Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

PAPERBACKS: Superman soared, creators crashed

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Superman (Random House, 409 pages, $20), by Boston's Larry Tye, is a history of the world's most famous superhero.

Tye begins the story with Superman's creators, Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster, a couple of kids with a crazy idea: a comic book about a guy with superhuman strength who helps the victimized, the downtrodden and the hopeless.

It took a while for the boys to convince someone their idea had merit -- this was before most people had ever heard the word "superhero" -- but eventually the first Superman story was published, became an immediate success, and launched not just a new hero, but an entirely new genre.

The author charts Superman's evolution (at first, he didn't fly) through comic books and newspapers, on radio, TV and movies, his status as pop-culture icon, and the modern-day efforts to keep the Man of Steel relevant (which included such potentially ruinous moves as killing him off).

Tye also follows the course of Siegel and Schuster's careers, which, due to a bad decision very early on, did not exactly soar the way Superman's did. This is a splendid, frequently surprising, sometimes sad book.

-- -- --

Name a major award for writing science fiction, and Mississauga's Robert J. Sawyer has probably won it.

Triggers (Penguin, 429 pages, $14) has a cast of well-designed characters and one heck of a mind-bending story. The American president, brought down by an assassin's bullet, is undergoing emergency surgery at the same time as a veteran of the war in Iraq is undergoing an experimental procedure to purge his mind of horrifying memories.

Something goes drastically wrong, and now a handful of people can access each other's memories... and one of them can access the memories of the president himself. An SF novel posing as a thriller -- or it could be the other way around, depending on how you read it -- the book is hugely entertaining, not to mention nail-bitingly suspenseful.

-- -- --

Speaking of suspense, here's The Survivor (St. Martin's, 503 pages, $12), by Los Angeleno Gregg Hurwitz. He's written a string of excellent thrillers, but this one could be his best.

Nate Overbay, a U.S. Army vet, is planning to do the unthinkable -- end his own life -- when something happens to pull him back, literally, off the ledge. Now he's a hero, the famous war veteran who single-handedly foiled a bank robbery, but one of the would-be robbers comes up with a diabolical scheme to get revenge on Nate and his family.

As if the story weren't exciting enough, Hurwitz has done something daring with Nate, steering him away from the run-of-the-mill ordinary guy caught up in extraordinary circumstances and making him a truly tragic hero. The book concludes with a mixture of exhilaration and despair, an emotional cocktail that's pretty rare in this genre.

-- -- --

The Twelve (Seal, 600 pages, $12), by Texan Justin Cronin, continues the epic story introduced in 2010's The Passage. A century after an experimental virus turned its subjects into vampire-like creatures, a small group of survivors risk their lives to hunt down the original dozen experimental subjects, in the hopes killing them will stop the ever-increasing masses of infected in their tracks.

Believe it or not, this is an even better novel than The Passage: richer in character and setting, with a darker, deeper story and some truly frightening moments.

It is a brilliant sequel that sets the stage for a powerful conclusion to this remarkable trilogy.

Halifax freelancer David Pitt's column appears the first weekend of every month.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 7, 2013 A1

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