I know I mentioned this in a prior post, but having now finished the novel, I wanted to share a quick review and recommendation for Less Than Hero by S. G. Browne. It is a story that centers around a group of friends who, by virtue of their poverty, have taken to testing potential medicinal drugs for pharmaceutical companies. Unfortunately, they have been doing this for so long that they have developed… side effects. That they can project onto other people. Naturally, they take this as a calling to become super heroes.
Overall, the book is a fantastic satire of the current fascination with super heroes brought on in the last few decades by popular media such as the Marvel Cinematic Universe, movie/graphic novel pairs such as Watchmen and Kick Ass, and even the old tv show Heroes. It also provides an interesting social commentary on the pharmaceutical culture of the United States, where anything that even mildly deviates from normalcy or complacency is medicated and then medicated for the medication’s side effects ad nauseam. The two aspects combine into a strangely enticing story that feels both relevant and oddly plausible (although that may be in part due to the super hero zeitgeist flooding all demographics lately).
What truly sets this book apart from common super hero pulp fiction, however, is the sharp turn in tone that occurs from the moment the villain is revealed. The book uses its early chapters to mock the common origin story while delivering a cast of humorous and varied misfit characters which lulls the reader into accepting the ridiculous premise on which the story is founded. Thus, when confronted with the dangers of the villain the reader is genuinely chilled by the revelation that his equally ridiculous power far surpasses those of the heroes. It is here that the tone dramatically shifts, as the protagonist comes to the same realization. The book becomes much more serious, never quite reclaiming the levity with which it began, although it does make many half-hearted attempts.
Even in its final moments, reminiscent of a grating growl of “I am Batman,” the book maintains its gravitas and, like any good super hero story, leaves a few threads untied. Thus we know that the hero’s work is far from done, while still providing a satisfying ending worthy of a contented sigh.
I highly recommend this book to anyone who has ever struggled to make ends meet (which is most of us) and everyone who has ever dreamed of having a super power (which is all of us). The protagonist will be immediately familiar to everyone who has ever fallen into those categories.
If I have enticed you, you may pick up the book here.