Good heavens, why didn’t anybody warn me that this is an Issue story?
Actually, I’m sure everyone did; that’s what I get for not reading reviews carefully before buying a book, but I was avoiding spoilers. Wow, did I get caught. In its way, HERO is just as preachy as one of those awful seventeenth-century stories for children — you know, like
“James Janeway’s A token for children: Being an exact account of the conversion, holy and exemplary lives and joyful deaths of several young children. Published in 1671, Janeway’s morbidly titled work, which underwent several editions and remains available today, enjoyed vast nineteenth-century popularity on both sides of the Atlantic. As the title suggests, all the children invariably die at tender ages after converting heathen Turks or rebuking wayward parents and frivolous siblings.”
Which I didn’t know about that particular example specifically; I got that here. But we’ve all heard of the exemplary-life morally-uplifting stories for children, right?
And you thought those were confined to the seventeenth century? Hah.
I know that HERO has gotten lots of rave reviews, but you know why that is? Because (I surmise) the Gay Pride message is one that reviewers like and want to support, and therefore they want to like and support HERO and convince themselves it’s a great book. But for me, this story is way too heavy-handed on the preaching. Just in case the reader is in any danger of missing the point, not that that is even vaguely possible, the preface by Stan Lee points it out explicitly for you. I should have known right then that the Message was going to rule the story. Does it ever.
Even if I didn’t mind the preachiness — and if the writing was good enough, I could forget the Message and enjoy the story — but the eye-rolling levels of self-absorbed stupidity displayed by the protagonist (Tom), well, it’s just painful. You know, when a guy gets himself into a horribly embarrassing situation, to me that is not funny, it is just embarrassing. And when a guy gets himself into horribly embarrassing situations over and over because he is a self-absorbed idiot, that’s worse. I am sure some reviewers also have a much, much higher tolerance for this kind of protagonist than I do, which would be another reason they might rate this one so much more highly than I do. I never used to watch sitcoms, either, because I just detest the embarrassing type of humor.
Who should read this book: if you want an inclusive title for your school library, then sure, why not, I guess. But the painfully ineffectual protagonist is surely going to be a turn-off for anyone who prefers main characters who are competent and intelligent.
Quality of the writing: just fair. In my opinion, and here I am perhaps biased because I was so disgusted by the protagonist’s inability to cope, but to me the writing itself is pretty boring and flat. Though I rather liked Ruth. Until she was given her own Message to deliver, and then I was pretty much like: Oh you have to be kidding me, enough with the Messages already!
Plausibility of various plot elements: poor. Talk about eye rolling. I don’t know how many times I said “OH COME ON YOU CAN’T BE SERIOUS” out loud while driving. It would be much easier to provide examples if I’d been reading a paper copy, but it’s hard to make notes while driving. But for example the incredibly pat mis-identification of Snake as the big bad guy was hard to swallow, and then the overwhelming stupidity of Tom’s big reveal he-was-with-me-that-night, I could hardly bear it; how could Tom possibly not just say, “No, sorry, you’ve got the wrong guy, he and I went out for coffee that night,” and shrug like it was no big deal?
Update: After thinking about it . . . the plausibility issues get worse and worse. Every single battle scene is totally unbelievable. The holding the building up bodily? We all know the building would crumble around you and leave you holding up a small stack of bricks, right? The idea that a falling building would kill “thousands” of people? How exactly is one falling building going to do that? The motivation of the big bad guy? Insanely ridiculous. Societal attitudes toward homosexuality? And toward a hero who causes a lot of unavoidable damage saving the world? Totally, absolutely unbelievable.
The Message: Laid on with a trowel, I can’t even tell you.
Who does it better: I’m stepping out of YA here, but the SHADOW UNIT series by Emma Bull et al? I have been working my way through those for a while, so they leap immediately to mind because they are way, way better. On a scale of one to ten for effective message delivery, I’d give HERO a two and SHADOW UNIT a ten. The latter has much snappier dialogue, far more compelling edge-of-the seat plotting, vastly better characterization, and gay characters who are competent, interesting, complex, and well-rounded. Also, societal attitudes toward homosexuality are both more believable and presented more sympathetically in the SHADOW UNIT series than in HERO.
But, though I immediately thought of an adult series, there have just got to be YA stories that do it better than HERO. Brian Katcher’s contemporary YA ALMOST PERFECT comes immediately to mind, but of course it is contemporary. Anybody else got an example in the SFF genres?