Travel Documents 15:Rectifier

Rectifier – The Electric Man: An After the Crash Superhero Novel

Brian Howard
Genre: Dystopian, superhero, adventure

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The Dust Cover Copy

Oliver Stewart just wanted to be left alone after his life fell apart. He never expected to be kidnapped by a secret lab and dumped in a mass grave, left for dead as a failed experiment.

Except it didn’t fail.

Now he can control electricity.

When the people he feels most responsible for, some only teenagers, are abducted by the same men in their van, the clock ticks down before they end up dead–or worse.

To save them he’ll have to confront his most shameful mistakes, find the lab to mount an impossible rescue, and pick sides in a vicious gang war with far-reaching implications.

This gritty, must-read adventure is the second book in the After the Crash superhero series but stands alone as a complete story.

The Deets

The Scene

Worldbuilding

Howard bases this near-future adventure in a very real look at our current cities from the bottom rung. On top of this painfully honest view of what it’s like to live as one of society’s discards, he layers mystery, bloodshed, adventure, and maybe a little heroism.

If you’re a fan of Luke Cage or Daredevil, this one is up your alley (pardon the pun).  The world setup follows similar tropes: reluctant heroes forced into Great Responsibility, and other people unexpectedly given the power to carry out all their vengances and finding they’re the villans.  All characters in this world are flawed. But some flaws are more redeemable than others. And some people make choices that turn them from broken men into heroes.

This story also goes down the Daredevil route of over-the-top casting for the street gangs, overlaying the very real problem of violence in the streets with a bit of dark humor. There’s also more than a taste of well-done parody in the way Oliver, the protagonist, is presented with the best attempt at a superhero suit that his cobbled-together group of other homeless folks could manage. But the trappings are the sugar that lets readers get the medicine down: we as a society treat some people as things to be dealt with. There are psychopathic doctors who treat people pulled off the street as lab mice, sure. But there are also cops who don’t give a homeless man enough time to pick up his shoes when they’re evicting him from his squat. And-perhaps most painfully of all-there’s you and me; the pedestrians who cross the street to avoid dealing with the homeless. The city people who pretend they can’t see the huddled man in the corner of the doorway. The everyday people who pretend it can’t happen to them.

This book explores the fact that every person-even the homeless, smelly, yelling guy on the corner-deserves to be seen, to be treated as a human with human rights and dignity.

The Crowd

Characterization

The unflinching nature of the characterization in this story is like a cold shower after a hot day. There’s no greasy sentimentality here. There’s no magical redemption. But there are characters who have fallen all the way down the ladder of life and are, slowly, decision by decision and day by day, starting to rise.
This is what I love about Rectifier: what distinguishes the evil from the good is the honesty they have with themselves. Characters who face their own mistakes and work to repair them become better for it. Those who tell themselves they have good reasons go from dark to darker with each decision.

This contrast is embodied in the main characters: Oliver, who knows exactly what he’s done and wants to make it right, and Maria, who also knows what she’s done and sees it as a necessary means to a better end. Terry Pratchett said it best: ‘evil begins when you start seeing people as things.’
Where Oliver continually tries to care for people, Maria starts cultivating valuable things.

The most powerful interactions were, for me, between the characters Oliver feels he has wronged and himself. In these scenes Howard is a master, painting a delicate and compassionate but starkly honest picture of what relationships are, for better and worse, and what internal wounds can push those who carry them to do.

The Lingo

Writing Style

If this was a graded project, I’d give it a B- for overall style. Still completely enjoyable, no question about that, but needing that last little polish. There were a handful of irritating typos that pulled me out of the story, but nothing major. The general structure is well-paced and the style generally evocative, but at times the reader feels alienated from the general story as Oliver becomes lost in his own mind or Maria becomes more and more involved in her own thought processes and less involved with her surroundings. It’s great character building, but a little distracting as a writing style.
The style did depend heavily on tropes a la Daredevil, but like Daredevil the pulp aspect is intentional and makes readers grin, even when they’re rolling their eyes. And the interweaving of difficult social issues with alien ships, secret experiments and crazy street gangs gets an A+

 

The Moves

Plot

A nicely paced and well-done romp through Superhero City’s gritty underbelly. There was always plenty of action to keep the reader engaged, but never so much that it blended into one long fight scene. Time was carefully taken out to allow for world building, character dynamics and humanity in all its many forms and moods. A well designed and nicely timed narrative that makes characters earn their rewards, with satisfying payoffs in the end.

 

Overall Rating

Well, now that they canceled Luke Cage, you’ve got your replacement!