Book Review: Turbulence by Samit Basu

turbulenceGenere(s): Action, Adventure, Bollywood, Superheros
Publisher: Titan Books
Description: Aman Sen is smart, young, ambitious and going nowhere. He thinks this is because he doesn’t have the right connections–but then he gets off a plane from London to Delhi and discovers that he has turned into a communications demigod. Indeed, everyone on Aman’s flight now has extraordinary abilities corresponding to their innermost desires.

Vir, a pilot, can now fly.

Uzma, an aspiring Bollywood actress, now possesses infinite charisma.

And then there’s Jai, an indestructible one-man army with a good old-fashioned goal — to rule the world!

Aman wants to ensure that their new powers aren’t wasted on costumed crime-fighting, celebrity endorsements, or reality television. He wants to heal the planet but with each step he takes, he finds helping some means harming others. Will it all end, as 80 years of superhero fiction suggest, in a meaningless, explosive slugfest?

Turbulence features the 21st-century Indian subcontinent in all its insane glory–F-16s, Bollywood, radical religious parties, nuclear plants, cricket, terrorists, luxury resorts, crazy TV shows — but it is essentially about two very human questions. How would you feel if you actually got what you wanted? And what would you do if you could really change the world?

Review: The concept for this book alone had me hooked. When was the last time you read an Indian Super Hero novel? I am familiar with some of India’s contributions to our world, but I have never visited the Subcontinent and I have not read any Indian contemporary literature until I read Turbulence. Sure the worlds knows about the Ghandi and Bollywood, but if Samit Basu is any indication of the quality of writers on the Subcontinent, then look out world, because we’ve been missing some real talent. In a strange way, I think that is exactly what this novel is about. From the outside looking in, the characters in Turbulence represent aspects and facets of Indian culture, some of which would never come to mind for the average American like me.
Let’s take Aman Sen for example; first and foremost he is an example of what growing up in a caste society can do to a person’s view of themselves and their worth to society. Here is a young man who has valuable technical skills, but is stuck in neutral due to a feeling of being unconnected. A caste society can quickly negate the technological skills one has by virtue of a low birth. Now not being from India I know there are many more points and social statements being made in this book than I could every describe or even catch, but in the end, the book felt more like a story and less like a social commentary, and for that I was thankful.
For people who do not normally travel or do not study cultures other than their own some of this book will be lost on you. Let’s look at the game of Cricket as an example of this. To say Cricket is Indians like Baseball is to Americans would be the understatement of the year. Sure Baseball is the American pastime, but to a country like India Cricket is so much more. Cricket is the great equalizer, Cricket has allowed India to compete with and often “conquer” not only their neighbors but even former or current super powers. You say but Cricket is just a sport, but that is a huge mistake, it is a source of national pride, a unifying mechanism, a way to fight Pakistan with little or no bloodshed and much more than this American will ever know. Basu uses Cricket and many other well known staple of Indian society and culture to give the rest of us an intimate peek into subtle yet prevalent outlooks than many Indians must have. Like Aman India is a Techno savvy country that goes almost unrecognized. Like Uzma India has a charm that is infectious, Even Vir the flying pilot is torn between his sense of duty to his country, while trying to make the entire world a better place and with all of these characters there is a hesitation and a self doubt.
I got all of that and more by reading Turbulence. The book starts out strong and actually ends up stronger, but there were a few times where the whole hesitancy to embrace the current situation got a little old, I feel like this was on purpose, but I want people with super powers to own them, not lease them in hopes a better offer will come along. My other big complaint was as developed as the characters were still felt like many important aspects of their histories were left out and as a reader I didn’t have a good foundation to built my reader character relationship on. The character that I felt needed the most development was Jai, we meet him early on in the book, get a brief glimpse of his silhouette but not much else until much later in the book and by then it is almost too late.
Basu did a wonderful job of strategically just the right amount of pop culture references in the just the right places and in the right quantities. I have read so many authors who try to insert stuff like this into their books to seem hip and cool and in the end they often come off as just being lame. Basu is a nerd and a geek and he isn’t afraid to let those flags fly in his writing, good for him. There were some things about Indian culture that I know I missed, but at no time did I feel like I was being excluded or even being left behind and I appreciate that Basu didn’t punish me for not being Indian.
Basu did a really good job with this novel, he gave his characters some interesting powers and was able to include some interesting social commentary without getting on a soap box. There are some things I would change about this book, but not many. I really enjoyed the flow of this book and the fact that I did get to know some of the characters better as the book progressed. I’m really excited to read more of Samit Basu’s work.

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About Cape Rust

Cape has led a life of adventure and excitement. Born and raised in San Antonio, Texas he joined the Army where he served six years as a Military Policeman and six years as an All Source Intelligence Analyst. He served in such diverse places as South Korea, Germany, Bosnia, Serbia, Hungary, Croatia, Kansas, Alabama, Kentucky and Arizona. After leaving the Army he spent 4 years training African Soldiers for peacekeeping missions. After visiting ten different African nations (some several times) he developed training materials for counter IED training. He now builds web sites for the Army. He enjoys PC Gaming, Table Top RPGs, reading and shooting. He has been married to his wife Laurie for almost 18 years and has two daughters Mallie and Megan. He is currently the caretaker of one of the world’s largest corgis Truman and a clowder of cats that includes Midnight, Smokey and Tum Tum Monster Destroyer.