Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Great SF Book: Soon I Will Be Invincible

I just finished Austin Grossman's book "Soon I Will Be Invincible" and I think it's wonderful. It was so much fun I was going around telling folks like Eli and Dr. Zaius that they really should check it out.

(More after the Jump)

Okay I really don't know how to do that jump thing, but I wanted to let people know that they could stop after the simple recommendation if they don't want to read an analysis yet.

Action! and "Turn of The Century"
The last time that I stopped in the middle of watching or reading something to tell people to check out a work of fiction was the brilliant TV series Action. I remember calling a friend in the middle of one of the early episodes of Action and saying, "Turn on your TV! You HAVE to watch this show Action it is soooo funny." Of course like almost all brilliant things on network TV it was canceled after 6 episodes.

The last time I enjoyed a book this much was reading "Turn of the Century" by Kurt Andersen. Invincible has that same laugh out loud insights into our popular culture that Andersen achieved with Turn of the Century; only this book takes place in world of comic book super heroes and villains. Like The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay Invincible slips in some insights about the real world. And that is what makes this book really satisfying. It is one of the things I love most about science fiction, when it tells us some thing about us in a format that allows us to understand the human mind/heart and the world we are living in.

From Star Trek, with its characters representing intellect, emotion and will to the Vorkosigan series by Bujold, which deals with duty, family and the clash between the worlds of science and political power; great SF gives us a window into ourselves. Battlestar Galactica can deal in one episode with torture, abortion, family loyalty, election fraud and religion in a way that non-fiction can't without dragging in all the baggage of the real world and people's pre-developed ideas.

Grossman, in Soon I Will Be Invincible, takes us to the fictional world of super heroes and super villains but because there is also baggage in the made up world of comic book super heroes, he transforms them to represent the classic heroes and villains in the DC and Marvel universe. (It also has the handy benefit of avoiding any character copyright infringements. Smart move Austin, clearly you have learned from your genius characters as well as having fun with the Evil overlord list. see #24 )

One thing that takes this beyond a graphic novel transmuted into prose is his interior monologues of the evil genius Dr. Impossible and the new superhero Fatale. And this is the part of the story that adds the deeper dimension that makes the book thought provoking.

Since Dr. Impossible didn't read all the "Rules for Evil Overlords" he makes some of the same mistakes they all make. Sometimes Grossman plays these just short of the expected payoff for comic effect and to show that all super villains are not the idiots that they play in the movies. But he also digs into the REASONS why someone would do what they do. Both on the villain and the hero side. And that is what I appreciate about the book. Dr. Impossible is blind to some of his mistakes and you can see why. Although he appears to have insight at times, just having the insights doesn't really satisfy him.

Grossman lays out a lot of seemingly pedestrian reasons for people's behavior as they work to take over the world, and you see how much of it comes from their childhood. "If only the cool kids would accept me!" You wonder, "Is that it? He wants to take over the world because some guy dissed him growing up? Would someone really kill thousands, spend billions and destroy ecosystems because he craved respect from the person who treated him like an outcast and barely knew he existed? Could he be defeated and satisfied if at one point this authority figure said, 'We respect you. Yes, we are sorry we treated you poorly. You are in fact, smarter than us, you have proved it. Please, join us and hang out with us?'" But would that heal them? Make them stop? Or is the desire to rule the world now such a part of their persona that they can never admit their mistakes?

Invisible Women and Power

What I also appreciate about this story is something that Echidne of the Snakes pointed out to me the other day and what Digby and Jane Hamsher pointed out about women in the world after the Yearly Kos convention. How often women are invisible to the world of powerful men (and in this case one important hero really IS almost invisible.) Yet they understand the motivations behind actions of the men and woman in power and they can and do wield real power in the world. One way that evil is beaten is when they underestimate women.
"Where did SHE come from?" She was always right in front of you guys, that is what you get for your hubris of ignoring them.

I think that looking at and understanding the family history and dynamics of the people who abuse their power can help defeat them, it is also useful to see where they go off the rails again and again because of their lack of self knowledge.

We may hope that they will do right thing but when they fail to act as decent humans time and time again we realize that they will never be healed and that the heroes will have to keep coming for them.

In this book the character, Dr. Impossible, wonders why he is a super villain so at least he is that self aware. Unlike some of the people in power, he doesn't fool himself into seeing himself as a good guy who is doing what is right. He doesn't pretend that his goal of destroying others is really about helping. He doesn't hide his anger and hate for proper public consumption. He's a super villain and is proud of it. He knows he is a villain that he will probably be defeated. He senses that there really IS something different between him and the heroes. It just appears to be physical strength. In the end it is a often other "super powers" that become his undoing.

They say that no one thinks that they are evil, we say that because we imagine that if people knew that they were evil they would stop. Yet their motivations (and even actions) are seen by themselves and others as good, noble even. What if the motivation really is as straight forward as, "I want my Dad to respect me and be proud of me". Would they drag the rest of the world through their own family drama? Yes. Why? Because they can and because it lines up with the goals of others. Family abandonment issues can lead to behavior that can destroy lives on a scale writ large. (I've always wanted to use writ large in a sentence; that and comeuppance, one down one to go.)

Read this book about super heroes and super villains. Enjoy its humor. Think about how this applies to powerful people in this world. Look at and compare it to countries with super powers and the tragic legacy of the humans directing those super powers. I'd love to hear your thoughts after you have read it.


¡El Gato Negro! said...


one super-power over wheech joo have shown mastery ees that of speech amplification, taking theengs that others have said and allowing many pipples to hear or read the words for themselves, with all attendant consequencews for the speakers.

Een that spirit, i have a small request...

6:45 PM  
¡El Gato Negro! said...

Oh, and back closer to the topic, I was wanting to pick up thees book earlier een the summer, gracías for the reminder.


6:47 PM  
ellroon said...

Thanks for the review! I will look for the book. Having been a collector of Marvel comics (looong ways back) anything that can play with super heroes sounds delightful.

(One reason why I found the film 'The Incredibles' so fun.)

12:09 PM  
Eli said...

I am *already* invincible, having read How To Be A Villain.

Still, I'll probably check it out anyway, so I can laugh at all of the villain's foolish mistakes.

8:58 PM  
Dr. Zaius said...

You have already mentioned this book to me once. I will have to dig it up.

1:31 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home