The Superhero Novel You’ve Been Waiting For
With his new book Turbulence, author Samit Basu has given adult Indian readers something they’ve been missing: a superhero novel that’s full of action, energy and a whole lot of fun. Those who have read American comics may find some of it reminiscent, but it’s safe to say that in the world of Indian literary fiction in English, Turbulence is shiny and new. A plane crash leaves all its surviving passengers with superpowers and it seems someone is out to kill these newborn superhumans. Enter Aman Sen, an Internet super hacker, who has decided to save his fellow heroes. Although occasionally the descriptions of the fight scenes get tedious, the plot will have you hooked and flipping through the action for the next twist. Our favourite characters include a highly disturbing kid who turns into a manga ninja nightmare, a giant-sized politician who can’t be contained by his leopard-print underwear, a conservationist who can turn into half-man-half-tiger, and of course, Aman because he makes us puff up with pride for being without musculature and with geekiness. Basu spoke to us about penning a superhero novel for the Indian reader. Edited excerpts:
How did you come up with Turbulence?
Turbulence is what happened when I tried to write a literary novel about India, the kind of book Indian writers are supposed to write. [But] I wanted to write a book that was completely about here and now. Which happened, I think, but since I also wanted to throw some kind of net around the madness and chaos that is the real world we live in, I reached a point where my characters seemed very insignificant compared to the background. Their struggles to find their places in the world, and [their need to] figure out what to do with their lives, felt like they needed to be slightly more relevant. So I gave them superpowers to ensure that their choices affected the world around them in a manner as dramatic as the setting. I was a bit reluctant about the superhero thing at first, but then I figured that superheroes have never been more mainstream, and there was this whole India-as-a-superpower angle as well.
You’ve written for young adults as well as not-so-young adults. Do you have a preference and what is the difference in the writing process for you?
I see young adults as adults whose parents might not want them reading too much sex and violence, and that’s how I treat them. I try and approach every book with a different voice that’s relevant to where and when the book is set. But I’d never make things deliberately simpler for younger readers.
Was Turbulence always going to be a novel? Or did you at any point imagine it as a graphic novel?
I didn’t see the point of writing another comic about superheroes when there are so many wonderful ones written over the last 80 years. It was always going to be a novel. This is a novel that suddenly got superpowers, not a comic without art.
How difficult is it to kill a character you’ve written?
Very easy when you’re plotting the book. Then, after they become people in your head a few chapters in, some of them stubbornly refuse to die. It depends on the character in question. Some actually survived against my will.
Aman Sen, a Bengali geek, gets to be more of a hero than the alpha male, Indian Superman Vir (note to readers: he can fly and ends up with a skin-tight costume). Is there a sneaky touch of wish fulfilment playing itself out in Turbulence?
Turbulence is all about getting what you really want, so the wish fulfilment is anything but sneaky—it’s what the book is about. But it’s really not about wish fulfilment for me—Aman suffers much, and things don’t turn out the way either he or I would have wanted. The reason the alpha males don’t have that much fun either is because this book attempts to create a world that’s more realistic than your standard superhero comic, where the wish fulfilment is usually much more direct and simple. I’m also trying to look at how the more alpha superpowers would affect the world [today]. The important powers would be the beta/geeky powers, the ones that wouldn’t win fights but would affect the world’s finances, communications, culture, climate [and] politics. Also, Vir looks very good in that skin-tight costume.
Of all the superhumans of Turbulence, who was most difficult to write?
Uzma Abidi, the heroine. Since her power involves having people like her by default, and she’s unfairly gorgeous as well. It was a struggle to make her someone a reader wouldn’t dislike.
Turbulence by Samit Basu, Hachette, Rs250. Buy it from Flipkart.com.