They Promised Me the Gun Wasn’t Loaded

By James Alan Gardner

Rating: 4 stars

I loved All Those Explosions Were Someone Else’s Fault and timed it such that I finished it just as the sequel was released. This book focuses on Jools, another of the four housemates who get caught in a lab explosion and gained superpowers. She’s the jock of the group, and the one who’s struggling most with her studies. This combination ends her up with immediate knowledge of anything that’s part of the corpus of public knowledge and Olympic-level mastery of any human skill.

Despite these skills, Gardner paints a skilful picture of a young woman who’s good at giving the appearance of confidence and having it together but who is actually a bit of a wreck and is now struggling with a degree of inferiority compared to her superpowered teammates. Oh, and she’s also afraid that she’s turning into a Mad Genius who will stop caring about the devastation that her potential inventions could wreak. And that she’s got a drink problem.

The Darkling siblings Nick and Elaine return in this book, albeit more for an extended cameo than anything else. The blood bond between Elaine and Kim (now just K, having moved further toward the non-binary part of the spectrum) is used to drive the plot forward, and there is, of course, the eponymous gun. Believed to be created by Mad Genius Diamond from the first book, it’s very much the definition of a macguffin.

The Spark world is expanded as well. In addition to Grandfather and Invie, this book introduces us to the Aussie All-Stars and Robin Hood and his gang of Merry Men, a group of outlaw Sparks who rob the rich (Darklings) and (allegedly) give to the poor. Jools gets caught up with them and struggles to keep herself right.

The whole potential mind rape thing is rather disturbing, even if nothing happens to Jools. The idea that not only does Robin do this to other women, but that it’s facilitated by Marion is icky. Those were the most intense chapters of the book for me, when Jools is beset all round and separated from her teammates, having to rely entirely on her own resources (which are more than she gives herself credit for). I almost punched the air when Zircon finally turned up.

I’m thoroughly enjoying this series and a quick tweet to the author assures me that he’s already at work on the next one (Miranda’s book). This one is perhaps slightly not as good as its predecessor, but it’s still a highly enjoyable read.

Book details

ISBN: 9780765398789
Publisher: Tor Books
Year of publication: 2018

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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