Soon I Will Be Invincible
by Austin Grossman
Review by John Berlyne
Michael Joseph Ltd Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 0718152913
Date: 02 August 2007 List Price £16.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK /
Recently released in the US by Pantheon Books, Austin Grossman's wonderful début novel Soon I Will Be Invincible is now published here in the UK by Michael Joseph Ltd, an imprint of Penguin, UK.
This marvellous piece is Grossman's homage to the comic book Superhero genre that suffused our collective youth and he offers a truly extraordinary examination of what it actually means to be a hero, or a villain for that matter. Fantastic, energised reading. Super, in fact!
People with extraordinary powers, doing good (or ill) have long captivated us – from Sherlock Holmes and his extraordinary powers of deduction, to the spandex clad, freakishly costumed characters of the American comic book tradition and their big-budget Hollywood incarnations that dominate the box office all over the world, right through to the big hitting phenomenon of Heroes TV series, very much in vogue at the moment. We love the idea of ordinary folk manifesting the ability of flight, or X-ray vision or mind-reading. And of course, these ideas hover right over the line between magic and science, because super-strength or super-this or super-that can, one supposes, be explained away through the application of either.
An extraordinary assured work, Soon I will Be Invincible is the marvellous début novel from US writer Austin Grossman. As the title suggests, this novel shows no fear in tackling the stereotypes of this niche genre and this is perhaps the most admirable aspect to this book - a book that has many, many aspects to admire. Whilst Grossman's début is a delightful and witty celebration of the Superhero genre, but it is also sharply observed satire, in the close up, no-holds-barred examination it makes of what it might mean to be a Superhero in today's society. For today's world is a far darker and more cynical place than it was when this genre was born.
In this clever and persistently intriguing novel Grossman turns up the "what if" factor to full magnification. We suspend our disbelief that these characters are so much larger than life right from the start – they are, in our eyes certainly not diminished by this notion, but Grossman removes the usual sense of wonder one might associate with these heroes - that they are remote and untouchable - and instead overlays far more interesting and contemporary ideas. He looks at the difficulties these characters might face in the glare of the harsh media spotlight, how they might cope with the mass fan hysteria that surrounds them. He scrutinizes their endorsements, exclusive interviews and sponsorship deals, and examines whether, in spite of their super abilities, the immense pressures of their work and very existence might induce in them relationship issues or eating disorders. In short, Grossman asks what would their lives really be like? Both in philosophical terms and terms the gossip columnist might focus on. Doesn't that spandex chafe when it gets sweaty?
The really clever thing here is the way that the glamour is stripped away without entirely disappearing. Behind it lies, always, the reality of what it is to be a human being – albeit one with super this or super that. It is the same angle we take when we think how truly amazing it is that technology can get a person into space... our next thought is to wonder how they take a shit up there? In Soon I will Be Invincible Grossman bravely considers what lies behind the dazzle of the bright costumes and the result is a superb warts an'all adventure.
And of course, where there are Superheroes, there must also be Supervillians (otherwise, what's the point?) and is it Doctor Impossible, arch villain extraordinaire who here utters the immortal words of the book's title. Chapters alternate between villain and hero and we learn of their origins, insecurities, philosophies and plans for – or for thwarting – world domination. Patterns of behaviour are doomed to repeat themselves endlessly as dastardly plans are undermined or extraordinary powers negated by bits of radioactive rock. Grossman toys with these recognised clichés and combines them in a way that produces a fabulously original and witty piece, highly energised, hugely erudite and above all, extremely entertaining.
Very highly recommended.