Turbulence by Samit Basu – novel review

"Turbulence" by Samit Basu.
“Turbulence” by Samit Basu.

As I read Turbulence, a niggling question kept popping into my brain: what, exactly, is the problem with this book? It’s not the concept: all the passengers on a flight from London to New Delhi experience an unexplained phenomenon wherein each person receives a superpower corresponding to his or her innermost desires.

It’s not the followup: government forces from all over the planet, as well as some of the newly-superpowered people themselves, begin to hunt down various supers, either killing them or making them vanish, while other supers band together for safety in numbers. It’s not the flavor: it’s rather fun to see the all-American superhero trope given a subcontinental twist.

It might have to do with the extensive character list. Because there are so many people to keep track of in Turbulence, most characters are painted quickly and with a broad brush, with (for instance) a handsome, heroic Indian Superman pitted against a stereotypical baddie who does everything but twirl his mustache and laugh maniacally. It might be the extensive and sometimes exceptionally gory fight scenes, which often feel engineered solely to show off the newfound powers of various characters.

It might be the Mary Sue qualities of Aman Sen, the novel’s focal character, a stereotypical computer geek whose power is the ability to manipulate technology with his mind. It might also have to do with author Samit Basu’s stylistic choice to write the novel in present tense, which can make the action seem more immediate, but also starts to feel gimmicky after a while.

But when I came across a short bio of the author online, something snapped into focus: “Samit Basu is a writer of books, films and comics.” That, I suspect, is the problem with Turbulence: it is unsuccessfully trying to be all three of those things at once. It’s like a comic without pictures, a screenplay without stage directions, and a novel without character depth. One gets the feeling that Basu was pushing hard to make this into a Bollywood superhero film, and his fallback position was to write a novel instead. And it might just make a better movie than a book, as the various characters would be more fully fleshed out by actors working in a visual medium.

You’ll probably enjoy Turbulence if you love comics or the latest spate of superhero movies, but be aware going in that it’s not quite what it sets itself up to be: a realistic novel about what it would be like to discover actual superheroes among us. In many ways, Turbulence is a high-concept idea that fails to deliver all the promised thrills in the finished work.

Release Date: July 09, 2013 (USA)
ISBNs: 1781161194 (9781781161197)
Publisher: Titan Books
Language: English

MySF Rating: Three point zero stars
Family Friendliness: 30%


Alcohol/Drugs: 2 (use of alcohol)
Language: 2 (occasional swearing, use of deity titles)
Sexuality: 3 (sex scenes between two characters)
Violence: 5 (many graphic, violent fight scenes and character deaths)

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