June 29, 2011

The Hinges of Destiny #1: Determination

2011 novel. Written by Angelle Tusa.

As the opening of oh so many superhero stories go, Elizabeth is your average young woman. She's a small town girl in the middle of LA for college, who's dealing with a new roommate, her best friend's band, and that handsome guy who saved her purse from a snatcher. Oh, and she has superpowers.

There have been numerous attempts in the past to explore comic book superheroics from a grounded, everyday point of view, but I've never before seen one quite like this. Elizabeth and the other members of the Achiever's Club aren't in a School for Gifted Youngsters (though we hear those do exist) or some other elite training program, they're in a normal college. There's no costumes or megalomaniacs or world-shattering threats, there's just kids dealing with homework and relationships. Even when Max, their most idealized member, suggests they start going out on patrols to clean up a bit of rampant crime, it's in the form of petty carjackers and thieves, and the biggest threat they encounter are a speedster and an esper looking to steal some test answers. It's mundane. It's slice of life. Take away the powers, and the story still mostly works as a group of kids trying to do the right thing in a place that's a little desperate for help.

Unfortunately, the problem I have with the story is that it's almost too mundane. There's big hints of a broader world out there, of the aforementioned gifted universities, foreign governments that draft powered individuals into their armies, and well established superheroes that now write books or give self-help seminars. I like how author Tusa peppers them into the background to give the setting a little weight, but their impact is too thinly felt.

And on top of that, there's far too little actual conflict. There's a sharp division between the good side and the bad, but there's no real drama going on among either group. Both Elizabeth and Jessica (super vision) have the hots for Max, but the angry glares are left behind a few chapters later when he picks one, and it's never again an issue. We learn that Elizabeth's human roommate had a troubled past with a superpowered being, but they talk it out in a couple of pages and are total BFFs. J is struggling with her inability to touch people because she's frequently electrified, but when the guy who has an eye on her learns about this, he wraps her in a huge hug. There's so many times that we hear about the hardships of these characters, their embarrassment when their power slips out of control, the perceptions of their peers, their struggles with friends and family, but we never really get to experience any of it first hand.

This carries over into the powers, as well. Much of the story is told from Elizabeth's point of view, and we hear about her issues with controlling her psionic abilities, either picking up the thoughts of others or projecting her own. Again, we never experience this. She goes through training over the course of the story which strengthens her abilities, but she's already got a pretty strong grip on them from the start, so we, again, only hear about issues that we never get to witness for ourselves. The same goes for her retractable claws, which we hear (in the past) are responsible for many a wrecked shoe. Because I guess she can't just wear open toed footwear? And how do the retractable claws work? Where do they go when they retract? There isn't much room in the tip of a finger for something that isn't a nub of bone, and how does she still have normal fingernails on top of the claws? Wouldn't it be one or the other? Wouldn't the ends of her digits be visibly different so as to accommodate? And we see them cut through a metal rod at some point. How are they this strong? Is there some bizarre tactile connection between them and the bones of the fingers that prevents them from tearing loose when they hit a substance like metal? If so, why aren't these ligaments throughout her body? And wouldn't that give her the same strength as Max who has the same powers except for the strength that she should logically have, too?

I'm sorry, that was something I had difficult time wrapping my head around. What I do like is that both Elizabeth and Max, through having multiple powers each, stand out even among other superbeings. This is a rare, but increasingly common development, and the mystery behind it seems to be a driving thread that a future volume will build upon. And I will be there to read it. There are some really rough patches in this book, but for a freshman effort, it was a surprisingly gripping and thoughtful read, populated with distinct characters that I'd like to explore again.

The novel is currently being serialized at http://thehingesofdestiny.wordpress.com/. The author was kind enough to provide me with a complete manuscript for this review.

June 14, 2011

[Kubrick] The Space Odyssey Is Worth Continuing in Peter Hyams' 2010

Previously published at Hope Lies.

Let's get this out of the way up front: 2010 is not 2001. It just isn't. It's not an artistic experience that challenges the mind while painting for people an amazing future that never before felt so real and raises questions about existence and creation and why are we here and what else is waiting outside the fence of our atmosphere that will make our greatest most miraculous achievements seem tiny in comparison. It's not a film that's more about an experience than a narrative, nor a film that redefines a genre, a style, effects techniques, hell, cinema itself for decades to come.

But it is a good film, a very good film, one that's been a personal favorite since I first discovered it and its predecessor in my early teens. It doesn't sweep me away as much as 2001, but it still captures my imagination and challenges me to think and ask, and gives me the drive to seek out the hard questions, but still know when the price of knowing an unknown might not be worth it.