All Those Explosions Were Someone Else’s Fault

By James Alan Gardner

Rating: 5 stars

Yet another book I picked up from John Scalzi’s Big Idea. The author talked about his desire to write a really fun superhero novel and that caught my attention. Modern superheroes all seem to be full of angst and woe, and this sounded different. And oh goodness, it was so much fun! In a world where monsters and heroes are real, four college housemates get caught up in a science lab explosion (what else?) that turns them into superheroes. Before they can take a breath and worry about the important things (cool costumes and a team name), they’ve got to figure out who is causing all the explosions and stop them from killing a good fraction of the population of the city.

The first thing that really caught my eye in this book was the idea that there’s a pricetag associated with “Dark Conversion” (i.e. being turned into a vampire/were-animal/demon/etc) and that it’s high. The idea that only the One Percent can afford it and suddenly they become so much more visible and (even more) differentiated from the rest of society is brilliant. It’s a compelling metaphor for the rich and how they view the rest of us. By comparison, the Light can choose anyone, no need for wealth or power. One rogue gamma ray and bam, you’ve got superpowers (rather than radiation poisoning). I also like how aware the book is of its own tropes and it meta-analyses them just enough to be fun and not so much to be irritating.

Our protagonist is Kim Lam, a geology student with a past she’d like to forget parts of. Her housemates are science students of various types and get just enough fleshing out to make them interesting (I see from the sample of the sequel at the end of the book at the next one is told from Jools’ perspective, so hopefully each of the team will get their own book and character development) but Kim gets the most. When they develop superpowers, her geology obsession gives her rock-hard skin, and her desire to hide gives her shrinking powers. I’m not sure where her 360-degree roving vision comes from, but it’s not something I’ve seen before in my (admittedly limited) superhero reading and is very cool.

So the book is hugely readable, with a sharp and sympathetic first-person narrator in Kim, with a fascinating world that leaves me hungry for more (I see a sequel is just out!).

Book details

ISBN: 9780765392633
Publisher: Tor Books
Year of publication: 2017

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