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Monday, June 4, 2007

"Soon I Will Be Invincible" by Austin Grossman

Official Soon I Will Be Invincible Website
Buy “Soon I Will Be InvincibleHERE
Read An Excerpt HERE

Superheroes, supervillains, a plot to take over the world…no, it’s not a comic book. It’s the debut novel from Austin Grossman, a Harvard graduate and game designer whose credits include Deus Ex, System Shock, Thief, Clive Barker’s Undying, etc. From a marketing standpoint, it’s pretty obvious that the opportunities for “Soon I Will Be Invincible” as a multi-media franchise are endless. We’re talking possible comic book adaptations, videogames, television, animation, action figures and I hear that it’s already been optioned for film. So amid all that money-making potential, it might be easy to forget that there’s actually a pretty good story being told in “Soon I Will Be Invincible”.

Set in an alternate version of our world where superpowered humans, aliens, futuristic technology (time travel, alternate dimensions, etc.) and magic not only exist, but are accepted as an everyday part of society, “Soon I Will Be Invincible” is the first-person tale of two characters: Doctor Impossible, an egomaniacal, superpowered genius hellbent on taking over the world…and Fatale, a one-of-a-kind cyborg who is a candidate to join a team of superheroes. Through Doctor Impossible’s narrative, readers will get to see his latest escape from prison, learn more about how he became a supervillain, his arch-nemesis CoreFire and past exploits, not to mention observe his newest diabolical plan for world domination. With Fatale, readers will get to hear her story as well, while also learning more about the world famous team of superheroes that she joins, the Champions…and the Super Squadron who preceded them...and of course see the team in action as they try to thwart Doctor Impossible’s latest schemes. Readers can also expect plenty of other heroes & villains to pop up, numerous origin stories, satirical humor on the philosophy of American superheroism, a mystery – where’s CoreFire? – and various other surprises here & there. And by the end of the book, you might just learn what it means to be a superhero…or a supervillain…

As a comic book fan, there’s a lot to like in “Soon I Will Be Invincible”. For one, there are plenty of comic book references. Some are obvious like the Justice League of America (Champions), specifically the Big ThreeSuperman (CoreFire), Batman (Blackwolf), Wonder Woman (Damsel)…and let’s not forget Lois Lane (Erica). Then there are the characters whose inspiration was a bit more guesswork on my part, though I saw elements of Wolverine (Feral), Thor (The Pharaoh), Captain Marvel, Dr. Strange/Doctor Fate (Mister Mystic), etc. There’s probably a bunch of other references as well that I missed and I’m sure fanboys (girls) will have a blast trying to find them all. Of course, for the more casual superhero fan, whether that’s of the comics or the countless comic book movies (Spider-Man, X-Men, Superman, Batman, etc.), there’s really no need to have such foreknowledge in order to enjoy the book. While the heroes & villains of “Soon I Will Be Invincible” are basically parodies of actual comic book characters, Mr. Grossman does an excellent job of reinventing them so that they all stand out as unique creations. Plus the author conveniently provides an appendix from The International Metahuman Database so you can keep track of who’s who as well as a timeline of the planet’s superhuman history.

As far as the plot, “Soon I Will Be Invincible” takes bits and pieces of comic book lore and even fantasy literature (The Chronicles of Narnia), and runs them through a blender. So as before, comic book fans might enjoy trying to uncover all of the various origin stories, nefarious plans and other comic book-inspired ideas that Mr. Grossman may have modified. For myself, I saw shades of Troy Hickman’sCommon Grounds” (Top Cow), DC’sIdentity Crisis” crossover series written by Brad Meltzer (The Zero Game, The Book of Fate), “Supreme Power” by J. Michael Straczynski (Babylon 5, Amazing Spider-Man, Fantastic Four) and another storyline I won’t reveal since it’s important to the book. All recommended reading by the way. Whether or not these were actual influences for Mr. Grossman, I can’t say, but it’s interesting to speculate. As far as the casual reader, once again it’s not really necessary to have any prior comic book experience, so just enjoy the ride.

Focusing on the author, Austin Grossman is definitely talented, and reportedly he spent five years on the novel, so the passion is certainly there. Still, I found the end result to be somewhat mixed. On the one hand, “Soon I Will Be Invincible” is stylistically great. It’s extremely fast-paced – at just under 300 pages a dedicated reader could easily finish the book in a day – aided by the alternating viewpoints, and I absolutely loved the sardonically, humorous commentary on superheroes & villains. On the other hand, the execution is weak at times, particularly when the narratives switch between the past and the present, which can be hard to follow. Additionally, as satirical in tone as the book is, I was a bit disappointed in how formulaic the overall story ended up being. I guess I was expecting something more unpredictable to happen in comparison to your typical superhero tale, and while that’s not exactly the case, there are at least some unexpected revelations in the book as I mentioned before. Finally, as great a job as Mr. Grossman does in humanizing the various heroes & villains in “Soon I Will Be Invincible”, I would have loved to have seen added exploration of the characters’ differing moral views as well as the superstar treatment of the more famous superheroes, specifically their relationships with publicists, endorsements, marketing, press releases, etc. In this, I’m probably being overly critical, so don’t mind me ;)

In closing, despite some problems with the execution, Austin Grossman’sSoon I Will Be Invincible” is a fun, fresh and exciting look at American superheroism that will amuse and engross readers regardless of whether you’re a follower of superhero-related comic books/movies or not. And with the franchise’s unlimited potential, we definitely haven’t seen the last of Doctor Impossible, so bring on the sequels!!!


kathybook said...

You can also hear an excerpt from the audio edition of Soon I Will Be Invincible.

Robert said...

Kay, thanks for the heads up. Much appreciated and very cool...

Jim S-- said...

I recently finished listening to the wonderfully-read audiobook version of Soon I Will Be Invincible, and enjoyed nearly all of it. I agree that the transitions from present into the past can be a bit jarring sometimes. At least twice I was listening along and thinking, wait, what's going on?

Now, if you want superhero fiction that gets into the private lives and publicity hassles a costumed hero might face, check out J. R. DeRego's Union Dues series of short stories. You can listen to them for free over at the Escape Pod podcast.

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