Soon I Will Be Invincible: (A Book Review)
The book is: Soon I Will Be Invincible (a novel) by Austin Grossman. It was published by Pantheon Books in New York in the year 2007. As you can see, then, this is, yet again, not a timely book review. But there's a chance that one or two of you out there may not have read this book. The purpose of this attempted book review is to most strenuously urge you to do so.
If you will indulge me....
Anyone out there familiar with the Star Wars literature knows that there was a time when the SIth (the evil foce-wielding anti-Jedis) was a large organization, a brotherhood like the Jedi. Now, as you know, there is the "Rule of Two." But back when they were an evil clan they had a motto, which as far as I can recall, goes something like this:
Peace is a lie.
There is only hate.
Through hate I gain power,
through power I gain victory.
Through victory my chains are broken.
There is a feeling of liberation evoked. This could well be the sentiment of the protagonist anti-hero ("villain," I suppose) of Austin Grossman's Soon I Will Be Invincible. Its interesting to pause and dwell on this. The idea is that the central purpose of gaining power is to win personal freedom for yourself and those close to you.
Once again I must refer to The Godfather. I'm talking about the Mario Puzo's novel and the film he co-wrote The Godfather. A continual theme of the book and movie, is the idea that a reason for amassing power (the dark power of a mafia chieftain in this case) is to achieve freedom. If you've seen the movie you may recall the garden scene between Marlon Brando (old man Don Vito Corleone) and Al Pacino (Michael Corleone).
Don Vito Corleone and Michael talk about many things. But at one point the old man says to Michael that he (Vito Corleone) did not "apologize" for his life. After all, says Vito Corleone, the path he took allowed him to take care of his family in comfort to say the least, in a way that he wouldn't have been able to do had he not become a criminal, to put it crudely and simply.
Its interesting, though, that he said to Michael ".... when it came your time......... Senator Corleone, Governor Corleone, .... something...." He wanted Michael to have had the chance to amass power in a legal, legitimate way.
But Michael said, "Another pezzanovante." Pezzanovante is a word used to convey the idea of the avergae Joe, schmuck, dancing on the strings pulled by others. You'll recall that the symbol on the novel and the opening image of the movie is the puppeteer strings.
Look at the movie Goodfellas starring Ray Liotta, which is based on the true story of mafia associate Henry Hill. There is big mob dinner scene at the nightclub. The main character's voiceover narration explains that as far as he, "Henry Hill," was concerned being part of the Mafia was the only way to live, and everybody else was "dead." They were dead, for Henry, because they were not free. They were not free, "Henry Hill," explained because they had to worry about their bills (where was the money going to come from?), their mortgage; they were condemned to ride the crowded, dirty subway, and so on and so forth. Henry Hill believed he was free because as a prominent associate of a powerful organized crime "family," Hill believed he had the power to live life precisely as he wished with no one other than his "capo" imposing orders on him.
Therefore I want to suggest that the will to achieve power for the purpose of realizing personal freedom, is an important concern of Soon I Will Be Invincible. And from this factor such works of art derive their complexity.
This book is fun because it is about a classically fun subject, superheroes and supervillains. Those of you who do now or have ever enjoyed comic books and cartoons will derive that same kind of fun from this novel. Comic books and cartoons are catapults for the imagination. It exercises the imagination to ponder what it would be like to be able to fly, shoot laser beams from your eyes, walk through walls, or turn into super strong, invulnerable living metal or something.
This book is fun because even if you are not and have never been interested in superheroes and supervillains, you can enjoy this book as a satirical treatment of the subject (though this is not its first purpose).
What is satire?
Satire is the process of making fun of the rich and powerful. If you make fun of the weak and disadvantaged, you're just being mean.
This book is not satirical in the adversarial sense. This novel is friendly satire. Have you ever watched those celebrity "roasts" on television? Soon I Will Be Invincible is like that, friendly satire. What's being made light of, of course, are superheroes and supervillains, who are more powerful than we are, even if they (superfolk) are imaginary.
This book is fun because it executes the not uncommon but still fascinating good guy- bad guy inversion, if you will. I simply mean that this is a novel in which the "bad guy" is the "hero," sort of. Of course the "good guys" are not rendered "villains," or anything close. Still, I found the bad guy, Doctor Impossible, to be much more likable and, yes, sympathetic than the good guys, CoreFire and the Champions, the superhero team.
This book is fun because it is the story of Doctor Impossible's ongoing saga, his permanent mission to TAKE OVER THE WORLD!!! The first chapter is a bit of memoir on Doctor Impossible's part; he talks about all the ups and downs of being a supervillain generally, and the particular frustrations and setbacks he's endured. Here's Impossible reflecting on secret identities:
"To be a supervillain, you need to have certain things. Don't bother with a secret identity, that's a hero thing. Not that it wouldn't be convenient to take off the mask and disappear into the crowds, the houses, the working world. Perhaps too convenient -- why become the most audacious criminal mind on Earth (or at least in the top four), only to slink off in the other direction when things get difficult? It wouldn't mean as much if you could just walk away. When I'm arrested, they read the litany of my crimes at the trial, longer and gaudier each time. I've been tried for crimes on the Moon, in other centuries, other dimensions, and I'll be damned if I won't put my name on them.
"Besides, I never wanted to go back to the way it was before. Heroes have that weakness, not supervillains. When you become a villain you cut your ties and head to the bottom. When you threaten to crash an asteroid into your own planet just so they'll give you a billion dollars or substitute your face on the Mona Lisa, there's no statute of limitations. So you have to have the courage of your convinctions" (pp. 15-16).
The narrative is actually part memoir, part tutorial for future generations of supervillains.
Doctor Impossible breaks out of prison....
"They'll be scrambling fighters at the nearest air force base, but they won't catch me. CoreFire is still out there -- I'm sure of it -- and Lily, and all the rest of them, but I've got tricks they haven't seen yet. When they caught me the last time, I was working on something new, something different. During the long prison stay, it has germinated, and tonight it begins to flower.
"I'm cold and free and the smartest man in the world, and this time they're going to know it, I promise you. I promise you that."
How can you not expect a fantastic ride? You cannot because this book delivers.
Eventually Doctor Impossible is thwarted, caught and taken into custody. But he breaks free of custody and prepares to make good his escape. There is somethng "heroic" about his determination to put this, among many, many, many setbacks behind him and start anew. He will never give up until he reaches his goal.
"Who built Antitron? Who harnessed the limitless energy of Dimension Zeta? No hero did that; that was groundbreaking. I can beat these people, no question about it. Who moved the Moon? I did.
"In a week, I'll be in Antigua, or Hong Kong, or Des Moines. And from there, I'll find a way. Something new, nanotech or superstrings or voodoo. I'm still the smartest man in the world. Soon, yes, soon I will be invincible.
"When your laboratory explodes, lacing your body with a supercharged, what do you do? You don't just lie there. You crawl out of the rubble, hideously scarred, and swear vengeance on the world. You keep going. You keep trying to take over the world" (p. 280).
Believe me, I haven't even scratched the surface. As soon as you get a chance, read Soon I Will Be Invincible by Austin Grossman!