In Hero Years... I’m Dead
Michael A. Stackpole
Twenty years ago someone stole him away from Capital City. Having been released from captivity he returns to find everything changed. The great heroes of his day, men who could move planets or tear apart criminal syndicates, have all retired. A new breed of hero has sprung up to deal with a perplexingly new brand of villain. It’s a world that makes no sense, and a world which, if he persists in playing the hero, will surely see him dead.
In Hero Years… I’m Dead mixes action, dark humor, satire and strong characters into a thrilling page-turner. It’s superheroes facing challenges both in costume and out, battling a cunning enemy bent on destroying all they have worked so hard to preserve.
The Deluxe Edition includes a long essay that delves into the inspiration for and the process of writing the novel. It provides a rare opportunity to look at the process of a novel coming together and seeing electronic print.
I’m sure this blog looked sad and dejected during November. National Novel Writing Month took up nearly all of my time. Book review writing just couldn’t fit its way into my brain during November, but it is December now and I am back to writing these things.
But before I get to the actual heart of the review, it’s mini-story time.
If you go back in the archives, you’ll see that I did a review of I, Jedi by Michael A. Stackpole about a year ago. If you only read the blog, you should also know that I do video versions of these reviews over at my channel on YouTube. I don’t have many subscribers over there and my videos don’t get many views, which is perfectly understandable, but I received an email from Mike Stackpole at the end of September saying that he had seen my review and wondered if I was interested in reviewing his digital work. Of course, I replied that I was and he very kindly sent me a copy of In Hero Years... I’m Dead - Deluxe Edition for my Kindle.
(Don’t worry, I wasn’t this calm about it at the time. I was freaking myself out for days with excitement over this whole idea.)
This book is fantastic. I couldn’t put it down. It does two major things that I really love in story telling –
1. It provides a puzzle.
A lot of this book deals with identity and how that shapes who people are. I mean, costumed superhero stories are identity stories naturally, but I found this one compelling because of how little you know about the narrator of this story. He used to be a superhero before his disappearance, but even then, he maintained his costumed self and multiple civilian selves so that no one could figure out who he was. He comes back to Capital City and he needs to establish who he is again, but the rules have changed and he needs to seriously evaluate how he fits into this new society.
And this is a first person narrative, so as a reader, you are limited to what this character is doing and thinking. It’s one of those books where the back-story of the character is slowly revealed because it is developing into something that will greatly impact the identity he has created for himself and have a larger impact on the city around him. And because he has this mysterious past, he has more information locked back there which makes him really the only person who can connect the dots in the larger plot. But the information is revealed to the readers only when the narrator accepts that information as part of who he is and he has been fighting that for a very long time.
Honestly, I would have been hooked on this story if it was just that, but this book also has this second storytelling element -
2. Distorting a world that you already know.
The world that Stackpole creates here is immediately familiar because it is a superhero book where other superheroes exist. You meet other characters and you think “Okay, that guy is this world’s Superman” and “That must be the Batman of Capital City” and you recognize the hero types. Once you figure that out, you know where you are. You know how things are supposed to be.
And then the world breaks those rules. Superheroes and villains have become a part of the framework of Capital City. It’s be institutionalized in such a way that it’s no longer wild and outside of the rules. Both sides are practically required to use nonlethal weapons. Villains publish where they are robbing a bank or whatever their plans may be and heroes bid on who gets to fight them. Their fights are scored and tallied into a sort of Top 40 chart, which is the primary form of entertainment in this new Capital City.
The narrator arrives in Capital City and is caught off guard by the changes he sees and you’re agreeing with him because this is unusual for you as well. You get to analyze and examine this new world with him and you can see the things that are going wrong with it when the other characters can’t because you know how a superhero world is supposed to work. I love exploring that kind of thing.
And, if you are reading the Deluxe Edition like I was, there is an essay thing at the end where the author goes through how this world and this book came about, so you can actually see the process in how this kind of distortion is achieved.
I am definitely recommending this one to you folks. If you like superheroes and playing with that kind of story, this is a book for you. If you like puzzles, this is for you. If you like self-analysis and character building in your protagonists, this book is for you. If you like mysteries and crime fighting, this is for you. It’s incredibly immersive, compelling, and
You can get it in .epub format straight from Mike Stackpole’s website over at StormWolf.com. The .epub format works with pretty much any electronic reading device, except the Kindle, but you can grab this book from the Kindle store as well, if you are interested.