Who doesn’t wish they had superpowers? Being able to fly or freeze time would, admittedly, be pretty awesome. But some people–authors–don’t have to wish for superpowers: They already have them. Here, Daryl Gregory, author of Spoonbenders (about a family with some pretty interesting abilities themselves) dishes about some of the writers he thinks have superpowers. Check out his recommendations below!
There are writers with superpowers—the power to choose exactly the right word, or inspire dread with a well-placed adjective—and like the Joker lusting after the gadgets in Batman’s utility belt, I would love to steal their tricks for my own purposes. But there are writers who are impossible for me to copy, either because their talents are too subtle for me to master, or too wild and varied, like some overpowered comics hero.
Consider the Martian Manhunter, a DC character who possesses a ridiculously large grab bag of powers. He’s super strong and can fly—pretty standard—but can also change shape, phase through solid objects, and become invisible. Oh, and read minds, because why not? His only weakness is fire, though why he can’t phase through fire is a fan debate (DM me).
Comics has the Manhunter; prose has Iain Banks. Banks, a Scottish writer who died of cancer in 2013 at age 59, and we never learned the full extent of his powers as a novelist. He wrote both science fiction and “mainstream” fiction. He was prolific, producing a book or more a year, some topping 500 pages, yet his prose line is tight and energetic, never baggy. He wrote equally well about family squabbles and galactic warfare. Like many wildly creative writers, he would sometimes commit to a rigid structure: Use of Weapons, my favorite Banks novel, unfolds in alternating sections going forward and backward in time, meeting at the emotional climax in the chronological middle—because why not? He could do anything, and had to invent his own constraints to keep things interesting.
Geoff Ryman is another powerful writer who’s written lyrically about topics as varied as Cambodia under Pol Pot and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. In his 2005 novel Air, his superpower is that he seems to be doing nothing at all. He’s like the Watcher, a cosmic being in the Marvel universe who’s supposed to only observe humans, never interfere—yet seems to be subtly shifting reality.
Air is about Chung Mae, an illiterate but clever woman whose remote village is about to receive “air,” the next level of internet which directly interfaces with human minds. We follow Mae through her days as she tries to adapt to the technology and make a living from it. Ryman writes in transparent prose, never overreaching, never putting a word or phrase into Mae’s head that doesn’t feel natural. All the action takes place in her tiny village. The stakes are seemingly low. Yet the novel is impossible to put down, though I did look up from it a few times to complain aloud, “How is he doing this?” When you’re a writer you’re on alert for tricks and tools, watching the author dip into that utility belt for a cheat that will allow the story to proceed. You find it harder to fall into the pure reading experience that made you want to write in the first place. Ryman, however, seems to be simply showing you what happened to an ordinary person—but when you finish the book it’s your world that’s changed.