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.

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