It’s the unanswerable question we hear constantly: What is the best superhero novel of all time? Inquiring minds want to know. Is it The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Emmuska Orczy? Is it Superfolks by Robert Mayer? Is it Superman, Last Son of Krypton by Elliot S. Maggin? Or perhaps it’s Jonathan Lethem’s The Fortress of Solitude?
The question is ridiculous of course. There isn’t one single best superhero novel. Everything is subjective and there will never be a consensus opinion one way or another.
But when pressed for an answer, we usually champion the same three books over and over again: What They Did to Princess Paragon by Robert Rodi, It’s Superman by Tom De Haven, and Soon I Will be Invincible by Austin Grossman. We feel that these three books unquestionably belong at the top of the superhero fiction totem pole.
And now it’s time to add another book to our list. Turbulence is easily the best superhero novel we’ve read since Austin Grossman’s debut knocked our socks off back in 2007. It is a consistently entertaining book with a thoroughly modern voice and an indefatigable spring in its step. It’s a celebration of superheroes, mankind’s spirit of goodwill, and Indian nationalism.
The book chronicles the lives of a handful of people who gain super powers during a plane trip from London to Delhi. But no one can figure out how they got their powers. Was it wizards, gods, transhumanists, secret societies, Republicans, or Mark Zuckerberg? It could have been anyone or anything.
What they know, however, is that each passenger’s super power is intrinsically linked to whatever he or she desired most in life. Consequently, India’s new gods exhibit a wide assortment of oddball abilities. Naturally someone picks up Superman-like powers. But others aren’t so lucky—like Uzma Abidi, otherwise known as Everybody-Likes-Me-Girl.
Eventually a ragtag group of superheroes become friends and start rooming together in Mumbai. They don’t exactly have a master plan, but they’ve cobbled together a simple mission statement. “We keep ourselves safe, find other people with powers, and then we make the world a better place,” says Aman Sen, the cockeyed optimist of the bunch. “We can do all the things superheroes do in comic books.”
At some point a megalomaniacal supervillain is introduced and the novel races toward a climactic Battle Royale, Transformers-style mega-romp. It’s super terrific. The author has already written a sequel (called Resistance) and we couldn’t be happier. To paraphrase Alan Moore: “Superman exists, and he’s not American.” Long live the Justice League of India!
[Turbulence / By Samit Basu / First Printing: July 2013 / ISBN: 9781781161197]