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Thanks to the publicity department at Titan Books, I had the opportunity to read this book in advance of its publication in July 2014. In fact, they were even kind enough to send me a free copy of Turbulence, to which this is the sequel. In that book, India-born author Samit Basu introduced a new wrinkle on the superhero cape and spandex, with ordinary people on a present-day flight from London to Delhi becoming extraordinary in what would come to be called the First Wave. Each person on that flight, and on several other flights around the world, suddenly developed super powers based on what they wanted most in life. Some became villains, others heroes, and quite a few of them perished in the struggle for world domination that followed.
Now the story moves into the near future, somewhere around the year 2020. The world has been profoundly changed. There has been a Second Wave of powers as people figure out what flight-paths will make them super. The balance is tipping so that normal humans no longer have any achievements to look forward to, except to serve the super-powered ruling class. Some of the heroes from Turbulence are still trying to use their powers to make the world better for everyone, but they have their hands full with constant monster attacks, doomsday prophecies, hero-villain slug-fests, and super-powered rampages of destruction. The Unit, answerable to the United Nations, does its best, but it needs to be twelve places at one time, and mistakes are made that cost the world dearly. An evil corporation has arisen, seeking to control all the world’s super-powered leagues and squads. And a young Japanese billionaire with a grudge against supers wants to level the playing field, no matter how many lives it costs.
The upshot is an action-packed book in which heroes and villains swap loyalties in surprising ways, giant creatures wreak huge amounts of property damage, and flying people, invincible people, shape-changing people, people who can teleport, and many other strange characters, pile onto each other in an escalating series of battles around the world. Brace yourself for a plague of insectoid zombies. Duck and cover as tanks, aircraft, and rocket-launchers square off against mad-scientist inventions and ninja robots. Hang on tight while the Justice League and the Power Rangers, or their nearest equivalents, employ their abilities with rare tactical brilliance in the super-power smackdown of the century. And try not to squirm as the action pushes closer to the date on which the end of the world has been reliably predicted.
Precisely what goes on in this story is too complicated to summarize briefly. Let it be enough to say that it’s exciting, often suspenseful, and at the same time full of thought-provoking ambiguities. Sometimes even the good guys and the bad guys aren’t certain which they are—whether what they are doing is right or wrong, helpful or destructive. Often their actions and their motives are mixed, and the lulls in the action leave plenty of room for emotion-fraught soul-searching. It makes the texture of the adventure that much more interesting. As for who does the good and bad stuff, I suppose there is room in this review for a taster. Among the leading heroes and villains in this story, you will find—
- Aman, the ultimate hacker: a bloke from India whose mind can control the internet
- Uzma, the siren: a British-Pakistani beauty who can get people to do whatever she tells them to do
- Tia, the one-woman army: a woman from India who can split off copies of herself and merge them back in again
- Vir, the lone ranger: a solitary Superman who goes around righting wrongs, and wants nothing to do with global politics
- Jai, the ultimate soldier: a once and future supervillain who cannot be killed
- Sher, the tiger man: enough said
- Anima, the anime girl: a warrior princess with cartoon eyes and an endless arsenal of glowing bladed weapons
- Jason, the telegenic telekinetic: a teen heartthrob who moves junk with his mind while starring in a TV series about himself
- That Guy, the photobomber: a nobody whose superpower is to always be wherever something important or interesting is going down
- Kalki, the boy god: an insane, blue-skinned, four-armed, horse-headed child whose wish-granting ability can actually alter reality
—not to mention somebody who can conjure up a different Godzilla to stomp on Tokyo every month, and a girl whose blood can cure diseases, the guy who can pass through solid objects, the detective who doesn’t need to rely on deduction to find her man, and many, many, many more. It’s a superpocalypse, and you’re invited, along with the whole rest of the world. If you have the guts to poke your head out of the comfortable and familiar and try a new, somewhat foreign flavor (“international” would be a better description), you will be richly rewarded. Only look out for falling buildings, animated statues, monsters with poisonous flatulence, and the possibility of at least a third book to come!
Samit Basu’s other titles include the Devi novels, also featuring Indian superheroes; the GameWorld Trilogy, which appears to be a mash-up/spoof of world folklore and sci fi-fantasy classics; and Terror on the Titanic, the first in what looks like a series of historical fiction-fantasy-mysteries featuring the Morningstar Agency. He is also the author or co-author of several India-themed graphic novels.