Anyone who’s ever read my stories might have noticed that I like to endow my heroes with somewhat freakish abilities, whether it’s amazing combat skills or photographic memory or super-keen senses, or whatever. The result of their unconventional upbringing and intense overcompensation for something. I just go for that. It gives me no end of thrills.
So this time around, I supercharged it. For my latest series, The Obsidian Files, I’ve dreamed up a band of escapees from a secret research facility. Unscrupulous scientists trying at all costs to create supersoldiers. My renegade heroes rebelled and fled, refusing to let themselves be used. Twelve years later they’re still trying to stay under the radar, living the closest thing to a normal life that they can achieve with their fake identities, keeping their abilities a deep, dark secret. Always living under the ominous shadow of recapture.
I could not wait to play around with actual superhuman powers. The very idea makes me bounce in my chair with delight. My young son and I love to watch those documentaries you sometimes find on TV about real-life superheroes; i.e., the guy who is so fast he can deflect bullets with the blade of his sword, the dude who can climb Mr. Everest’s icy slopes barefoot in his underpants without getting chilled, the guy who can run and run for days at a time and never get tired all because of some peculiarity in his muscle fiber. These people really exist. Their abilities have been exhaustively documented. And it’s a very small leap—not even a leap, really, just a small, shuffling step, to think of science-minded entrepreneurs rubbing their hands together and plotting world dominion. What would it take to study, control, duplicate these abilities? How could they be weaponized, mass produced? Monetized?
My wild imagination has leapfrogged right over the righteous law-abiding government types who would be interested in such things for the sake of patriotism and national security, and has zipped straight onward to those more unscrupulous, who would do it purely for power and wealth. And that’s the crux of it. It’s all about power, and power corrupts. This is problematic, when it comes to heroes. The more powerful you make them, the more heroic and incorruptible they need to be. But I don’t like Dudley DoRight type heroes, either. I like difficult alpha bad boys.
It’s a tall order. Lots of plates to juggle all at once. Powerful, complicated, problematic men, mmm, yes please. I’ll go there.
It’s worth noting that all these ideas I’m playing with come straight out of fluff science articles I read on my daily newsfeed. I’m talking pop-culture, probably outdated stuff that has been watered down and simplified for mass consumption; articles about mind control, genetically engineered super muscle fiber in mice, piloting fighter planes using a direct brain implant, etc. etc. On Yahoo, no less! It unnerves me to imagine what unscrupulous researchers might be doing in secret behind closed doors, and how long they might have been doing it already.
But I prefer write out my nightmare scenarios and populate them with hot hard-bodied heroes who can save the day, rather than oh, I don’t know. Choffing layer cake or cowering under the bed, maybe.
I’ve noticed, too, that my heroes tend to acquire super-abilities that are relevant to me while I’m writing. For instance, Noah Gallagher in Right Through Me, the first book in the series, informed me one day that his biotech specialty was his eyes. Ultra-super eyes that saw in the dark, saw for miles, saw microscopic things. Near, far, big, small, peripheral, infrared, thermal imaging, more color receptors, you name it, he could see it in incredible detail. Interesting how that happened right after my optometrist started trying to convince me that I needed bifocals.
Same thing with enhanced learning. My genetically enhanced heroes and heroes have super-mega-enhanced neuroplasticity. They can’t forget stuff even if they wanted to. What a fabulous fantasy to wallow in after I wander into the kitchen and can’t for the life of me remember what the hell it was that I wanted to get in there. Damn, I want that rock-solid long and short-term memory.
And if I can’t have it, screw it! I’ll write stories about it!
I love superpowers because they raise the stakes even higher. My Obsidian heroes have all been used and abused. They have every reason to be angry, twisted and resentful, and with their incredible abilities, they could get away with any kind of crime. But each in his own way chooses not to give into the dark side. Each is forged in fire.
But the bad guys know that they could tear the world apart with their bare hands if they felt like it. So paradoxically, my heroes’ immense power makes them even more isolated, more beleaguered, more vulnerable. They must constantly bear the burden of secrecy and silence. Which makes love a still more dangerous proposition! Ah, the conflict!
Because let’s be real … nothing is as scary as facing fear … and choosing love.
When it comes to that, superpowers or no superpowers, we’re all on equal ground.
Shannon is giving away digital copies of Right Through Me to two lucky readers. Just make a comment below to be entered into this giveaway. Her most recent book is My Next Breath.