Turbulence, by novelist/comic writer Samit Basu, is a fast-paced, fun read about a group of people who develop superpowers after taking the same flight from London to Delhi. Each passenger gains abilities related to whatever they dreamed on the flight, so the core group that assemble are: Aman, the technology fan who can suddenly access the internet with his brain; Tia, the bored (hot) housewife who can now create endless copies of herself; Uzma, the aspiring Bollywood actress who becomes impossible to dislike or harm; and Vir, the duty-minded fighter pilot who develops flight and super strength. Aman gathers them together by accessing the air-logs for their flight, during which he discovers that all the non-Indian passengers have mysteriously disappeared, and the Indian ones are being hunted by a mysterious organization. The latter turns out to be a group of other passengers who are led by Jai, a nationalistic megalomaniac who dreamed of becoming the strongest soldier in the world, and unfortunately now is. Having murdered the British passengers on the flight, he now intends to take over the world for India, with a team of empowered people.
Basu blends tongue-in-cheek humor with philosophical questions about what obligations (if any) people would have if suddenly blessed with super powers, and what would be the best away for them to help the world? Especially since one character eventually reveals a rather contentious power of which she wasn’t even aware.
Aman is eager for them to tackle realistic problems, “the kind of things superheroes would do in comics, except that ‘Rural Infrastructure Development League’ comics wouldn’t really sell well next to ‘Bondage Wonder Woman’.” There is an exhilarating scene where he mentally hacks the bank accounts of drug lords, corrupt politicians, the military-industrial complex, etc, and starts donating their money to charity organizations, environmental protection agencies, AIDS research, etc. I was cheering him on as I read, even as I guessed that later on, it would be revealed that his actions had caused new evils to spring up, and sometimes even done more harm than good: politicians steal more public funds to recover their losses, drug lords start gang wars over who stole their money, etc.
The book is very visual and full of action; just like in any superhero film, there are many scenes where Vir and Jai go head-to-head in useless battle, since they’re both super strong. Among Jai’s henchmen is the hilarious Amina, a little girl who has become a lethal Anime schoolgirl who yells out her moves before she delivers them: “Flying Double Moon Death Charge!” The most likeable, and helpful, character is Tia, who is cheerfully funny and flirty while sending versions of herself out to do things like fearlessly break into military bases, since the deaths of her copies do nothing to hurt the original Tia.
The book is a treasure trove of funny moments and one-liners such as Aman’s lament: “How am I going to use the internet to save the world if I keep getting distracted by the internet?” There are several conversations though that smack of the author thinking aloud through his characters, which can be tedious, and sometimes the dialogue between Aman and Uzma becomes hard to distinguish. I was a little disappointed with the ending as well, because Aman makes an unlikely decision and many things are left unresolved, but if it means there will be a sequel, then it’s justifiable.
Image via Samit Basu’s website