Only one book review this week, because of a Wednesday review of Max Boot’s Corrosion of Conservatism.
Night Warriors by Graham Masterton (1986, Tor)
The “realistic” super hero story has become its own subgenre, with efforts focusing on what life would be like for and around a place with super heroes (Powers, Wild Cards, Astro City) to works where actual powers are rare-to-nonexistent (Kick-Ass, The Watchmen). Night Warriors is an early entry into the subgenre and is one of the better takes on it, albeit with one significant warning.
The central conceit of Night Warriors is that some people are able to gain full-on superhero powers… in their dreams. They can, with aid, learn to develop a particular power that is inherent in them and roam the dreams of others. The reason they would do this is that there are monsters in dreams, demons from out of space and time which enjoy preying upon people and whose efforts can sometimes damage or even risk destroying the waking world.
By placing most of the action in the dream realm, the author avoids the problems inherent in the superhero genre. There are no questions about how much fuel the Batmobile carries, no arguments over the structural composition of an unbreakable metal… it’s all in a dream.
Masterton creates a suitably terrible villain, as he does for the four books which continue the series. He also treats the heroes reasonably. Not all of their powers are equally useful, and in some cases key abilities are completely unhelpful against the primary opponent.
This is where Masterton’s tendencies come into play, however. Masterton, in fiction, tends to write two styles of books: thrillers and horror novels. On many occasions through the book, his horror chops are on full display. While he does not focus excessively on gore and terrible demises, this is not a superhero book where all of the protagonists and the key secondary characters will walk away alive and unscathed. There are also no heroic deaths off-camera, where the person will be expected to surprisingly reappear at an opportune point in the near future. The deaths are final and often brutal.
The sequels are uneven, but the book and the series as a whole are fun takes on the realistic superhero subgenre for those who don’t mind some occasional “dark” in their fantasy.