I was walking through the local comic con recently (Steel City Con). I wasn’t cosplaying that particular day, but Oliver and James Phelps (Fred and George Weasley) were guests so, supportive geek that I am, I wore a Slytherin Quidditch t-shirt.
Strolling through the artist’s alley and browsing various booths, someone called out to me, “Hey! Fellow Slytherin!”
I paused and went to his table.
That man—J.P. Bidula—was selling his novels. I asked him to tell me what it was all about, and was regaled about a story with superheroes in a world with no superheroes. A story about a group of nerdy friends who suddenly—like all nerds and geeks dream everywhere—end up with abilities and powers they have only read about on the pages of a comic or seen on the big screen. A story about how they adjust to their new reality that had become their life.
So a slice of life, coming of age story, with gravity manipulation, someone’s head on fire, telepathy, and a guy who, literally, was a rock.
I was sold.
Unlucky Seven is a novel written with much love and deep understanding of geek culture. Now just because someone is a geek certainly doesn’t mean they can write about it. If this novel didn’t poke fun at itself, if it didn’t deliberately call attention to the familiar-to-the-point-of-ridiculousness tropes it draws on, it would be heavy-handed and unreadable. But with a deft hand Bidula traverses a slippery slope of writing for his audience but not pandering or dumbing it down.
Comic fans will get the most enjoyment from Unlucky Seven, I think, because it focuses on the classic origin story: something gives a group inexplicable super (or extra-normal, as named in the book) powers; they need to learn to use and control them; a shadowy government agency wants to exploit them. Throw in some vengeance, soul-searching, and a mysterious mentor figure, and you’ve got the archetypal superhero team set up.
What sets Bidula’s novel apart, however, is the humor and obvious knowledge of how outlandish the whole thing is.
Even the characters are aware of it. One of them (Justin, my favorite, because playing devil’s advocate is a solid pastime for me) points out on multiple occasions how similar their story is to so many others, and predicts what’ll happen next based on everything he’s read before. Unlucky Seven never breaks the fourth wall but keeps itself within its own universe, which is also a refreshing change from other stories with a similar tone.
It’s also refreshing for an enjoyable novel to seriously try and answer a fundamental geek question: What would you do if you suddenly got superpowers? Everyone wants to go and beat up bad guys and become a hero—or supervillain, if your morals and ethics are skewed—but what about the reality of learning to live with the fact you can hear and experience everyone else’s thoughts, or that if you fly off the handle you will cause the equivalent of a nuclear bomb detonating?
If you really, seriously, think about it, gaining unexpected superpowers means you’d probably end up like these characters. Confused, excited, worried, not able to wear clothing because you’re a nine-foot rock monster . . .
Luckily, you can pick up Bidula’s novel, read it, and be more prepared for a time when you do get unexpected superpowers.
I’m glad J.P. called out to me at the con. He’s a cool guy, and yeah, us Slytherins gotta stick together.
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