Su­per­man soared, cre­ators crashed

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - ARTS & LIFE - By David Pitt

SU­PER­MAN (Ran­dom House, 409 pages, $20), by Bos­ton’s Larry Tye, is a his­tory of the world’s most fa­mous su­per­hero.

Tye be­gins the story with Su­per­man’s cre­ators, Jerry Siegel and Joe Schus­ter, a cou­ple of kids with a crazy idea: a comic book about a guy with su­per­hu­man strength who helps the vic­tim­ized, the down­trod­den and the hope­less.

It took a while for the boys to con­vince some­one their idea had merit — this was be­fore most peo­ple had ever heard the word “su­per­hero” — but even­tu­ally the first Su­per­man story was pub­lished, be­came an im­me­di­ate suc­cess, and launched not just a new hero, but an en­tirely new genre.

The au­thor charts Su­per­man’s evo­lu­tion (at first, he didn’t fly) through comic books and news­pa­pers, on ra­dio, TV and movies, his sta­tus as pop-cul­ture icon, and the mod­ern-day ef­forts to keep the Man of Steel rel­e­vant (which in­cluded such po­ten­tially ru­inous moves as killing him off).

Tye also fol­lows the course of Siegel and Schus­ter’s ca­reers, which, due to a bad de­ci­sion very early on, did not ex­actly soar the way Su­per­man’s did. This is a splen­did, fre­quently sur­pris­ing, some­times sad book.

Name a ma­jor award for writ­ing science fic­tion, and Mis­sis­sauga’s Robert J. Sawyer has prob­a­bly won it.

Trig­gers (Pen­guin, 429 pages, $14) has a cast of well-de­signed char­ac­ters and one heck of a mind-bend­ing story. The Amer­i­can pres­i­dent, brought down by an as­sas­sin’s bul­let, is un­der­go­ing emer­gency surgery at the same time as a vet­eran of the war in Iraq is un­der­go­ing an ex­per­i­men­tal pro­ce­dure to purge his mind of hor­ri­fy­ing mem­o­ries.

Some­thing goes dras­ti­cally wrong, and now a hand­ful of peo­ple can ac­cess each other’s mem­o­ries... and one of them can ac­cess the mem­o­ries of the pres­i­dent him­self. An SF novel pos­ing as a thriller — or it could be the other way around, depend­ing on how you read it — the book is hugely en­ter­tain­ing, not to men­tion nail-bit­ingly sus­pense­ful.

Speak­ing of sus­pense, here’s The Sur­vivor (St. Martin’s, 503 pages, $12), by Los An­ge­leno Gregg Hur­witz. He’s writ­ten a string of ex­cel­lent thrillers, but this one could be his best.

Nate Over­bay, a U.S. Army vet, is plan­ning to do the un­think­able — end his own life — when some­thing hap­pens to pull him back, lit­er­ally, off the ledge. Now he’s a hero, the fa­mous war vet­eran who sin­gle-hand­edly foiled a bank rob­bery, but one of the would-be rob­bers comes up with a di­a­bol­i­cal scheme to get re­venge on Nate and his fam­ily.

As if the story weren’t ex­cit­ing enough, Hur­witz has done some­thing dar­ing with Nate, steer­ing him away from the run-of-the-mill or­di­nary guy caught up in ex­tra­or­di­nary cir­cum­stances and mak­ing him a truly tragic hero. The book con­cludes with a mix­ture of ex­hil­a­ra­tion and de­spair, an emo­tional cock­tail that’s pretty rare in this genre.

The Twelve (Seal, 600 pages, $12), by Texan Justin Cronin, con­tin­ues the epic story in­tro­duced in 2010’s The Pas­sage. A cen­tury af­ter an ex­per­i­men­tal virus turned its sub­jects into vam­pire-like crea­tures, a small group of sur­vivors risk their lives to hunt down the orig­i­nal dozen ex­per­i­men­tal sub­jects, in the hopes killing them will stop the ever-in­creas­ing masses of infected in their tracks.

Be­lieve it or not, this is an even bet­ter novel than The Pas­sage: richer in char­ac­ter and set­ting, with a darker, deeper story and some truly fright­en­ing mo­ments.

It is a bril­liant se­quel that sets the stage for a pow­er­ful con­clu­sion to this re­mark­able tril­ogy.

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