Tuesday, December 03, 2013

What We’re Reading: Speculative Fiction

In comic books, and in the movies based on them, it is usually easy to identify the hero and the villain. In these media (and in many others, for that matter), the lines between right and wrong, light and dark, good and evil are obvious and evident. In actuality, the lines between these extremes are rarely clear. That lack of clarity is compellingly explored in V.E. Schwab’s Vicious.

Eli and Victor are college roommates, friends and colleagues in Lockland University’s medical program. While they are polar opposites in looks, demeanor, and approach, they are both brilliant, inventive, and inquisitive. When the time comes to declare the subject for their senior theses, Victor chooses a traditional topic, one with clear avenues open to research and exploration. Eli, on the other hand, chooses a topic that is quasi-scientific. He must defend his topic to his advisor, and even then it is only conditionally accepted. Both men pursue their research and, as the term progresses, Victor becomes increasingly interested in Eli’s theories. He eventually encourages Eli to attempt an experiment, which turns out to be the first of a series. These experiments will fail and succeed. Lives will be lost and altered. Brilliant futures will be derailed. And, in the end, these former friends will become enemies--not simply enemies, but arch-enemies. Victor and Eli are now nemeses moving toward a confrontation that can only end with one of them slain by the other’s hand.

In Vicious, author V.E. Schwab takes familiar comic book tropes and explores the gray areas: The characters are compelling and recognizable, if not always likeable, and the plot is familiar and yet still intriguing. Like other recent comic book-infused fiction and films, it injects super-powered individuals into our everyday reality. There is a cinematic quality to the writing that would transfer well to the big screen (but only if the author’s vision were left intact). The action is simultaneously believable and awe-inspiring, and moves at an escalating pace to a satisfying conclusion.

Vicious will appeal to anyone who wants to take a look beneath the masks of heroes and villains (comic book or otherwise).

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