All Those Explosions Were Someone Else’s Fault
By James Alan Gardner
Tor (384 pages, $17.99 paperback, $9.99 eBook, November 2017)
Imagine a world where vampires, werewolves and demons all exist in public, courtesy of rich people making pacts with dark entities for immortality and power. Got that? Okay, now imagine a world where people can become superheroes by being exposed to the right (or wrong) kind of powerful energies, with as wide an assortment of powers as any comic book. Good? Take another pocket of your mind and add in things like wizard magic and weird science like opening rifts to other dimensions. And then combine all of this together into a single world.
Still with me?
If you’re not, I’d understand – but nonetheless, all of the above is present in James Alan Gardner’s All Those Explosions Were Someone Else’s Fault. I’m sure some of you are sitting back and thinking that sounds insane. But the X-Files/Cops crossover episode or establishing Bones and Sleepy Hollow in the same universe came with an expectation of a certain amount of ridiculousness, and the world Jim has created definitely has that flair. It’s interesting in that there’s a fast-paced and arguably straightforward narrative, even when the narrative pauses again and again with moments of “okay, I’d better explain this before we move on,” where this might be were-bats, rifts to other worlds that spew telepathic fireflies, university buildings named after rich vampires, or why a cascade of superpowers like force fields and telescopic vision and encyclopedic knowledge and whatever you would call Ant-Man (which is all in the first five chapters) makes logical sense.
But I’d be lying if I said I totally bought a world with all of that and more where average people can still go about their lives; sure, that happens in comic books where you just have superheroes and villains, but even just them can easily lead to a world like Brandon Sanderson’s Reckoners trilogy. Superheroes and villains plus the Winchester brothers’ playground? Logically that’s the apocalypse just waiting to happen.
But if you can accept a madcap world like what I’ve described, All Those Explosions is an entertaining read. It also centers on a gender-fluid narrator, which is still too much of a rarity in our genre, without making that aspect of the character the touchstone of the story (the narrator, Kim, says very early something like “Yes, I’m gender-fluid, deal with it”). There’s also a ton of interesting variety in the other superhero and demonic characters, which isn’t easy in a mashup like this, and the joy of an action-packed story set in Canada that doesn’t feel like stereotypical “Can lit.”
In short: there’s no short or easy way to describe this novel effectively. If you really want to understand how much is going on, you’re gonna have to check it out yourself. But be warned – as my dad says, it’s a bit of a trip.
An Ottawa teacher by day, Brandon has been published in On Spec, Daily Science Fiction, PULP Literature, and elsewhere. Check out Sunvault: Stories of Solarpunk and Eco-Speculation on Amazon now, featuring his short story “Pop and the CFT.” Learn more at brandoncrilly.wordpress.com or on Twitter: @B_Crilly