I mean, I've been to cons before. ConDFW isn't the biggest, or the weirdest, or the wildest. But I tell you what: to date, it's the only time I've gotten to watch an author axe-kick an editor.
|In this corner, Tae Kwon Do (Russ Linton). In this corner, also Tae Kwon Do (Adrian Simmons).|
Behind them, Krav Maga, Bartitsu, and Tai Chi, respectively.
See, I have to post this big-ass disclaimer here, because I need you to know a couple of things before we get into the book review. The thing is, I know Russ. I like Russ. I liked him pretty good even before he ninja-name-dropped our way out of a parking garage and co-ran the Shootout at the Obscure Genre Corral with me this weekend. (NOW I think he's just fucking fabulous.)
And one of the reasons I like him so dang much is because he posted this wonderful review of One Night in Sixes. In our world, reviews are gold - and a review that highlights the specially wonderful parts of a book while also being honest about its "watch out for" and "you might not like this if" features is mithril-coated vibranium starmetal.
But that's what he did for me - and by gum, that's what I'm gonna do for him! So here in all its fully-disclosed glory is my review of Crimson Son.
by Russ Linton
His mother kidnapped, his superhero father absent, powerless Spencer Harrington faces a world of weaponized humans to prove himself and find the truth. Nineteen-year-old Spencer is the son of the Crimson Mask, the world's most powerful Augment. Since witnessing his mother's abduction by a psychotic super villain two years ago, he's been confined to his father's arctic bunker. When the "Icehole" comes under attack from a rampaging robot, Spencer launches into his father's dangerous world of weaponized human beings known as Augments. With no superpowers of his own save a multi-tool, a quick wit and a boatload of emotional trauma, Spencer seeks to uncover his mother's fate and confront his absentee superhero father. As he stumbles through a web of conspiracies and top secret facilities, he rallies a team of everyday people and cast-off Augments. But Spencer soon discovers that the Black Beetle isn't his only enemy, nor his worst.
I think I tweeted about this book once by saying something along the lines of "because when the Black Beetle invades your ice-hole, you grab your multi-tool and GTFO." And if your first reaction to that is "I have no idea what you're talking about, but I'm up for it!" then boy, have I got a book for you.
For me, this is my first foray into superhero fiction (though I keep meaning to lay hands on Landon Porter's Descendants series). At first, I was a little leery: the Spider-Man movies have covered my RDA of angsty super-white-boys until about 2025 - and we all know there is no angst like teen angst.
In this case, it's coming from Spencer Harrington, the powerless son of the world's greatest hero (well, almost-powerless: that boy can shake off traumatic brain injuries like most of us can walk off a charley-horse.) But we start out here with an intriguing premise: what's it like to be one of the Aunt Mays and Mary Janes of the super-verse? What kind of life can you have when you're every villain's dream hostage – and how do you avoid resenting the super-spouse or -parent whose need to protect you has basically turned you into their prisoner?
And yes, there is teen angst, and a few moments of willful buttheadery (I imagine living in permanent solitary at the North Pole doesn't really help the whole social-skills thing), and one or two terrible decisions. But as great as it is to ask the question, "how can a normal kid hold his own in a super-powered world?", I'm even more delighted with the author's answer: "by making friends, using his heart and skill, and relying on the help of good people – supers and not-so-much – to get the job done." Think Big Hero 6, if Baymax were a giant homicidal bug-mech named Cuddles.
But as much as I like what's here in the story, I almost appreciate it more for what's missing. There's no love interest, for one thing (which isn't to say there's no leading lady - and let me say here that I am SO THIRSTY for more stories like this, where guys and gals can have a rock-solid friendship, Captain-America-and-Black-Widow-style, without all the will-they/won't-they business!) No DBZ-esque "I will defeat you with the power of my rage" special-snowflakery. And apart from a lamentably vapid fat lady and one villain's penchant for Alec-Baldwin levels of petulant cruelty, no 'types', either. The characters feel like real people – and more than that, they treat each other like real people. Nobody is the axis of the universe, here. Nobody is unimportant.
So if you're wondering what the trade-off is for all the gorgeous comic artwork you don't get in a novel, I think that's it right there. Sure, there's still building explosions and car crashes and narrow escapes and super-gadgetry and possibly even a cape – but there's also that deeper stuff that characterizes (what I consider) the very best superhero stories, like The Incredibles and Watchmen. We have time to meditate on what happens to these super-people when they're used up and broken, and to the regular people who have to live in their shadow. We have room to consider what separates a good parent from a good-intentioned one, and how to let go of somebody you shouldn't have had to lose in the first place, and why we keep wanting what we can't have. We have a super-verse where the heroes don't all wear spandex, and the villains aren't all bad people.
As it happens, this is a first novel, with some of the challenges that first novels have: I feel like it could be about 10% leaner, and I encourage you to give it 50 pages to really hit its stride. But boy, if this is what a first novel can be - if this guy can pack this much action and drama and humor and heart into a freaking debut - then you definitely want to be caught up and ready before he drops his second. I'll save you a spot in line.
My favorite bit:
I turn to the door. No keypad, not even a handle on this side. The seam around the door is so tight, I don't think a piece of paper could slip between it and the frame. Outside, Dad is playing ass-puppet for an Augment, and Emily is doing a good job as an Exorcist stand-in. In here, I've got no tools, no battle armor, and no underappreciated minions on my side.
I slump against the door. "We're fucked."