly what whoever she's cooking for wants and how they want it, even if they don't tell her. The only reason why she hasn't been headhunted by three-star restaurants is that most normal people are wary of employing a superhuman, even one with non-aggressive powers like hers.
  • Semantic Superpower:
    • Keepsie can't be stolen from, but killing her is "stealing her life", so she essentially has a form of Immortality.
    • Michelle's power allows to carry anything that's technically a tray, no matter how heavy it is.
  • Swiss-Army Superpower
  • Surfer Dude: Ian is a fairly low-key version of this.
  • Villains Never Lie: Averted. Clever Jack lies about Seismic Stan being dead. Also, while nominally a "hero," Ghostheart's superpower is based around lying; as long as they aren't aware of her power, she can make anyone believe anything she tells them.

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