Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Book Review and Bonus Interview - Wearing the Cape by Marion G. Harmon

Wearing the Cape
Marion G. Harmon
Kindle Edition (eBook)
Amazon Digital Services
Cover by Jorge Velasquez


When Hope Corrigan is almost crushed beneath the collapsed expanse of a bombed out Chicago Interstate she realizes that her life has taken a dramatic turn. To be sure, cement dust, crushed cars, leaking gasoline and oil, and the haunting screams of the injured and dying still surround her and have barely settled when she finds that she has suddenly been physically altered. In the midst of her trauma an unexpected superhuman transformation has taken place and Astra, a new, “breakthrough superhero,” emerges from the rubble in her place. Due to the distress of the bombing Astra (Hope’s superhero persona) is now able to lift heavy objects, rapidly heal her own wounds, and fly to great heights at great speed. Her future has abruptly and unequivocally been derailed. But life as a “cape” is not all it’s cracked up to be. Public expectations have gone through the roof and superhero privacy is almost non-existent. Not to mention the target she’ll become if she chooses superhero-dom over the mundane activities of a college freshman. Hope/Astra must now make a decision that will affect the rest of her life.

Wearing the Cape is a magnificent blend of diverse superhero mediums. It contains aspects of the Watchmen (graphic novel), The Avengers (cartoon), Superman (the movie), Iron Man (comic), and Dr. Horribles’ Sing-Along Blog (webisodes) all mixed into a unique alternate reality and then rolled up into one incredibly fast-paced and well-defined narrative of superhero goodness. And, here’s the best part for you the reader. Harmon’s prose is appetizing, succinct, and precise. Where other writers might take paragraphs to write a scene or two Mr. Harmon does the same in a single sentence. There are no long expositions or unneeded descriptions, no monotonous monologues, and no drawn out paragraphs that go nowhere. Here’s an example:

“The honey light of the sunrise behind us painted the city with warm colors and long shadows. A brisk wind off Lake Michigan worked its magic to clear the air, leaving the sky a jewel-like, perfect blue unblemished by clouds.”

I don’t know about you but when I read this I fell perfectly into that moment. Early. Sunrise. Long shadows of morning. Pristine, cloudless sky. And, remarkably, the same precision is used to describe the superheroes, the villains, the battles, and pretty much everything else in the story.

One exceptionally appealing concept here is the integration, the inter-weaving, if you will, of alternate pop-culture aspects into the background of the story. What would a newly made superhero think? What would they do? Would they worry about their choice of costume? Their super-name? Would they read Barlow’s Guide to Superhumans cover to cover? Would they be curious as to who’s on the cover of Hero Beat or Power Week or what’s going to happen on the next episode of Protectors? Of course, the answer is… yes, to all of the above.

The main antagonist is comparatively unique and intriguing, as well. He’s dubbed the Teatime Anarchist because of his vaguely British sound and his published manifesto accusing the US government of conspiring to cheat citizens out of their civil liberties. His activities begin as nonlethal pranks but they soon escalate to Interstate bombings and the murders of lawmakers, politicians, and civilians. But who is the “real” Teatime Anarchist and what is his agenda?

Marion G. Harmon’s Wearing the Cape is not only a wonderful and surprising read but his concise writing style and the interesting twists and turns of the plot kept me swiping pages on my iPad post-haste (and well past midnight on a few nights.) In short, Wearing the Cape is fun, diverting, enchanting and highly entertaining. Recommended to geeks, techies, Trekies, Science Fiction, Superhero, and comic book fans of all ages.

Oh, and one last but very important word about this book. As some of you may have guessed by now my reading list is very, very long. (Trust me, the three six-foot-tall stacks of “to-be-read” novels never seems to get any smaller.) So, I didn’t expect to get to this one for at least four weeks but when I opened the eBook and started reading I simply couldn’t put it down. Wearing the Cape muscled its way to the top of my reading heap and I’m happy it did. Kudos to Mr. Harmon for catching my attention in the first few pages of his book and keeping it till the last. It’ll do the same to you.

4 ½ out of 5 stars

The Alternative
Southeast Wisconsin

Additional Reading:

Amazon Kindle Page

Marion G. Harmon on Writing “Wearing the Cape

Marion G. Harmon Bio Page

Wearing the Cape Excerpt

Wearing the Cape Page

Exclusive Interview with the Author:

Q. Being a huge fan of graphic novels myself I certainly understand the desire to tell a story about superheroes and evil villains. What inspired you to write Wearing the Cape?

A. The whole thing began with the thought "How would the real world deal with superheroes?" Just to ask the question is to come up with a lot of fun themes; for one thing we'd regulate the hell out of them (agencies, certification, insurance, psychiatric evaluation, after-action reports...). And of course we'd make huge celebrities out of them, a whole other can of worms. Not all of it would be good--kids killing themselves trying to achieve "breakthrough," for example, is a statement on the human cost our own fame-and-beauty obsessed culture.

Q. Do you have plans for developing other stories set in this same universe? Is a sequel in the making?

A. I am currently writing the second book, Villains Inc., to be published in October. Behind that is at least one more sequel, and two more books (a piece of science-fiction humor, Worst Contact, and a YA adventure story, Tales from Sitka-By-The-Sea).

Q. Is the character Hope (A.K.A. Astra) based on someone you know?

A. Hope is more of a composite of culturally influential Action Girls--I confess that when I began writing her I was almost certainly heavily influenced by Veronica Mars and Buffy Summers; both examples of why you should Fear The Cute Ones. But we all know somebody who doesn't normally look or act confident or competent, who turns around and surprises everybody when it all hits the fan.

Q. How much time did you spend on research? And what specific sources, if any, did you consult for Wearing the Cape?

A. While I'm not a huge comic-book collector, I have been reading them all my life. In Wearing the Cape I set out to break or twist as many of the traditional superhero-tropes as possible, but this didn't require research--just rereading my favorite titles. One resource I discovered in the course of writing WtC, which I recommend to anybody who wants to consider Deep Questions of superheroes and morality is Superheroes and Philosophy (Truth, Justice, and the Socratic Way), edited by Tom and Matt Morris.

Q. Where are you from? County, City, State… Where were you educated?

A. Another planet. Actually I was an Air Force brat who grew up all over. I finally settled in Las Vegas, where I got my masters in history before going into financial planning.

Q. When and why did you begin writing? Is it something you’ve always known you wanted to do? Or did it creep up on you?

A. I've been writing for myself all my life; if the internet had come along just a bit sooner I'd probably have become a compulsive writer of fanfic.

Q. When did you first consider yourself a writer?

A. The day I decided on a self-imposed deadline for WtC.

Q. Tell us a little about your publishing experience. Did you expend a lot of effort to have your book published? What are the pitfalls? The rewards?

A. This could fill an essay. In 2010 I submitted query letters to nearly one hundred literary agencies. In early 2011 I decided to self-publish so that I could move on to the next book. I'm still discovering the pitfalls and rewards.

Q. Outside of the good versus evil motif is there a particular message in Wearing the Cape that you want readers to understand?

A. I really just wanted to tell a good story. As I wrote it other themes emerged, but I didn't write WtC with a "message" in mind.

Q. What book(s) are you reading now? Which books have most influenced your life?

A. Food for another essay. As a kid I discovered The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia, and those two sets of books inspired my love of fantasy stories and told me what heroes should look like. I am currently reading Bridge of Birds, an epic (and hilarious) adventure in Chinese fantasy by Barry Hughart.

Q. Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?

A. Choose One? Terry Pratchett; he tells beautiful stories of grand adventure and human drama with incredible humor.

Q. What was the hardest part of writing your book? Conversely, what was the easiest?

A. Ideas were the easiest bit. Knowing when I was finished was the hardest.

Q. Do you have any advice for other writers, especially new writers?

A. First, get a reading group, locally or online; without people who will tell you when your writing stinks, you'll never be any good. Second, don't wait to publish until your writing is perfect.

Q. Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?

A. Yes. Comments are welcome.

The Alternative would like to thank Mr. Harmon for his time.

P.S. One of the decidedly worst things about blogger is that you have to have a PHD in HTML to get spacing to work properly on the website. Obviously, I only have a GED.

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