Thursday, September 6, 2007

No Prison Can Hold Them

What with the excitement of settling into my new jobs and visiting Tennessee just in time for some kind of allergy torture zone, I haven't posted anything for a while, but I have indeed been reading.

First off, Ickie passed on to me Passarola Rising by Azhar Abidi. The author is originally from Pakistan, although he lives in Australia and writes in English. His elegant, stylized writing reminds me of Middle Eastern traditions of storytelling, such as the Arabian Nights stories. Passarola is about two historical figures, but the events are fictional. Two brothers, living in Europe in the 18th century, create a flying ship, hobnob with royalty, flee the Spanish Inquisition (which nobody expects), and venture into the arctic. Somehow Abidi's storytelling feels both detached and formal while also delving deeply into the personal and spiritual struggles of the two brothers. The ending is transcendent. The book feels very un-20th-Century and un-American (in the cultural, not the patriotic, sense). The cover art is exquisite.

After Passarola I read Soon I Will Be Invincible by Austin Grossman. It's a truly unique take on super villians and heros. At first glance, Ickie and I suspected it would be hilarious (the chapter titles are genre clichés like "Foiled Again," "Welcome to My Island," and "Maybe We Are Not So Different, You and I"). Instead, the book contains a more subtle humor. As with Wodehouse and Austen, the reader is more entertained by Grossman's wit than the actual events.

Grossman makes heros and villians more real than any other attempt I've seen. The story is told from two alternating points of view by diabolical genius Dr. Impossible and crime-fighting cyborg Fatale. Superheros pop painkillers to deal with their artificial organs, undergo divorce, and suspect each other of eating disorders. Dr. Impossible has flashbacks to his unpopular school days. These themes are treated with a light, clever hand--you can't help laughing when reference is made to an army of fungus. Dr. Impossible is especially engaging with his sarcasm and optimism (noticeably lacking among the downtrodden heros). Fans of James Bond, superhero stories, and even The Narnia Chronicles will discover something personal in Grossman's first novel.


Jackamo said...

I'm your biggest fan.

hayumbone said...

The plot of Grossman's book sounds like it was long overdue. And, I can think of at least three people I know who would particularly enjoy it, including my husband.

Thanks for the rec!

hayumbone said...

I mean, your description of Grossman's plot makes it sound like a book whose time has come (and why hasn't anyone written it before now?).

Gah. Grammar imprecision -- I hate it.