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Almost Infamous: A Supervillain Novel Paperback – April 19, 2016
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Before you read Almost Infamous, you should be aware that is very similar in tone to the movie Sky High, or to the earlier books in the Harry Potter series. It's basically a bunch of kids who are thrown together in a weird situation, and they have to decide how they are going to work together and what their powers are going to be. Only it's not EXACTLY like Harry Potter because there is also a buttload of sex and profanity and graphic violence in the book. Although I should stress that I don't really say that as being a bad thing. I loved Matt Carter's sense of humor, and his clever way of messing with your expectations. He is really good at setting up a scene one way, and then having it spin off in a completely different dark direction that you won't see coming. I found myself laughing out loud at least five or six time when I was reading the book. And that's hard to do, because I don't laugh out loud all that often.
In any case, I would recommend this book for anyone who likes edgy, fun writing, and who does or doesn't like superhero stories. If you like superhero stories, great, you will love the Almost Infamous universe. If you don't like superhero stories, great, Matt tweaks them so much and he takes so many obvious potshots at superhero "trademarks" that you will love how much glee he has in taking them apart. So either way you will like the book. And if you like teenagers throwing around the f word and banging each other every five minutes in the midst of all this, so much the better. This is one of those books that takes pride in how delightfully naughty it is.
Oh yeah, and I can't end the review without pointing out how many subtle little movie references are in this book. I am a big movie buff, and I caught references to at least ten or eleven different movies throughout the course of Almost Infamous. Including the fate of one hero at the beginning of the book, which came right out of Galaxy Quest, and a great scene towards the end of the book which is right out of John Carpenter's "The Thing." And there were a couple of others which will bring a smile to your face if you know your sci fi or horror movies.
In any case, read this book. It is a lot of fun and I enjoyed it immensely. You will probably enjoy it too.
And long live Spongeman!
-- Narration: Carter masterfully uses first person. The narrator (who is also the protagonist) is energetic and funny from start to finish. Carter's use of punctuation and paragraph structure captures the narrator's humor and perspective so well that every page is infused with his personality. In a few places he even got belly-laughs and, besides that, there were countless chuckles. Amazon lets you read the first few pages, and I think most readers will be won over by that alone.
-- World-Building: In just a few pages, Carter establishes a fictional world with nuance to rival decades of Marvel and DC extended universes. The book starts with a brief timeline of the history of superheroes, full of nods to well-known characters as well as the history of the genre itself. Hard-core superhero fans will appreciate the parallels, and more casual fans will still be enamored with the complexity and credibility of the world. The amount of superheroes, villains, and fictional or other-world settings, though impressive, is never overwhelming. Carter carefully weaves the world into the story, so that the reader's curiosity is constantly piqued yet confusion never sets in. Also, each chapter ends with an anecdote about the superhero world, with a special emphasis on historical events, which not only provide fun pit-stops in the main arc, but give the reader a greater scope of the world as well as the protagonist's motivations.
-- Pacing: Carter often jumps days, weeks, or even months between chapters. A less experienced writer might show some of this lost time, but Carter knows exactly how much information about a situation or a routine to give us and, once we have it, he describes the ensuing block of time in broad but vivid language. The story never lags, and I never feel that I need more information to understand the characters' lives.
-- Themes: This novel bravely delves into murky moral areas. The characters operate on a gritty ethical gradient, and even the "heroes" fail to be exemplars. Ultimately, the protagonist's ethical system evolves not through an objective sense of right and wrong, but in correspondence with his relationships. Though the novel favors the protagonist's perspective, most of the antagonists maintain a similar ethical perspective, it's just that their perspectives were forged through a different set of relationships.
-- Satire: This category goes along with world-building. This book is a love letter to the superhero genre, but it's also a critique of its values and aesthetics. The protagonist is down-to-earth in a world of fantastic people and fantastic events. While he sees the world through awed eyes, he also sees how silly his surroundings can be, and isn't shy to approach hypocrisy in the conventions of superheroes.
-- Protagonist: After praising the narration, this category may come as a surprise. As a narrator, the protagonist is lively, interesting, and funny. However, when he interacts with others he becomes a bit bland and unlikeable. Not that a protagonist NEEDS to be likeable (though it helps), but he should at least be interesting. His defining qualities (at least at first) are his selfishness and horniness. There's nothing much more to examine. Though his character develops some, I never developed a deep interest in him.
-- Dialogue: For someone who writes such powerful first person, it's a surprise that Carter's dialogue is often wooden. When characters share emotional moments, they tend just to say exactly what they feel, like they're making speeches. There's no sense of deceit, even self-deceit, and there's rarely any hesitation, round-the-bushing, or physical cues. Emotions are just stated in blocks of text. And, as funny as the narrator is, the comedic timing in the dialogue is often awkward or contrived (although, perhaps this was Carter's intention: after all, not everyone character can be a comedian!)
-- Action: Fight scenes are key in superhero stories. A novel must work harder than a comic or a movie to create a credible battle, and most of Carter's fights are a bit lacking. Vivid imagery and better descriptions of physical toll would have made these scenes visceral, even painful (in a good way); but instead they're straight-ahead descriptions. This happened then that happened. Perhaps Carter made this choice to avoid slowing the novel down (he does, after all, have a great instinct for pace).
The novel's strengths FAR out-weigh its flaws. I'm impressed with Carter's work, and hope one day to create art as well as he. If he publishes more, I'll be sure to read it. You should too!
I look forward to reading the next book in the series and recommend this series to anyone who loves the comic book world!!
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I really enjoyed this book. I spent days where I couldn't put it down.Read more