‘Turbulence:’ Book Review

There are dozens of deep and thought-provoking questions that swirl around the themes of Turbulence by Samit Basu. Some of the simpler ones include, “What if you suddenly got what you wanted most in the world?” and “What would you do if you had superpowers?” Of course, just about every comic, movie, novel, and story ever written about heroes has tackled these, but Turbulence takes it further. These simple questions lead to the bigger question, “What if you really had a chance to change the world?” Which then raises the question, “Would it be worth the cost?” Because there’s always a cost.

And, finally, my favorite question of the book, raised less directly, but perhaps the most pertinent of all in terms of the story’s themes: “What’s the difference between a hero and a villain?” The answer to that one may seem simple at first, but after reading the book, you might not be so sure.

The basic premise of the book is one that’s been done in various ways by plenty of comics and movies before: all the passengers of a flight from London, England, to Delhi, India, discover when they get off the plane that they have superhuman powers. Despite the book’s title, there was nothing especially unusual about the flight itself. No near-crash or strange phenomenon in the air, as far as anyone can tell. Everyone on the flight merely fell asleep and dreamed of what they wanted most in the world. And, when they woke up, their dreams had come true.

Some of their dreams turn them into stock comic book and sci-fi characters. There’s Vir, the Indian Air Force pilot, who discovers he can really fly. And, his commanding officer, Jai, who becomes the perfect soldier: super strong, super fast, invulnerable, and unstoppable.

Others’ powers are more unique. Aman, a somewhat nerdy guy who always felt like an outsider, finds that he’s now literally connected to everything: he can access the Internet with his brain, getting past any password and the most secure firewalls in the world, just by thinking it. Uzma, a young British-Pakistani woman who came to India with dreams of being a Bollywood star, finds that everyone who meets her loves her instantly.

Some powers are REALLY unusual. A character known as The Scientist can build complicated sci-fi gadgets in his sleep but has no idea what they are or what they do when he wakes up. And, Bob can control the weather with his stomach.

Some of the characters are idealistic and philanthropic. Others are really horrible and cause mountains of death, destruction, and tragedy. But, here’s the thing: they all have good intentions. They all want to change the world, and, in fact, they all want to change it for the better. Or what they perceive as better.

That’s what it all comes down to in this book: perception. Characters that are introduced to us as villains, thoroughly beyond redemption, become the ones we’re rooting for in certain scenes. And, the idealistic characters, though they may be philanthropic, are not necessarily altruistic and could easily be just as bad as the worst villains. It’s all about how you perceive their actions.

In comics and movies, the heroes and villains are generally pretty cut and dried. There are anti-heroes and morally ambiguous characters, but usually the villains are the ones committing crimes and the heroes are the ones stopping them. But, for the most part, the characters in Turbulence don’t engage in these traditional acts of heroism and villainy. Some of them want to use their powers to bring down evil corporations, stop global warming, and make sure everyone on Earth has food, clothing, and a place to live. Others want to set themselves up as gods and subjugate the world. Going by those simple parameters, it may seem like the line between hero and villain is still pretty cut and dried—but you’d be wrong. Because no one, no matter how bad, considers themselves the villain of their own story.

Another thing that makes this book unique is the setting. It takes place almost entirely in India, with almost all Indian characters, which makes an interesting and refreshing change from, “Truth, Justice, and the American Way.”  References to things like Bollywood, cricket, Hindu religious beliefs, and India-Pakistan relations make for a compelling backdrop.

Parts of the book do strain credulity just a little. Every time you turn around, it seems like they’re running into more people who also happened to be on the flight that gave them all superpowers. Individuals, like an up-and-coming television reporter or a professional cricketer, are believable, but, somehow, when entire groups were on together—several members of the Indian Air Force (on a commercial flight?), or the entire upper echelon of a Mumbai crime family—it seems just a little convenient.

Still, it’s easy to overlook these minor flaws, as the whole book is just so darned fun to read. Action scenes are gripping and intense as newer and bigger powers are revealed, and the “good guys,” whoever they happen to be at that moment, have to find ways of using their often weaker powers to stop the seemingly unstoppable. All-in-all, Turbulence is sometimes funny, sometimes tragic, sometimes bizarre, but always compelling and definitely worth a read. You won’t want to put this book down.

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