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The Unstoppable Wasp takes on a high-tech AI in exclusive excerpt from novel ‘Built on Hope’
Buzzing in on May 26 to deliver a vibrant new take on the superhero tale, New York Times bestselling author Sam Maggs (The Fangirl's Guide To The Galaxy) is shining a spotlight on Nadia Van Dyne and her super-smart G.I.R.L. friends for an all-new original YA prose novel based in the world of Marvel's The Unstoppable Wasp comic series — and SYFY WIRE is offering an exclusive chapter excerpt from Built on Hope, this fluttering new adventure.
The teenage Van Dyne is the wily offspring of Hank Pym and his first wife, Maria Trovaya, and was first featured in 2016’s Civil War II Free Comic Book Day issue. She then soared into several comic book offerings these past three years, including a fun Ant-Man and the Wasp miniseries and two high-flying solo projects presented as The Unstoppable Wasp.
Maggs is thrilled to be advancing Nadia's journey of self-discovery and respects the fantastic job Jeremy Whitley, Elsa Charretier, and Gurihiru did bringing Nadia and her dynamic gang of gal scientists to life in the comics. Besides being a massive Marvel fan, Maggs believes strongly in all the concepts that Nadia and her Genius in Action Research Lab posse represent – female friendship, women in STEM, blossoming diversity, mental health awareness, and the pronounced butt-kicking of baddies.
The novel's narrative finds Nadia Van Dyne adjusting to the fresh sensation of being a young superhero, being a real friend and stepdaughter to one of the founding Avengers, running her own laboratory, and being her own person far from the clutches of the brainwashing/assassin training compound known as the Red Room.
When she's gifted a new virtual assistant powered by next-generation A.I. technology, Nadia leaps at the opportunity to "do less, experience more" as the cutting-edge system advertises so prominently.
The miraculous device does allow Nadia extra time to delve into passion projects and target new discoveries. However, nothing is ever exactly as it appears and as the teen superhero attempts to accept her past and embrace the future she'll need her genius G.I.R.L. squad and extended family to help save herself and the fate of the planet.
Now enjoy this special chapter excerpt from Marvel Press' The Unstoppable Wasp: Built On Hope, by author Sam Maggs.
Chapter 8 – What If You Just Did Less?
Nadia sat at her desk at Pym Labs the next day, staring at the white-and-gold package in front of her. A cardboard box stuffed with crumpled newspapers and kitchen utensils sat open next to Nadia on the floor. Its still-sealed counterparts were stacked in two other corners of the room. Nadia had slowly started to unpack, but that was just how it went—there was always more mess before it was tidy again.
Or so Nadia hoped. Dearly.
She could hear Taina out in the lab, hammering something aggressively. Priya hadn’t been around much lately—she’d either been at the shop or out in nature, trying to figure out the limits of her new powers. Shay and Ying popped in and out, but they were sort of . . . orbiting each other in a way that excluded all other heavenly bodies. Nadia found it endearing.
At least from a conceptual standpoint. Mostly. But she did miss her friends. Especially lately. Not that she saw friendship as transactional, but she certainly could have used help from the other G.I.R.L.s with the amount of work on her own plate. More than that, though, Nadia had come to depend on the G.I.R.L.s as a kind of stabilizing force. They each played their own valuable role in the lab: Nadia, the leader; Ying, the enforcer; Taina, the pragmatist; Priya, the dreamer; Shay, the spark that kept them all going. When even one of them was missing, it threw the entire balance off. With almost all of them missing, Nadia felt . . . adrift. Unmoored. She had more than enough to keep her occupied, of course. But she missed them. Priya’s big plans. Taina’s sardonic wit. Shay’s inventive spirit. Ying’s (occasionally alarming) dry humor and fire. What is a leader if she’s alone?
Still, Nadia didn’t want to begrudge her friends their happiness. She wasn’t selfish like that. But she was allowed to miss them. And she was allowed to seek balance from other places.
With that in mind, she popped open the small box in her hands and slid out the gold metal rectangle. She had put her Wasp suit on beforehand, just in case. She was never one to shy away from risk, but in moments like this, she often found herself erring on the side of caution.
Maybe it was because her own father had once accidentally invented a machine intelligence called Ultron, who was kind of Nadia’s brother-by-proxy, who became extremely evil and tried to destroy the entire planet, and therefore she had a difficult time trusting AI?
But machine intelligence was also responsible for Nadia’s “nephew,” Vision, and her adorable “great-niece,” Vivian Vision. So she knew AIs weren’t all bad on principle.
Still. It never hurt to take some precautions.
Nadia poked around the HoffTech box for the instructions—none. They must have gotten lost in the chaos of the move.
Instead, she just tried to turn the virtual assistant on. She was a certified genius; she could figure this out. Nadia flipped the golden brick around in her hands a few times before noticing a white light on one side. Had that been on this whole time? Regardless, she must have done something right, at least.
There was no interface, no touch screen, no nothing on the device at all. Nadia peered at it through one eye. She shrunk to insect size in her seat and examined the rectangle close up. It was smooth and shiny and Nadia’s reflection made her look like she was bathing in a golden pool, like an Athenian goddess. It was a good look on her. She could get used to it! But more importantly (equally as importantly . . . ?), Nadia could find nothing suspicious on the surface of the device. Not on its walls; not when she gracefully landed on top of it after struggling for a few moments to climb the slippery side; not even around the bright red LED set into its seam, still glowing. Just . . . a normal, metal rectangle.
Nadia popped back to human size and eyed the device on the table. She poked at it.
She flipped it over.
Feeling very silly, she decided to try speaking to it. “VERA…,” Nadia said, “hello?”
“Hi, Nadia!” the device responded, cheerfully. Nadia jumped in her chair a little.
“Did you say something?” Taina called from outside the room.
“No, Tai, it’s fine!” Nadia called back, scrambling for a way to turn down the volume. Nadia shushed it, hoping that might help, then waited a moment, hoping Taina would return to whatever she’d been doing without questioning further.
“VERA . . .” Nadia turned back to the device, whispering, “How do you . . . What do you do?”
“Thanks for asking, Nadia!” The device sounded like the host on an American children’s television show. Light, clear, bubbly. About as far from Romanian Sailor Moon as you could possibly get. “I’m VERA, your Virtual Executive Remote Assistant. I’m here to make your life easier.”
Nadia looked around her room awkwardly. There was something very strange about talking to an inanimate box. Maybe it was the fact that it had no screen. Ever the scientist, Nadia found it difficult to trust what she couldn’t see.
“Would you like a rundown of my features and functions? If yes, you may find it beneficial to enable my virtual display. Would you like me to do that?”
“Yes!” Nadia responded quickly. Just as soon as the word had left her mouth, the gold box sprang to life. A beam of light shot out from the seam on its surface, straight toward the ceiling with a sound like an ocean wave. A shower of pixels rained back down. They settled into the shape of an animated woman. Her pixelized hair cascaded in soft waves down to her shoulders. She wore what Nadia would have called Janet-on-her-way-to-dress-down-an-unruly-investor business attire. She had a light smile on her blue-tinted face. Nadia thought she looked just like Sailor Neptune.
“How’s this?” asked VERA.
“Much better!” Nadia smiled back at the hologram in front of her.
“Very good.” VERA nodded. “I modeled myself after your favorite show!”
Nadia swallowed. Right, she thought. AI. That’s what it’s supposed to do: Learn. Adapt. Build affinity.
Was it, though? Hadn’t she just turned it on? It couldn’t have been on already. That would mean that it had been on . . . for months? Nadia picked up the golden box and examined it from all angles. No matter how she turned it, the VERA hologram stayed upright.
“Oh!” VERA laughed. “Going for a ride!”
“What do you do?” asked Nadia, mostly to herself. “How do you work?”
“I’m so glad you asked,” said VERA. Suddenly, she disappeared. Nadia placed the box down on her desk carefully and sat back in her chair, waiting for what would happen next. The pixels reemerged and rearranged themselves into another image: a girl, close to Nadia’s age, hunched over a desk and scribbling away.
“Don’t you wish you had more hours in your day?” asked VERA’s voice. “There’s more pressure than ever on people today to stay on top of things. Have the perfect home and the perfect family. Keep up with self-care. Work the most impressive job. Graduate with the best grades.” The girl in the image crumpled up the paper in front of her and dropped her head onto her desk in frustration. Nadia related deeply. “Staying on top of the minutiae necessitated by our modern way of life can feel overwhelming and impossible.”
The image shifted again. It was a woman’s headshot. She had dark, shoulder-length hair that was just unkempt enough to give the impression that she was too busy to style it. She looked off to one side, apparently deep in thought. Nadia couldn’t tell if the icy blue of her eyes was real, or just the blue of the hologram.
“That’s how our founder, Margaret Hoff, felt when she started HoffTech.” Nadia’s eyes widened. Women in leadership positions in Silicon Valley were rare; Nadia knew very well (from Alexis’s and Janet’s many presentations about G.I.R.L.) that only about eleven percent of tech execs were women, and only about eleven percent of tech execs were women, and in 2019, just 2.8 percent of venture capital invested in startups in the United States went to founding teams that were made up exclusively of women. And when they did get money it was a far smaller sum than what was granted to their male counterparts. It was completely unfair. It was something Nadia hoped to solve with G.I.R.L. one day.
Or, more accurately, it was just one piece of a systemic ill Nadia hoped she’d be able to help remedy.
“So many tech companies want to improve our lives, but so few of us have the time to actually implement their solutions.” VERA replaced Margaret’s face on the hologram. “That’s why Margaret invented me. I’m a self-teaching artificial intelligence designed to take on everything that’s keeping you from exceeding your own expectations and living your dreams. All you have to do is provide me with your schedule, goals, habits, and deadlines, and I’ll help you get things done.”
Nadia had to admit, she could certainly use some help.
“The more you include me in your life,” VERA said, “the more I can take off your plate. I can leave you free to travel more, say yes more, and never miss a birthday or anniversary again. That’s what the VERA project is all about: Doing less; experiencing more.”
Doing less; experiencing more. It sounded like an impossible dream.