Un-freakin’-putdownable! That’s the first thing I must say about Turbulence, the latest novel by the young (well, almost a decade younger than I am!) author Samit Basu. [Ahem!] In the spirit of gratuitous shoulder-rubbing, he is an alumni of my alma mater! [Ahem!] It is difficult to review this book without enthusiastically letting out spoilers (I am trying hard not to gush… Stay with me, people!), but I’ll try.

Basu writes with élan, making an unlikely story believable; in the universe of popular perception that is largely-dominated by American (and occasionally European) superheroes, he has made his superhero/metahuman characters, endowed with extraordinary superhuman powers, unapologetically Indian (to the extent of putting in – without explanation – regional Indian words, such as Bhajan, which may be unfamiliar to a non-Indian audience), and – what’s more – he has made it stick, too. I particularly liked the idea of these characters eventually transitioning themselves, from Indian citizens to citizens of the world, champions of humanity as a whole. Suffused with wit and charm, as well as occasional clever mentions of pop-culture references on the sly, the story takes the reader through an incredible and breathless, edge-of-the-seat, roller-coaster ride of a journey.

Basu’s strength, unarguably, lies in the narrative – a fact which jives well with his authorship of comic-book (a.k.a. graphic novel in the US) stories. In fact, he is one of the first popular Indian authors to have crossed over to the graphic novel genre and done interesting work there. In Turbulence, the whole narrative is so well illustrated with words, that the reader simply has to close one’s eyes in between, and the story elements – the locations, the characters, the events – vividly appear and unfold in glorious three-dimensional detail onto two dimensions, much like a graphic novel/comic book, providing a tongue-to-the-wind vicarious thrill. Therefore, while I don’t know if in the eyes of an intellectual (which I’m, emphatically, not) this would qualify as ‘literature’, but it’s one hell of an enjoyable and exciting story. In fact, c’est brilliant!

Turbulence, by Samit Basu

Turbulence was originally published in 2010 (Have I been living under a rock? Why did I not read this earlier?!) in India by Hatchette India (a division of Hatchette UK). Earlier this month (July 6, 2012), Titan Publications released the book in paperback and kindle formats in the UK market, with the US release slated for sometime in 2013. Why this “wicked-stepmother”-like treatment towards the US, I don’t know; apparently neither does the author. However, having breathlessly devoured, and being enthralled by, Basu’s previous fantasy-genre opus, collectively known as the Gameworld Trilogy, I couldn’t wait. Oh no. I hunted down a US seller specializing in exotic books (via Amazon US) and placed an order for the Hatchette India published edition. It took its time, finally arriving yesterday; I extracted it from our mailbox upon returning from work late in the evening, and thereafter, I was dead to the world. Dinner ate itself; my ever-favorite Rachel Maddow, Jon Stewart and Colbert on the telly came and went their sad way without finding me. Sheer exhaustion from the day dragged me to sleep at page 253; at work in the morning, I found a nice, quiet corner away from the lab, and unrepentantly immersed myself in the quest of finding out what happened to the protagonists, finally taking a breath at page 337. I heartily recommend the exhilarating experience.

If you haven’t read the book, do NOT read ahead!

Immersed deep into the glorious Marvel Universe (Go ahead, call me a geek!), I have some appreciation of comic book story lines. And therefore, I agree when author Ben Aaronovitch (of Doctor Who fame) indicates, in the blurb on the front cover, that the reader “… will demand a sequel!”

You peeked, didn’t you? This is your last chance to turn back without reading the spoilers.

I made some curious and interesting observations related to the “sequelability” of Turbulence.

  • Even with good triumphing over evil through not-so-unpredictable twists and turns, Basu has left the story open-ended. There was a clever switch of focus from the initial characters to the final ones, undoubtedly leaving the doors ajar for further character development in sequels and spin-offs. Particularly, at the very end, the nod to the possible existence of other hitherto unknown superheroes of different nationalities is quite telling, I thought (particularly since Basu is no stranger to trilogies!).
  • Contrary to the usual goody-goody-gumdrops representations of superheroes, Basu’s superheroes – formerly ordinary human beings, with special powers thrust onto them – have no qualms about obliterating supervillains without any moral or ethical quandary. I wonder if Basu’s general background (same as mine), possibly steeped in the violent imagery of Indian mythologies – where anything marked ‘evil’ is fair game for the most gruesome death, made it easier to depict these scenes. It’s true that in the hectic pace of Turbulence, the superheroes and supervillains didn’t have much time to ponder over various ethics of superpowers. Would this be something to be dealt with in a future sequel, particularly since Basu lets slip an indication that anti-superhero coalitions were already forming amongst humans? Will there be, perhaps, a touch of Nietzche?
  • The indestructible, invincible supervillain was stopped finally via mind-manipulation by a superhero, rendering the villain under the heroes complete control (Basu uses the term ‘slave’, possibly to indicate that the humiliation is complete – although this may engender a feeling of discomfort amongst those non-Indian readers whose familiarity with the term stems from a different, and very real, historical context). One can’t help but wonder how complete this mind control is. Will it work like a drug to suppress the villainous impulses, while retaining other faculties? Is it permanent, or will it go away if the superhero in question dies, or disappears or loses the special powers? Or perhaps some other supervillain will be able to lift the said control in future?

So, yes. Absolutely ripe for sequels. So when’s the next, Samit?