Thursday, January 23, 2014

What We're Reading: Speculative Fiction

Superheroes and supervillains: The two are always found together. Whenever there is a super-powered threat against humanity, there always seems to be a superhero able to defeat it. But what if there wasn’t? What if the event that created super-powered beings only resulted in evil super-humans with malicious intent, and no comparably powered heroes to stop them? This intriguing question is explored in Brandon Sanderson’s Steelheart.

David Charleston was six years old when Calamity occurred. A phenomenon that resembled a red star-like object hanging in the night sky, Calamity seemed to be the cause when people started manifesting incredible powers. The powers were many and varied, and often they seemed to defy the laws of physics. But if there was a pattern in all of the occurrences, it was this: The only people who seemed to develop powers had malevolent intentions. Now the world is populated by two types of people: the regular humans who were untouched by Calamity’s effects, and the super-humans who now rule over them, called Epics.

In Newcago (the remnants of Chicago), a particularly powerful Epic named Steelheart has declared himself Emperor. The majority of the unaffected population has come to believe that the Epics are invincible and that the only way to depose one is when another, more powerful Epic takes his or her place. But one group--the Reckoners--has started to fight back against the Epics, working to eliminate their rule over humanity, and David desperately wants to join them. In the 12 years since Calamity and the 10 since his father’s death, David has worked tirelessly to research the Epics, discover their potential weaknesses, and strategize possible attack plans, because David has seen something no other living human has: David has seen Steelheart bleed.

In Steelheart, Brandon Sanderson plays with comic book convention. The world he has created is bleak but not hopeless, given the Reckoners' work to free humanity from the Epics’ tyranny. Sanderson explores issues of freedom vs. security as the Reckoners debate the possible consequences of deposing some of their targets. He also explores the ideas of revenge and vengeance as motivating factors to do “the right thing.” In addition, there are plenty of well-crafted action sequences and some truly surprising plot twists. Steelheart will appeal to readers interested in comic book-themed stories, as well as anyone who has ever wondered how humanity could/would fight back if, say, Superman were to turn on us (and Batman wasn’t around with a contingency plan!).

Steelheart is the first volume of a planned trilogy. Sanderson is currently writing the next volume, which will be called Firefight.

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