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Literature / The Henchman's Survival Guide

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The Henchman's Survival Guide is a series by J. Bennett, set in the future in Big Little City, a town owned by PAGS, a media conglomerate that wields immense power, and in which they stage superhero and supervillain battles as a series of reality shows. Artificial Intelligence has made irrelevant most jobs humans previously held. Pollution and global warming have wrecked much of the United States. Universal Base Income is assured, as is Universal Health Care, but UBI doesn't cover rent and food in most cities, and you have to be almost dead to take advantage of the health care. Due to the utter irrelevance of most people's existence, much of the population spends their days immersed in Virtual Reality, or obsessing over the latest superpowered gossip, dulling their emotional pain with drugs. All of the social media platforms have been merged into a single stream, managed by computer wristbands and AI assistants. And in Big Little City, where citizens receive cheap housing and schooling in exchange for the risk of being a casualty of a supervillain attack, anyone might be discovered by getting into the footage that airs.

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Enter Alice, a resident of Biggie LC, who could care less about gaining fame and fortune, and is studying to find a way to change her world for the better. However, between her fame-obsessed roommate, the fact that her landlord used to be the prominent villain, The Professor, and that she soon determines her lab partner, Adan, is also Shine, sidekick to BLC's most prominent heroine, Beacon, she can't stay entirely apart from it. And when the rogue supervillain, Shadow, blows up her place of employment, she's forced to do the one thing she doesn't want to do, join the entertainment industry and become a henchman in How to Become a Henchman.

In the sequel, How to Defeat a Hero, Alice has obtained her goal, but her show is on the verge of cancellation, so she has to find a way to up the ante and ensure that her team remains considered relevant, by plotting a scheme against the rules. Faced with an executive board that has an axe to grind against her, teammates who just might betray her to make their own role more prominent, and a friend who has betrayed her, she has to weigh her need for success as a henchman against her dislike for the entertainment machine and the people it grinds up to lubricate its gears. She has had to lie, cheat, and betray to get to this point. Can she find a way to redeem herself?

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In the third book, How to Become a Hero, in the aftermath of the horrific fight in Iconic Square, the heroes and villains are united against the threat of Shadow. But alliances can last only so long before someone decides to pursue ratings. Alice attempts to redeem herself and save Lysee, but is caught in the act, and has to face the prospect of being fired, hopefully not from the Atomic Cannon.

There is also a short novella, How to Become Golden, about Gold's origins, and how he wound up at the henchmen trials for The Professor's show, which involves him meeting much of the main cast before ending at the trials with him about to enter.


This work exhibits the following tropes:

  • Badass Bystander: Heavily discouraged by the BLC Council because it risks upstaging the heroes, and increases the unpredictability of the situation and therefore the danger to the combatants. Among other discouragements, people who get hurt trying to be an unofficial hero are likely to lose what benefits they have, including the health care they'll need. Nevertheless, this is how some people have muscled their way into a career.
  • Bio-Augmentation: Bioaugmentation is available, but it is basically entirely cosmetic.
  • Cape Snag: An early case resulting in neck injury is cited as the reason that only amateurs wear capes.
  • For the Evulz: Thus far, Shadow has shown no motivation for his acts, and he's shown himself willing to kill heroes and civilians alike as they get in his way, and he's seemingly not backed by PAGS.
    • The reveal is that he is a robot created by PAGS to eliminate Beacon, but his programming has him escalating his villainous rampage to properly pursue being an iconic villain.
  • Future Slang: Present throughout the series, largely as shortening of words and something like internet chat speak. It's perfectly normal to refer to something as "adorbs" (adorable), "bril" (brilliant), or "ridic" (ridiculous), or to "pon" (ponder about) someone's motivations.
  • Hates Their Parent: Matthew is the son of The Professor, a noted supervillain, even acting as The Professor's sidekick as a young child. Now, he resents his father, claiming that that early involvement, before he understood that his father was not actually a bad guy, but basically played one on TV, irreversibly damaged him.
  • Heroic Fatigue: One of the reasons heroic and villainous careers tend to be so short (other than changing media demographics) is the strain accrued from the fight, on top of maintaining a secret identity.
  • Hero Insurance: Because PAGS controls BLC, this is more along the lines of every citizen and tourist having signed a waiver. One of the threads through the first book is an impending Supreme Court ruling as to whether corporations are legally liable for injuries from situations they set up that they know are dangerous. The corporations win that lawsuit in the second book. The worst a hero or villain might face for injuring someone is bad PR and a show cancellation.
    • After the reveal of Shadow's true nature, and his backing by PAGS, the ruling is overturned, and fights are made less deadly, but it's implied that it won't be long before things escalate again to generate ratings.
  • Kayfabe: While results are not predetermined, the producers of the shows can make demands of what heists are performed, heroes and villains generally avoid fighting to kill and attempt to reduce the amount of collateral damage, and captured heroes and villains are often allowed to keep their identity and arrangements are made for a sufficiently dramatic escape scene. Originally, The Professor and Beacon, as well as others of the original heroes and villains, did agree to scripted endings, but later heroes went more and more for an unscripted fight.
  • Non-Powered Costumed Hero: This is technically the state of all of the superheroes and supervillains. There are no super-powers in this setting, so most heroes and villains get by on rigorous training, flashy gear, and theatrics.
  • No Poverty: This is claimed by the United States government, as every citizen receives a Universal Base Income. In actuality, this income barely covers a shipping container and cheap government processed food, and the protagonist is essentially living in poverty.
  • Secret Identity: Secret identities are serious business because the prevalence and transparency of social media means that everyone can know of your public past at a glance, so once a hero or villain is outed, they can not only no longer act as a hero or villain, but may still be targeted. Correspondingly, having the information of someone's secret identity is a potentially life-changing payday for a citizen who can sell it to the media or a rival.
  • Slave to PR: While the heroes and villains are obviously slaves to the ratings, which determine whether they will be funded in subsequent seasons, this also applies to citizens in general, as people have scores based on their social media presence, which influence their ability to secure loans and employment.
  • Stun Guns: The "laz gun" is a common weapon that generally only knocks people out. It's one of the measures that keeps casualties down.

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