Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Soon, I Will Be Invincible by Austin Grossman

At any given time, I reserve the right to defend Soon, I Will Be Invincible as my single favorite book.

There are superheroes with super powers; a mad scientist, super villains with horribly failed experiments; there's government funding; fairy magic; futuristic tech; secret identities; the undying quest for invincibility and world domination; and what's most important: costumes.

Generally I hate books with two separate narratives.  I hate this mechanic only because I more often than not spend too much time trying to see how and when the two stories will come together.  This is my personal reading quark, if I'm going to get two narratives I like them to be completely divergent.  I was so caught up in reading Soon, I Will Be Invincible, I was so engrossed in enjoying it that I forgot that I hate books with two separate narratives.          

The story and the cast of characters essentially revolves around a core group of prep school kids who won all the yearbook superlatives.  Either by demonic or alien intervention, sheer will and determination, third partied accident, or self inflicted curiosity they all became 'powered' individuals.

The first story thread involves The Champions, the pseudo-defunct, generational superhero squad.  There are lots of superheros but these guys are the elite.  They have a few new members, they are short a few old vanguards, and worst of all they've no reason to come together.

The second story involves Doctor Impossible, the smartest man in the world though that is not his super power.  He's in prison waiting his chance to get out and take over the world.  He's done this before, but mitigating circumstances have always risen.  But his newest plan can't fail due to an odd stroke of luck not even the doctor can put together: the literally invincible CoreFire, Impossible's nemesis, his greatest invention, and the strongest of the Champions, has disappeared.

Watching these powered individuals interact is amazing yet scarce as this is anything but an extroverted action movie type book.  Both narratives are in first person.  We are either in the mind of Doctor Impossible (which isn't as scary as one would think) or Fatale's, the newest champion and a cyborg possibly of Impossible's creation.  Fatale is ever concerned with fitting in, both with people and The Champions and Impossible is angry that he can't be accepted as an evil genius and have his way.

Stereotypes are avoided in surprising ways.  CoreFire is out of the picture which is actually convenient for an invincible superhero and makes the rest of the team actually have to apply themselves.  Impossible may be tougher, stronger, and faster than most but his real superpower is mundane: his mind.  Impossible sees The Champions as politically favored vigilantes who like to pick on him for being smarter than they are.  The Champions see Impossible for what he is: too dangerous to trust with a thought let alone his freedom.  Watching Impossible throw down with The Champions is a wonder.

There were three wild cards that kept me guessing, all of which are related to Impossible: CoreFire and Fatale both of his creation, one invincible the other unknown, and Impossible's ex-girlfriend whose allegiance is unknown.  It all came together beautifully.

We see how an genius becomes evil and how being a superhero becomes trite and perhaps even how invincibility breeds boredom as opposed to the never finished quest for scientific genius.  A lot of superhero troupes are indulged but done so in very contemporary ways.  Grossman never quite mocks fantasy or sci-fi troupes as mercilessly as his brother does in The Magicians, nor does he endlessly subvert the troupes like Michael Swanwick, but Grossman does continually make us see superheros in a very contemporary light.  They get married and divorced, go on SNL, drink too much and become maudlin, or take a hiatus to the moon when the tabloid pressure gets to be too much; they go to maximum security prisons (somehow they protect their secret identities at all times).        

This book is as hysterical as it is literary.  It's not overly dark or gritty but neither are their costumes straight out of the wash.  I can't imagine there ever being a sequel but just as we know Impossible will never be wholly stopped there will always be resistance.  It was so good I may read it again.

Friday, November 15, 2013


I did some spontaneous book buying today which is always fun and I ended up surprising myself quite a bit.

I started in a Barnes and Noble then remembered I'm broke and left rather quickly going down the road to my favorite used book store.  The Books for Less at Mall of Georgia is still my favorite location but the second store in Alpharetta is growing on me.

I didn't have anything in mind to buy but by the time I was done it was rather clear that I wanted comfort food reading material, which for me means fantasy.  I've sucked at picking fantasy literature that I can actually get through and enjoy for about five years now, but that hasn't stopped me from trying.

Melanie Rawn is a name I've read in passing for a while so I saw her name on a shelf and reached for a book at random.  What I pulled down was The Dragon's Touchstone by Irene Radford.  I feel that choice is destined to be serendipitous.  What's more is I read twenty pages and never once cringed; so I'm hoping for good things.  Reaching a second time for Rawn I pulled down Dragon Prince.  Both of these books have covers that are the most awesomely 80's style fantasy art ever.  The Dragon's Touchstone has a bunch of dudes fighting in armor and two wizards hurling green fire-smoke at each other and a dragon.  It's possible that there has never been more testosterone on a book cover than this.  Dragon Prince is no less awesome but a bit more cliched.  There are two dragons standing up have a Godzilla-esque slap fight in the background and in the front is a white dude with a sword that kinda looks like John Tesh.  For reasons unknown to me he doesn't have a shirt on.  He's also got this hot chick draped all over him who is wearing a nighty.  It's a mash-up cover of a bodice ripper/fantasy.  (Which is the embodiment of what everyone whats to read whether they admit it or not.)  With covers like that they have to be good, right?

More happy happenstance lead me to Litany of the Long Sun by Gene Wolfe; even better, it's the Guild American edition that matches my copy of Epiphany of the Long Sun.  Nothing beats finding a matching set in a used book store.  Now that I have the first two books in the series I can actually--you know...--start reading.

I got Inkdeath by Cornelia Funke because I loved Inkheart so much.  Even if the second book in the series stalled a bit for me I have to read this one.

The only real impulse buy was How to Read Literature Like a Professor by Thomas Foster.  Why?  Because it was on the checkout counter when I was ready to go and it was two dollars...  Aside from the fact that I don't really read non fiction, this sounds like the most boring, killjoy book ever.  Don't be surprised if I never read this one.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Some very gripping words

This is a taste, a teaser as to where I've been lately and what I've been reading.

Adultery by John Siddique

Finally I reached across the table
to touch your face, the pads of my fingers
on your forehead first, drawing down near
the inner edge of your ear and under
to hold your chin, lifting your head slightly
as if I'm about to kiss you.

We are burning as if we are adulterers.
The table is between us to keep us apart.
I think if we are going to have to pay for this,
I want to have at least touched your skin.
we do not kiss, don't go home, or make love,
we drink tea--green for you, regular black tea
for me.  I eat, you say you can't.

We are adulterers of talk and desire,
pretending that by not coming together
we are somehow still standing on the good side
of the line.

we sit amongst other lovers, no one know
we are not supposed to be, say my name, you say,
and I say it.  I want to show you so many things,
you say.  It goes right into the place
I have covered up and armoured, to pretend
it no longer existed.  

Memorial Day by John Siddique

Sunday late Spring sun ascends
over section 60 of Arlington Cemetery,
as girl scouts plant small plastic flags
on the rows of graves.

Music of bugles, silence of prayers
learned especially for today.
Drums strike the air,
a beautiful war day across these States.

Sections 1 through 60; there could be
generations of families here,  
great-great-grandfather down to only son,
perhaps a daughter now.

The sun ascends t fall over the years
which march forward in dignified rows,
war by war, and white stone by white stone,
peace by peace, ending by ending.

Now if you really want you're mind blown I'll tell you that Siddique's book of poetry Full Blood contains stuff even better than what I've shared here.

Monday, November 4, 2013

The Month in Review


This post nearly got away from me.

It would seem that I read all of three books this month which is at least two more than I can remember.  Short story collections by certain authors always hold such a powerful allure over me but it seems no matter when I get around to reading them that they always go by slowly with no regard to quality.  'The Matter of Seggri' from The Birthday of the World and other Stories by Ursula K Le Guin was certainly the best thing I read in October.  Werewolves in Their Youth by Michael Chabon and Fevre Dream by George Martin were both very good as well.

How do you like those three for reading variety?

I'm halfway through John Siddique's book of poetry Full Blood but other than that I've no idea what else I'll get through this month.

The National Book of the year award is going to be given out in a few days and while I usually read at least one from the list every read in a vain effort to keep a finger on the pulse of contemporary fiction it ain't gonna happen this year.  Tenth of December by George Saunders and Far Far Away by Tom McNeil were the two that caught my eye from the list.  I'll get to them eventually.  Of the others listed I've heard of Two Boys Kissing if only because I'm familiar with David Levithan so I'll probably get to it some time too.

In other 'book prize' news, I may also check out The Testament of Mary if only because it's so short and the premise is unique to say the least.  I've tried Toibin before and he wasn't for me, but I'm willing to give anyone a second shot.

I'm sure there is much more going on but I can't recall it now.  More later.