Review of Soon I Will Be Invincible by

Book cover for Soon I Will Be Invincible

I read Soon I Will Be Invincible in a single sitting (although the two-hour rain delay before the ball game began helped). It has an easygoing, tongue-in-cheek style that makes it a pleasure to read. Sometimes it feels like a comic book, other times it feels like a parody of the superhero/supervillain genre in general. In making an effort not to be too serious, Austin Grossman has created a literary mélange of Douglas Coupland–style humour, characters worthy of Jim Butcher's Dresden Files, and an offbeat sense of plot reminiscent of Terry Pratchett.

Now, to be fair to those three great authors, I'll state explicitly that they all do it better than Grossman. Soon I Will Be Invincible is good, but it has plenty of room for improvement. For instance, while the characters remind me of those in The Dresden Files owing to their attitude, most of them lack depth. The only characters we really learn much about are the two narrators--the villainous Doctor Impossible and the cyborg heroine Fatale--and Lily, Doctor Impossible's ex-girlfriend with a plot twist buried in her past.

While I can't speak for all readers, I found myself sympathizing most with Doctor Impossible. All he wanted was world domination--is that so much to ask?! Perhaps it was just the way Grossman had him narrate his chapters, but I found Doctor Impossible an entertaining character. Moreover, through him, Grossman explores the psyche of a comic-book-style supervillain: why he chose villainy instead of heroism and how this affects his ego and his plans. There's something to be said for having two-dimensional instead of three-dimensional characters--a well-rounded, morally-ambiguous villain is great, but sometimes snarling and nefarious evil-doers can be just as entertaining (for half the price!).

By contrast, the heroine half of this dynamic duo of narrators falls short of the mark. We're supposed to feel sympathy for Fatale, who chose to become a cyborg only because she was mortally wounded in a horrific traffic accident. There's a twist toward the end of the book where we learn more about Fatale's origins, but it doesn't seem to have much of an effect on the story other than a couple of throwaway lines; Lily's secret origin, on the other hand, actually drives the plot behind the scenes and leads us inexorably to the climax. I really enjoyed Lily and wondered what it would be like to have her as a narrator instead of Fatale. Then again, that would have made it hard to conceal her true origin from us (which I'm not going to reveal because I liked the twist).

Ultimately, the climax was disappointing compared to the rest of the book. However, this may be a problem with the genre itself (especially when writing from the perspective of the villain) rather than Grossman's overall style. You can't just have Doctor Impossible win, after all; as much as the reader might sympathize with him, he's still the bad guy. I just never really felt like there came a moment where he could possibly win, not even when he put the bad guys in their cages. And I think that in order for a story to truly transcend from "good" to "great," that moment has to exist, even if only for an infinitesmial time. Because that's the best moment of the book: you know the villain can’t win, but it looks like, however impossible it may be, that he will win!

The fact that Doctor Impossible was outnumbered from the start and his reliance on a MacGuffin reduced the drama during the climax. This only worsens when Grossman begins trying to use the MacGuffin to explain away the entire plot, including giving a purpose to Elphin, the last fairy left behind on Earth by Titania for some great duty, which turns out to be tossing the MacGuffin into the ocean.

That's a marked departure from the early part of the book, where Grossman establishes a slowly-rising sense of suspense as Doctor Impossible escapes from prison and begins plotting his One World Domination Plan to Rule Them All. He trounces the heroes when they manage to stumble upon him in public; the heroes, of course, are busy squabbling among themselves and chasing uninformative leads while Doctor Impossible diligently pursues his plan for global conquest. Grossman depicts a nice dystopian world where being s superhero isn't all it's cracked up to be. A comparison, in this respect, to Watchmen is on the tip of my tongue, but I don't know how to do it without insulting Watchmen....

Soon I Will Be Invincible is a supervillain story. It's got all the hallmarks: the megalomania, the bickering superheroes, and of course, the unwieldy doomsday plans. Doctor Impossible is a somewhat sympathetic, if a bit loquacious, character. Grossman's writing style is relaxed and witty. It's a good read, but don't go into it expecting too much.

Engagement

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