By Samit Basu

Rating: 3 stars

The cover quote on my edition of Turbulence, from the excellent Ben Aaronovitch claims that “you’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll gasp and you’ll demand a sequel”. Well, as entertaining as the book was, for most of its length, I won’t be demanding a sequel, despite an ending that very clearly opened the path for one.

Aman Sen, and everybody else on a flight from London to Delhi, finds themselves with a superpower. Whatever they dreamt of during the flight. Aman wants to use his powers to change the world for the better. Air Force officer Jai Mathur wants to take over the world, and with his powers of super-strength and invulnerability, he may well be able to pull it off. Caught between them is Vir Singh, another Air Force officer, who dreams of being able to fly without his jet and Uzma, an aspiring Bollywood actress who people really want to like.

Vir is basically Superman, complete with boy scout attitude but Aman is our protagonist. He’s the geek who becomes a communications demigod, having the Internet running in his head, who knows about comics and their tropes and who wants to form a superhero team and save the world from itself. When his first attempts to change things, moving money around to charities and outing corrupt companies online, goes the way that you’d expect, he struggles to cope. Aman is a sympathetic character who you want to succeed, although anyone with any knowledge of superheroes, not to mention basic economics, will know that he’s going to fail miserably.

I had a couple of problems with this book. Firstly was the casual nature of some of the violence. While Aman is devastated by the deaths that resulted (indirectly) from his actions, and it influences his actions from there onwards, other characters are less restrained. The body count rises inexorably, while the deaths rarely pack any emotional punch. I haven’t seen it, but I’ve been told that the Superman film, Man of Steel has a similar problem, where the violence and city-destruction gets so outrageous that it loses all impact.

The other problem that I had with the book was that it didn’t really feel like it had a unique voice. The author is Indian and the book is mostly set in India (although the climax moves to London). For all that India is such a vibrant, unique place, Basu doesn’t really capture that, either in the voices of his characters, or of the locations. The characters could just be any old comic characters in any city in the world. India isn’t invoked here, and I think the book possibly suffers because of it. Perhaps Basu could learn from the author quoted on the cover, Ben Aaronovitch, who invokes London so well in his ‘Peter Grant’ novels.

It’s not a bad book. The big action scene about half way through as Aman and Uzma cower through a super-powered fight in Mumbai between their captors and a group of powered crime bosses is pretty cool but the book feels like a missed opportunity to me. What could have been a unique take on the superhero genre ends up, despite the post-modern self-referencing of the genre, feeling very generic.

Book details

ISBN: 9781781161197
Publisher: Titan Books
Year of publication: 2010

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