Monday, September 3, 2007
SOON I WILL BE INVINCIBLE by Austin Grossman
I picked up Soon I Will Be Invincible because it was a superhero novel with a completely original cast. I was very excited when I heard about it. I love comic books and I love superheroes.
Soon I Will Be Invincible is written in the first person present tense, and chapters alternate between the viewpoints of Doctor Impossible, supervillain and world's smartest man, and Fatale, rookie cyborg superhero. The main problem with this, beyond the use of the present tense (which doesn't work at all here due to the number of flashbacks), is that there's very little difference between the two characters' narrative voices.
Doctor Impossible never sounds like the world's smartest man. He's not articulate at all. He says stuff like "Shut up! It's the Ice Empire, and it's totally going to work." and "They pretty much forgot about me." With the number of times he says "totally" and "pretty much", he often sounds like Napoleon Dynamite.
Grossman's narrative style doesn't work. He likes weirdly-constructed sentences. He throws strings of words together seemingly at random, like he's trying to do stream-of-consciousness. Sentence fragments abound. They are tacked onto paragraphs. We get lists along the lines of "It was blue, red, green and orange. Yellow." (That's not a quote from the book.) Grossman describes things in detail that the reader has no need to know (and no interest in). We get descriptors that don't fit, like Grossman tried and failed to be "literary", like, "She acts like you'd think a fairy would act - cute and flighty, blond and haughty." These problems are especially glaring because Grossman has chosen to present this in the first person, so we get narrative completely unlike how anyone would talk if they were telling you a story. The dialogue isn't good either; It's corny and wooden.
The bad dialogue compounds the book's style problems. On the one hand, we've got superheroes and supervillains to the absolute silliest extreme, with brightly-colored tights, ridiculous names, and laser beams shooting out of people's eyes. On the other hand, we have every character in the entire book taking everything completely seriously.
Character development doesn't really happen, especially with the non-narrators. We're told early on that Blackwolf is autistic, but he doesn't do a single autistic thing except take five minutes to wash his hands. And while we have tons of backstory on the two narrators, most of it does little to develop their characters or the plot.
There is no plot to speak of, a fact which is made more glaring by the lack of character development. A great deal of the book, particularly early on, is spent reflecting on the past. Everything from Doctor Impossible's past attempts to conquer the world (robot armies, time travel, insect armies, dinosaur armies, fungus armies, fish armies, et cetera) is more interesting than anything that happens in this book.
The editing didn't catch the worst of the writing. We get "Blackwolf stands", "Lily's on her feet, and Blackwolf is, too", and "'...' Blackwolf says, getting to his feet" all within a page, all without Blackwolf ever sitting back down. Only a real superhero can stand up when he's already on his feet. Twice! Can't blame the autism for that one.
Grossman purports that his book is unique because we get "what it feels like to be inside a superpowered body, what heroes and villains are really thinking during a superfight, what they're feeling." It just feels like we've been here before, and none of this is as interesting as it sounds.
Ultimately, Soon I Will Be Invincible is poorly-written and boring. The combination of bad narrative, bad dialogue, undeveloped characters, lack of plot and inconsistent style and tone absolutely sink it. You can get away with a little more of this in a comic book, but this would make a bad comic.