All Those Explosions Were Someone Else’s Fault is the latest novel from Canadian science-fiction author, educator and tech writer James Alan Gardner. In it we follow Kim, a university student at the University of Waterloo, a school near to where I live, and the author’s alma mater, as they and their friends Jools, Miranda and Shar come to terms with suddenly finding themselves in possession of super powers, just in time to fend off a scheme from one of the world’s most notorious super-villains. Tons of fun, with a really interesting system of magic and powers, and absolutely fantastic characters, All Those Explosions was a super fun read.
Monsters are real.
But so are heroes.
Sparks are champions of weird science. Boasting capes and costumes and amazing super-powers that only make sense if you don’t think about them too hard, they fight an eternal battle for truth and justice . . . mostly.
Darklings are creatures of myth and magic: ghosts, vampires, were-beasts, and the like. Their very presence warps reality. Doors creak at their approach. Cobwebs gather where they linger.
Kim Lam is an ordinary college student until a freak scientific accident (what else?) transforms Kim and three housemates into Sparks–and drafts them into the never-ending war between the Light and Dark. They struggle to master their new abilities–and (of course) to design cool costumes and come up with great hero-names.
Turns out that “accident” was just the first salvo in a Mad Genius’s latest diabolical scheme. Now it’s up to four newbie heroes to save the day, before they even have a chance to figure out what their team’s name should be!
All Those Explosions has absolutely the best system of creating and defining super heroes that I’ve ever read. Equal parts wish fulfillment, and creative rules lawyering, newly created Sparks tend to become an exemplar of their own internal qualities and personality. But their powers aren’t locked it right away. They have the ability to basically declare how their powers work for a short time, but even that malleable system has some rules. Our superhero squad is advised shortly after they become Sparks that it is vitally important to never insist that their powers couldn’t possibly work a certain way, because that would become true. And when it comes to expanding or refining their powers, it has to stay at least pseudo-science logical. IT’s described as a balance between the actual laws of the universe and the ability for Sparks to exercise their will arbitrarily. The Earth on which they live is closer to the physics side than the pure will side, so they don’t have long to suss out exactly what they can do.
The protagonist, Kim, who becomes Zircon, a superhero with the ability to shrink while retaining human strength and who also becomes incredibly physically resilient while any smaller than their natural size, is given to consider what happens to stuff that isn’t them when they shrink, and ends up just declaring out loud “I have an omnimorphic field. When I change size, anything I’m wearing or holding also changes size with me” and even though that is pretty ridiculous, it’s internally consistent and also awesome, so it works. Later, Zircon throws an object that was shrunk, and oops, it stayed tied to Zircon’s size. Trying to argue “Actually, when anything leaves my omnimorphic field, it returns to normal size” was too late and didn’t work, but then changing size later caused the object to change as well. Things may not work according to proper science, but they follow logic well enough that it never feels ridiculous, always consistent. When Zircon shrinks too small, their voice becomes inaudible, except the fellow Spark with sonic powers can hear Zircon anyway. The ability to hear any frequency of sound was a power that made sense and so it works. I actually think this setting would make a fantastic RPG system. A lot of room for customization, but with pretty consistent internal rules to avoid flagrant abuses. It would also be wicked fun to create characters.
Speaking of characters, Kim is definitely one of my favourites now. Formerly Kimberlite, Kimberley and Kimmi, Kim is a fairly rare example in SFF of a gender non-conforming character that hasn’t just also completely sorted out exactly what they are/feel. They mostly use she/her pronouns, but specifically calls out trying deliberately to be ambiguous, seems largely but not entirely asexual, and actually hasn’t completely settled on exactly where, if anywhere, they fall on any of those spectra. There’s a scene where they are making their superhero costumes, and Jools, whose superpower is being human-maximum-ability at absolutely everything, including fashion design and tailoring evidently, asks ‘how ambiguous do you want it?’ and Kim answers “Ambiguous isn’t the point…Ambiguous can just be a tease. I want out of the game completely.” The process of reinvention and self-discovery Kim makes throughout the book, both in portrayals of the past and their adventures in All Those Explosions put Kim and Zircon high up my list of SFF characters. Fantastic stuff.
For a novel about superheroes that starts pre-origin, and includes dealing with a major super-villain, it takes place over a shockingly short span of time, and so much happens that it could easily have felt rushed, but Gardner manages to strike the perfect balance of action, dialogue and introspection to keep everything moving at a fast clip, but keep it all manageable. The team of Sparks is very definitely new to their powers, and make a number of mistakes and winning doesn’t come easily, but they also grow very quickly into their strengths and make a great team. Gardner’s background in science shines through in the careful crafting of the rules of how superpowers work, and watching the team, science majors all, logic their way through defining and testing their abilities was also very enjoyable.
A second book in this series They Promised Me The Gun Wasn’t Loaded is slated for release November of 2018, and from the excerpt at the end of this one, appears to switch PoV character from Kim to Jools, which I’m definitely also looking forward to. Thoroughly enjoyable, highly recommended.
All Those Explosions Were Someone Else’s Fault releases November 7, 2017
Dan received a copy of this book from Macmillan-Tor/Forge via Netgalley
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