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Austin Grossman
Soon I Will Be Invincible
Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2007

Pantheon / Random House
US First Edition Hardcover
ISBN 978-0-375-42486-1
$22.95 ; 290 Pages
Publication Date: 06-05-2007
Date Reviewed: 06-04-2007

Index: Science Fiction  General Fiction Mystery

Sometimes it’s just inescapable. An author simply must tell his story. You pick up the book, and as a reader, you can feel the pull of that insistent voice, and it's a voice you enjoy hearing. No matter what happens in the novel, no matter what else is said and done, the first pages of a book can literally speak to a reader, start a conversation that the reader will feel compelled to finish.

Part of the appeal of such novels is that they do seem a bit like a conversation, a two-way conversation, in which the reader has a part as well as the author. The author may do all the talking and the reader all the listening, but still — the reader feels included. Whispered to.

Austin Grossman's first novel, 'Soon I Will Be Invincible' whispers to the reader, but not in a quiet sotto voice. Told from the perspective of both a supervillain and a superhero in a world where such extraordinary beings are common, 'Soon I Will Be Invincible' is written with a commanding prose style that transfixes the reader for nearly all of it 290ish pages. Doctor Impossible, nicked again, is sitting through another jail term, his twelfth, for attempting to take over the world. He's a brilliant genius, "the smartest man in the world" who nonetheless is consistently foiled by a now-squabbling squad of superheroes. Of course, no jail can hold him. Fatale is a new-kid superheroine, who tells the other half of the story in a similarly compelling voice. When Doctor Impossible makes good on his promise to escape and the actually invincible superhero Corefire disappears, she's in, and the reader is hooked but good.

There's a lot to like in 'Soon I Will Be Invincible'. Grossman's prose is the main attraction. Whether he's writing from the perspective of Doctor Impossible or Fatale, he's got a fun, involving style. The jokes are constant and consistently funny, but what seals the deal is Grossman's ability to back off from his smirking and throw in more than a dash of poignant pathos. Doctor Impossible's passages are generally funnier than Fatale's, but not so much as you might expect. And by giving the Doc a good-guy female counterpoint, Grossman has nearly doubled his potential audience.

Of course, Fatale and Doctor Impossible are not the only characters here. The "New Champions" make up most of the secondary characters. These include Blackwolf, a one-time gymnast who has used his riches to turn himself into a Batman-like figure, Elphin, the lone surviving Faery warrior, Damsel, the daughter of some superheroes from the thirties, "born to superpowers", Feral, half-man, half-tiger, Mister Mystic, a magician, Lily, once evil, now good, a woman from an alternate far future, and Rainbow Triumph, a snotty teen idol and science experiment. One of the things that Grossman does with absolute confidence is to create a sort of science fiction and fantasy backdrop to what ultimately proves to be a sort of alternate history. You get every damn thing here; I'm surprised he didn't include Kitchen Sink Man, but we've not yet seen the sequel. And you'll hope for one. Grossman knows all his science fiction quite well, and he's an adept enough writer to make his superhero-laden world seem real.

When you're reading this book, it's pretty easy to ignore the obvious inspirations because Grossman is so damn funny and witty. He's also got a great visual imagination, so the prose special-effects set pieces verge on breathtaking. As we learn more about the world, and the origins of the characters, the novel becomes pleasingly more complex. Sure, there's more than a whiff of BAM! And POW! here, but the previously mentioned poignant moments seem increasingly common and powerful. There's more than a bit of sadness that our world has no such heroes fighting for truth, justice and the American way.

Ultimately, there are probably a couple of fights that go on more than they need to, though, again, the prose is still so funny that you’re consistently tempted to read it aloud. Grossman has concocted an intricate plot centered around the origins of his crew — good and evil — and their day-to-day lives. He's cracked every joke you could ever have imagined about superhero entertainment and more than a few you couldn’t. He's entertained you and moved you. This an easy book to read and an easy book to like. Grossman is a talented writer, the sort of fellow who summons an insinuating, whispering voice that positively commands you to read it. He makes something remarkably difficult appear effortless. Just like taking over the world.

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