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Sunday, October 28, 2012

Book Review: Only Superhuman

I've never posted a book review before, but since I had made some posts on Facebook saying "I'm looking forward to this," I thought I should.

Only Superhuman is written by Christopher L. Bennett and is a hard-science take on superheroes, in a science fiction setting. Without giving too many details away, the main plot is about Emerald Blair, a member of the Troubleshooters Corps, a group of modified humans who maintain law and order in the colonies established in the asteroid belt region beyond Earth. When a conspiracy is discovered to enslave all of mankind, Blair's loyalties are questioned when all is not what it seems to be.

This is Bennett's first original novel, a project he has been working on for twenty-plus years, and I'm happy to see him have his pet project come to fruition. Until now, Bennett's novels have all been media tie-ins, mostly for Star Trek. His stories always have a hard-science slant to them.

First the good. Blair is a likable character, fun and funny. She sometimes uses puns, both amusing and groan-inducing, but it isn't Bennett being funny. It's Blair corny sense of humor and she knows her jokes are bad. It's all part of the fun. The characters are distinct, and while they may not have the over-the-top powers of their comic book counterparts, each Troubleshooter has their own unique power or ability. You do get some of the archetypes: the super strong one, the hyper intelligent one, etc., but I never felt these were copies or rip-offs of existing characters. The science in the book is plausible without bogging down the story in explanations or too many scientific terms (a pitfall of some of his earlier works). The pacing is fast, which is good for an action story and their are plenty of nods to superhero characters, especially in some of the names. Bennett is very good at world building and he knows Blair's universe and how it works.

Now the bad. For my personal taste, there was too much sex and nudity. Bennett has spent most of his time writing Star Trek novels, which seems to have strict rules about nudity and sex, as in, there is almost none at all. While it gets hinted at and talked about in the two Department of Temporal Investigations novels by Bennett, nothing really happens or is shown. With Only Superhuman, Bennett seems to be making up for those restrictions. While I have no problem with Blair being sexual or sexually aggressive, I do feel it was too much, shown too many times. After several intrudes in the book, I was thinking "Okay, I get it! She likes sex! Let's move on." It didn't have to to with Bennett's writing ability, it just seemed sometimes unnecessary. And while I have no problem with Blair as a character being comfortable being naked, there were a few times when I felt it was, again, not necessary for the story. Sort of like in horror movies, where the first victim takes off her clothes with her back to us, hears a sound, turns around so we cane see her nude, then gets in the shower. Really? Was that shot necessary? Nine times out of ten, no. Like I said before, it seems to me Bennett was making up for all the sex he couldn't put into the Star Trek books. The sex scenes and nudity aren't graphic, just too many of those kinds of scenes.

Another thing I didn't like was not knowing how strong Blair was. They always said she was strong, enhanced beyond the norm, but we never learn how much. It is implied she can bench press a ton, but we never see that. I know Bennett wants to keep things realistic, but this was half comic book as well as SF, and the former half wasn't really shown. Descriptions of lifting things, bending things, showcasing Cowboy's gun skills, are never showcased. That's part of the appeal of a good comic book novel but was sadly never written in this one. But, this is also part of Bennett's pitfalls, he is not good at physical description. He mentions plasma guns and other weapons but never what they look like.

However, I do recommend this book. The good points outweigh the bad. The characters are funny, well-written, Blair's history is thought out and detailed, and the world building spot on. I'm hoping for a sequel.

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