Image Courtesy of blakenorthcott.com

What if?
What if the person we are in our dreams was who we could become in the waking world?

Volume one of Blake Northcott’s Vs. Reality series asks just that. The book is a raucous mix of the comic-book, a little bit of science and philosophy and far too much pop-culture memetics, with a sprinkle of MMA (Mixed Martial Arts,) just for kicks.

The book is a quick, light read, true to it’s obvious comic book roots. If you have a teenage Urban Fantasy fan in your household, or if you love comics, Vs. Reality will make a nice addition to the e-book library. That doesn’t mean the narrative isn’t flawed. The protagonist, Donovan Cole is drawn a little too thinly, while his best-friend/sidekick, Jenns is a clear cardboard cutout. Cole redeems himself a bit and shows some depth by the end of the book, but I never found myself caring about him. The most interesting characters are Dia and Paige, by far. In their voices, Ms. Northcott finds the humanity necessary to tell a story about people who can become the things we dream. Dia Davenport is a person, not a hero, not a villain: a person. Paige Davenport shows the pragmatic side of being a hero: Sometimes it’s the only option left. Rounding out this group of misfits is stoner/chemist Brodie, providing a touch of comic relief as well as the literal catalysts for the, “manifestations,” of abilities.

The plot is standard discovery and recognition of abilities, as the evil organization trying to suppress people with special abilities looms over our heroes. What lifts this above the trope, is that who we think is the villain, is the villain, but certainly not the only one. By the end of the first installment in this series, Ms. Northcott has raised the stakes to a truly comic book worthy shadow conspiracy, in the best way. What jumps off the page is the author’s ability to write snappy, slightly noir, slightly screwball-comedy dialogue in scenes that aren’t about superpowers or villains. Dia and Cole’s first meeting in a nightclub springs to life, while a later scene about heroism falls prey to an overly-aware tone that’s about as subtle as a sledgehammer.

Most of the pop-culture touchstones are amusing. Yet the saturation in self-awareness weighs down a narrative that raises some very interesting points about science, politics, and the nature of reality. What does it mean to live in a near utopia? What will politicians do to foment fear? How many universes are there, anyway? What are human beings truly capable of? Do we create our own reality? Is society already too narcotized with happy pills and fear? Dig beneath the glossy superhero layer, and there are some very real issues at play. It left me with the impression that some of that glossy veneer is in place so as not to scare off the normals.

I’m not disappointed that I read it, but I’m not completely satisfied with Vs. Reality, either. It’s a fun read that left me waiting for a more direct exploration of the issues it only dances around. With a little more character development and either a full commitment to meta-fiction or a less self-referential tone, this could be a “series to watch”.