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Superhero sci-fi tales for mere mortals

Edmond Woychowsky, aka Snack Man, offers three superhero science-fiction reading recommendations. Post your favorite titles in this genre, as well as your superhero name, in the discussion.

What geek doesn't want to be a superhero and have some really cool gadgets or power armor? My superhero name would be Snack Man because I have the ability to find something to eat regardless of where I am. I could be on a country road 50 miles from the nearest town or lost in the woods, and I will find a diner, a vending machine, or a patch of berries. Until I develop a more useful superpower, all I can do is dream and read superhero science fiction whenever I get the chance.

I first discovered that the superhero science fiction subgenre was more than just comic books and graphic novels when I came across a series of books edited by George R.R. Martin called Wild Cards. In this series, superheroes exist because of an alien virus. The virus kills most of the people infected, which in local parlance is referred to as "drawing the Black Queen." A small number of people who are infected survive but are deformed in some way (these are the Jokers); a smaller number of people still gain powers, some of which are incredible (these are the Aces); and others are totally useless (these are the Deuces). This series of short stories tells how the virus affects humanity. The personal stories of the Jokers, the Aces, the Deuces, and the rest of humanity are my favorite part of this series. Although the series seems a bit like X-Men (particularly how some government officials respond to the infected), there are enough differences between the series to keep Wild Cards from being a rehash of old stories.

Another interesting book is Masked, edited by Lou Anders and featuring short stories by some well-known authors, including Stephen Baxter and Marjorie M. Liu. In these tales, the superheroes have real issues, some of which are stomach turning. I don't recommend this collection for the faint of heart unless you like stories in which there's a downside for every upside.

My absolute favorite in the genre is Mur Lafferty's Playing for Keeps. In the novel, superpowers stem from a drug taken by mothers during pregnancy. Those children (who are called the first wave) have limited powers, as do their children (who are called the third wave). The heroes (which are rarely called the second wave) have the incredible powers, as do the mysterious villains. (Book cover image courtesy of Amazon.com.)

Unfortunately, for the first and third wavers, the heroes are a bunch of arrogant jerks who prevent those with "useless" powers from reaching their true potential. However, circumstances thrust a group of third wavers and one first waver into the middle of battle between heroes and villains. In the end, they learn that they aren't without real power of their own. Playing for Keeps is available as a free audiobook. (I listened to the audiobook first, and then I bought it. It seems that a free audiobook is about as free as a free kitten, without the vet bills.)

If you read superhero sci-fi, what novels or short stories do you recommend? What would be your superhero power and name? Let us know in the discussion.

And keep your eyes open for Snack Man! I'll be easy to recognize -- just look for the redhead with the donut.

20 comments
DadsPad
DadsPad

contol of emotions is a great way to control the universe. Only the love of a good woman could bring him down. :D

LocoLobo
LocoLobo

I have the power to turn boxes into cardboard! Of course I need my utility belt. LOL Sorry couldn't resist. Not into the superhero genre, but regular SciFi has similar themes; altered genes, rogue viruses, etc. If it is done well, it is good reading.

Jaqui
Jaqui

about Flynx and Pip is always an interesting one that fits this. http://www.amazon.com/Love-Mother-Not-Adventures-Pip-Flinx/dp/0345346890 For Love of Mother Not is the 4th written, but is a prequel that explains the beginning of the relationship. Flynx, the human protagonist is the result of genetic engineering experiments, with a bit of telepathic power resulting from it. When he runs across the The Tar-Aiym Krang his powers get boosted. good all ages fun reads.

mbmckeever
mbmckeever

A collection of British Super-hero fiction short stories. Quite funny actually. The follow-up Euro-Temps wasn't quite as good though.

Dr_Zinj
Dr_Zinj

Find something you're really good at. Learn all you can about it, practice it constantly, become the best in the world at it, figure out as many different ways it can be used, apply what you know and can do. Closest you'll become to being a super in the mundane world.

BobManGM
BobManGM

Look up Superfolks if you like this genre.

Stalemate
Stalemate

I'll have to find the Wild Cards series now, since I never finished reading it. Thanks for the tip. Personally, the last 2 hero books I read were tied to the City of Heroes MMO, but stand on their own quite nicely: (from wiki) The first City of Heroes novel, The Web of Arachnos, by Robert Weinberg, was published by CDS Books (an imprint of the Perseus Publishing Group) in October 2005. The novel chronicles the back stories of the Statesman and Lord Recluse, the central iconic characters in the City of Heroes and City of Villains franchises. A second novel, The Freedom Phalanx, written by Robin Laws, was released in May 2006 and detailed the reformation of the hero team the Freedom Phalanx in the 1980s. The story centers on the fledgling heroes Positron and Synapse, but also includes Manticore, Sister Psyche, and Statesman. The book's villains include Lord Recluse, Doctor Null, Shadow Queen, and Revenant. Artist George P?rez provides the covers for the first two novels, as well as lending his name to one of the early areas of the game itself, P?rez Park. A third novel, The Rikti War, was announced by CDS at the time the first novel was published, with an August 2006 scheduled release date. Authors Paul S. Kemp and Shane Hensley have been attached to the project at various times. The book was reportedly going to cover the epic transdimensional war between Earth and the Rikti home world, however a post on the official message boards containing a message supposedly from Kemp states that the "novel is not to be and [he] must leave it at that. "Developer Sean Michael Fish (Manticore) has recently stated that CDS will no longer be publishing books for CoH, and The Rikti War may or may not be published.

s-f
s-f

Go to www.feedbooks.com then click on Original Books, then Fan Fiction for quite a few free e-novels of superhero stories. Or use Aldiko on an Android device like me to download directly and read... ;)

BFilmFan
BFilmFan

Provided that you do not suffer from Malign Hypercognition Disorder, you might also enjoy these tales: Peter Clines ExHeroes is the tale of superheroes in a world over run by zombies. The former heroes, some with greater and lesser powers, band together to save part of the populaiton of Los Angeles after most of humanity has become infected. I do recommend this noir blend of zombies and superheroes. It's available on Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/Ex-Heroes-Peter-Clines/dp/1934861286. To encouge younger people (think an age 13 boy), I would recommend the Daniel X series. Daniel is a superpowered alien that keeps Earth safe from invading - often hungry - aliens after his parents are murdered. Several of my nieces and nephews have kept my copies in circulation amongst themselves. This is also available on Amazon. Jumper, Reflx and jumper:Griffin's Story are the triology that feature David, a human with the ability to teleport. The novels are very good, while the movie was very bad. Typical Hollywood! Those Who Walk in Darkness and What Fire Cannot Burn by John Ridley are the story of an America where metanormals have deemed to be a public menace that are hunted by an elite police team. Soledad is the main protagonist of the series and she is so bigoted and extreme that even the most xenophobic of her team are repelled. Soledad uses a special handgun that was designed with bullets designed to take advantage of metanormal's weaknesses. The novel's handgun design predated the real world weapon Metal Storm by several years. These novels are very dark; but, if you enjoy Charlie Huston novels, I recommend these for you. Enjoy!

Ed Woychowsky
Ed Woychowsky

A boring superpower? You could bore someone to death. Hey, that could be useful, if I had that power I could be a hit man for the mob. "Boss, Louie just keeled-over after this guy with a donut told him about his stamp collection." I'd be rich, powerfull, and feared. I could buy more donuts and get my own berry bush so that I wouldn't have to share with the bears any more.

cmiller5400
cmiller5400

Quick page turner, decent storyline. Great for those day's where you don't want to have your head explode like a lemming trying to untwist a plot line in a book. The one I'm reading now [i]The Sigma Protocol[/i] by Robert Ludlum is going to make my head explode :O

dirving
dirving

Wow, I didn't even know there was a name for one of my favorite types of scifi - I've always liked Lord of Light by Zelazny populated by mutated humans with special powers who set themselves up as gods of the hindu pantheon. This Immortal and the Amber series also by Zelazny are also good. Andre Norton's forerunner books might be a bit old-fashioned, but are also good reads (especially for younger readers), as are the books of "The People" by Zenna Henderson.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

I survived , but my interest in the subject didn't.... Lets be honest here if you could fly faster than a plane, were strong enough to throw a jumbo jet across a continent, and bullets just bounced off, you'd cream the git who didn't give you the X-ray vision.....

GSG
GSG

I like to read some of the ones that will make your head explode with the plot twists and turns, but sometimes, you need a book that's fluffy. Nothing that makes you think too much, but is still well-written, and engaging.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

As you may have guessed I'm not a big fan of the superhero genre. Something original and thought provoking will be welcome.

BFilmFan
BFilmFan

While I am busy this weekend with some outside of work activities (details to follow in a column soon, I hope, if Miss Mary says okay that's interesting), I got an idea for an article that plays off that subject and something I was discussing with a younger relative on honor and glory and duty.

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