Soon I Will Be Invincible
by Austin Grossman
Published by Pantheon
288 pages, 2007
Reviewed by Andi Shechter
I hope that Austin Grossman had as much fun writing this book as I had reading it. I’m delighted by the knowledge that this dead-on “superhero” v. “evil genius” story comes from someone whose expertise is in romance and Victorian literature. What a hoot! You have to wonder if Austin Grossman wrote Soon I Will Be Invincible to shake off the traces of literature that clung to him as a PhD candidate or if there’s some heretofore unrealized connection between high camp and high literature. No matter. It’s a hugely enjoyable book.
Soon I Will Be Invincible tells the story of Dr. Impossible (not exactly the best supervillain name, ya think?) and the array of good guys determined to keep him from taking over the world. The timeline at the back of the book tells part of the story. I mean, how good can a bad guy be at being bad when he’s created five -- count ‘em five -- Doomsday machines? Usually, you stop at one because you’ve destroyed the Earth or the universe and can now take over whatever is left. But Dr. Impossible seems to have a little trouble in that regard. He keeps getting caught, locked up, then he escapes, tries again, you know the story, right?
The chapters narrated by this bad guy alternate with those of new-to-the-pantheon cyborg named Fatale. She’s been working freelance but is brought into the group of new generation good guys, the Champions. It’s a broad spectrum of talents from Blackhawk -- who really has no superpowers but boy, is he fit -- to Elphin, the last fairy. Yeah, you heard me. And a magician named Mister Mystic. Arrayed against the evildoers, these guys mostly succeed, but even they make mistakes from time to time. They’re only hum…well, never mind.
Grossman doesn’t really camp it up. But he does use the stylesheet, the elements we know and love, creating a world where superheroes in cool costumes with stunning skills -- gained by accidental explosions, or government experiments, or being from another realm -- fight bad guys who always seem to want to take over the world. I wonder why anyone would really want to do that -- I always have -- but that is, after all, what maniacal villains do. At least for Dr. Impossible, it seems to have to do with a childhood as a smart kid but never the smartest kid. Declaiming regularly “I am a GENIUS” doesn’t go over well, especially when you’re in a school full of kids equally as smart. And nicer. And better-looking. And less creepy. But the competition for bad guy fame seems to draw fewer people than the hero game, so while he disdains the chortling, the underground lab, the trappings of bad-guy-dom, Dr. Impossible still goes the route. Robots, cape, maniacal laugh, ha-HA -- you know the one, with the fists on the hips. And even when his idea of getting a girl’s attention involves taking her hostage and tying her up in his underground lair, he’s still unclear why he’s not more popular. Or at least more feared.
So Dr. Impossible has escaped from an escape-proof prison and once again is up to his old tricks. The Champions have to stop him. It’s a hoot and a half. Fatale works very well -- Grossman presents her as unsure of her place in this hoity-toity world, not even clear on all the things her cyborg body can do. She’s just a young woman who had a bad accident and was turned into a weapon by the government. She remembers nothing of her past and her introduction to the team is not played for laughs, as much of the book is, albeit subtly. Can you be subtle about such broadly-drawn situations? You can; the author here does it well. There are a bunch of lines that are almost throwaways, there are hints at a lot of feelings and personalities and caring and egos and issues. It’s not all super-strength and capes flapping in the breeze when there’s no apparently breeze. Even Lily, who was once Evil and is now part of the Good guys, has issues and you don’t always know how that will come out.
Even without a background in superhero comics and cartoons, I found a lot to like in Soon I Will Be Invincible. I did wish for fewer characters. Even with the list at the back of the book, I sometimes found myself confused. And while the story moved every so quickly and the book is not too long, the battles between really bad and really good got a little exhausting. This still rocks as a first novel though. Grossman is sharp; he captures individual voices well, from Fatale’s hesitant at first, then confident acceptance of her part, to Impossible’s braggadocio. (He’d have you think it’s only for effect but we both know he loves it!)
A final note: kudos to Pantheon for both the cover of this book -- vivid primarily colors showing pieces of a super-costume -- but also the book cover under the dust jacket. Oh and the endpapers. I seldom remember to look under the dust wrapper, but you gotta see this one. Someone really cared and the details are a plus, all leading me to want to see what this author will try next. | July 2007
Andi Shechter has been a publicist, chat host, interviewer, convention-planner, essayist and reviewer. She lives in Seattle with far too many books, an old-but-cute purple computer, not enough soft toys (including a small but select hedgehog and gorilla collection), many figure skating videotapes and an esoteric collection of hot sauces. There's a Hugo Award on her mantelpiece which belongs to her partner, cartoonist and artist Stu Shiffman.