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Soon I Will Be Invincible
Austin Grossman
Pantheon Books, 290 pages

Soon I Will Be Invincible
Austin Grossman
Austin Grossman is a video game design consultant and a doctoral candidate in English Literature at the University of California at Berkeley, where he specializes in Romantic and Victorian literature. He lives in Berkeley.

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A review by Nathan Brazil

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"I'm the smartest man in the world. Once I wore a cape in public, and fought battles against men who could fly, who had metal skin, who could kill you with their eyes. I fought CoreFire to a standstill, and the Super Squadron, and the Champions. Now I have to shuffle through a cafeteria line with men who tried to pass bad checks. Now I have to wonder if there will be chocolate milk in the dispenser. And whether the smartest man in the world has done the smartest thing he could with his life."
This is a first novel, about superheroes, by a writer who bears an uncanny resemblance to a young Lex Luthor. In the wake of Heroes and the re-emergence of The Bionic Woman, author Austin Grossman's timing is fortuitous. Pitched between familiarity and spandex-shifted reality, Soon I Will Be Invincible is written in the first person, split between the perspectives of two characters. One, a female cyborg called Fatale, newly recruited to the newly reformed Champions, the world's greatest superteam, and the other, Doctor Impossible, who is the epitome of a science-based evil genius. Part of the joy in reading this book is recognising who the characters are re-imaged from, among the classic roster of comic book heroes and villains. Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman, Doctor Strange, Thor and of course Victor Von Doom all have their analogues here, along with just about every major superhero motif and cliché. But there is a defining twist, whereby all of the above is presented as if the cast were real individuals. What this does is allow the reader to see the story from within, as the lead characters explain themselves, their history, and motivations. Doctor Impossible begins his monologue in prison, after his 12th failed attempt to take over the world. Meanwhile, Fatale contends with the day to day difficulties of an out of work young woman who is half machine. Grossman informs us in typically sardonic fashion, "There's a fine line between a superpower and a chronic medical condition."

In addition to the drolly amusing main plot detailing Doctor Impossible's latest bid for global domination, and the mysterious disappearance of premier hero CoreFire, we get the low down on the all too human tensions among super people. The physical handicaps and mental hangups of superhero life are laid bare. In this world, Blackwolf, the equivalent of Batman, is divorced from Damsel, who is something like Wonder Woman crossed with Supergirl. Time is also found for a couple of delightful meanders into the distant past of two supporting characters. One, a retired superheroine named Regina, is revealed to have been the living inspiration for a successful series of children's novels called Four Children in Elfland. A series which Regina claims is based on what she and her siblings actually experienced. Similarly, but entirely separately, Grossman comes up trumps with a truly interesting character that has no definitive classic comic book analogue; Elphin, the last fairy left on Earth. Still not satisfied with this, the author keeps going right to the last page, with a witty appendix detailing the stats for every character mentioned throughout the story. This is where we find out that former Super Squadron member Go-Man, (the analogue of the Flash), is remembered by the epithet "Faster Than the Speed of Crime."

Taking a literary approach to superhero fiction has been done before, and done well. Path of the Bold by James Louder, and the marvelous Wild Card series edited by George R.R. Martin, trod similar ground. What Austin Grossman brings to the table is a tongue-in-cheek, always entertaining exploration of superhero and super-villain psychology and physiology. Stuff like the pros and cons of having a mini nuclear reactor where your womb used to be, and the burden of being the smartest man on the planet. This is the nitty-gritty of superhero life from the inside, sometimes quite literally. Very occasionally the plot falters, as a character goes into reminiscing mode at an awkward time, and some elements require a super-heroic suspension of disbelief. But the story still works, admirably. Grossman is also to be applauded for his method acting approach to research for this novel. He claims to have had his editor punch him in the jaw four or five times, in order to know what it felt like!

Copyright © 2007 Nathan Brazil

Nathan Brazil
If Nathan Brazil were dyslexic, he'd be the dog of the Well world. In reality, he's an English bloke who lives on an island, reading, writing and throwing chips to the seagulls. Drop by his web site at www.inkdigital.org.


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