I just picked up Soon I Will Be Invincible by first-time author Austin Grossman. If you’ve been to a bookstore lately, you may have seen a bright blue book with a pink, winged helmet on the cover. Looking at it, of course, just screams tacky. One look inside, however, and you’ll be hooked. At least I was.
I’d been seeing this book on the shelves for the past few weeks. I even heard about the book on NPR. And all that time I’d been curious about it. The subject was definitely up my alley, a book about a supervillain named “Doctor Impossible, and a superhero named Fatale (who through the book laments not picking the name Cybergirl instead. “It was right there, at the top of the list”). I was only waiting for the book to go to trade paperback. They’re cheaper, and easier to carry around. Alas, after reading the following paragraphs from the first chapter, I was hooked: I had to buy the book.
This morning on planet Earth, there are one thousand, six hundred, and eighty-six enhanced, gifted, or otherwise-superpowered persons. Of these, one hundred and twenty-six are civilians leading normal lives. Thirty-eight are kept in research facilities funded by the Department of Defense, or foreign equivalents. Two hundred and twenty- six are aquatic, confined to the oceans. Twenty-nine are strictly localized—powerful trees and genii loci, the Great Sphinx, and the Pyramid of Giza. Twenty-five are microscopic (including the Infinitesimal Seven). Three are dogs; four are cats; one is a bird. Six are made of gas. One is a mobile electrical effect, more of a weather pattern than a person. Seventy-seven are alien visitors. Thirty-eight are missing. Forty-one are off-continuity, permanent émigrés to Earth’s alternate realities and branching timestreams.
Six hundred and seventy-eight use their powers to fight crime, while four hundred and forty-one use their powers to commit them. Forty-four are currently confined in Special Containment Facilities for enhanced criminals. Of these last, it is interesting to note that an unusually high proportion have IQs of 300 or more—eighteen to be exact. Including me…
I’m not a criminal. I didn’t steal a car. I didn’t sell heroin, or steal an old lady’s purse. I built a quantum fusion reactor in 1978, and an orbital plasma gun in 1979, and a giant laser-eyed robot in 1984. I tried to conquer the world and almost succeeded, twelve times and counting.
When they take me away, it goes to the World Court—technically I’m a sovereign power….
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.
When I read that I was both laughing and intrigued, especially because I’m the one who’s always looking at the bad guy in movies, seeing what makes them special, what makes them tick, firmly believing that while a good guy can pass as one-dimensional, a bad guy really can’t, at least not if you want to have a great story. (Think about it, would the Jedi been as seen as cool where it not for Darth Vader? They’d still be awesome, mind you, but if neither Vader nor Palpatine was there, then they wouldn’t be anywhere nearly as cool now.)
Yes, I always love the bad guy. Mind you, I love it when they get what they deserve, but a great nemesis is hard to find.
The book is told from the first-person point of view of both Doctor Impossible and Fatale, and covers a lot of the background work that comic books just don’t come near touching. Specifically, Fatale throughout the book makes observations like a normal person who just happened to walk into the Hall of Justice would… if that person was half android and had x-ray vision. One example is when one of the heroines displays signs of being bulimic (throwing up in a “business-like fashion”, as Fatale describes it). Another is when two of the heroes start having a spat: they were once married and now just work together, arguing a lot. It adds a level of — err… realism? I guess… — that you don’t really get from other superhero series (for the exception of Heroes, and maybe Batman Begins, but only if you grant that Batman is somehow a “super” hero, even if he doesn’t have any “super” powers.)
Anyway, at the rate I’m going I should finish this book off in a couple of days.
I’ll tell you what I think then. After this I’ll be reading through Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, and Sidney Poitier’s biography, The Measure of a Man, this month’s fiction and non fiction books (respectively) at the 9Rules Book Club.
Edit: I finished this book, but never gave it a proper update. The short of it? I loved it, and have placed it in my “favorite books, will read again” box.