Burn or the Episodic Life of Sam Wells as a Super • 2020 • Superhero novelette by A.T. Greenblatt

Rating: 4 out of 5.

First sentenceWatch Sam burn. Or sort of burn. Well, more like light up, then burn. But only his head.

Synopsis: Sam has a weak power which he barely can control. A video of his spontaneous combustion went viral, cost him his job and his boyfriend and Sam joined the minority of superheroes. The society distrusts superheroes in general and doesn’t want to integrate living hazards like Sam. 

That’s why he applied for “Super”, a team of superheroes who want to prove to society that they are a valuable asset for all. They mostly want him for his experience as an accountant, because someone really needs to keep the paperwork in order. The previous accountant had a problem with electricity destroying the computers, so Sam found everything in staples of unordered paper – a nightmare.

Slowly, he befriends the office team and then the real superheroes. He’d like to know one of them, Cyrus better. 

Review: This novelette has been nominated for this year’s Nebula Award season (check out the list with references to online available stories and my reviews). Last year, the author won the short story category with “Give the Family My Love” (review) which I really enjoyed reading.

The society reminds me a lot of the Marvel universe. Powers are more a burden than a source for admiration, because people hate that you have an unearned privilege, they distrust you and shut you out of the society.

This one is far more light-hearted but has a similarly touching subject. It seems to be about Sam fitting into the team. But his teammates already accept him easily. It’s more about Sam’s learning to accept himself. He always wants to be in the action team instead of in the backoffice and tries to figure out how he could help and impress people. 

Sam is easily relatable, especially for me as a Computer Scientist – nobody knows what we do, and girls don’t get ecstatic when they learn our job. Add to that that Sam is a really nice guy, a complex character with hopes and fears, lacking just a little bit self-confidence. Over the course of the story, Sam changes. First his expectations what this new group might bring for him, then his dreams about society. 

There’s not much action or suspension in the story, but it’s moving in a heartwarming fashion. A really atypical superhero story looking behind the scenes. 

Meta: isfdb. Available online at Uncanny. Nominated for the Nebula Award.

This entry was posted in Nebula nomination, Science Fiction, Story and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Burn or the Episodic Life of Sam Wells as a Super • 2020 • Superhero novelette by A.T. Greenblatt

  1. Jeanne says:

    An interesting story; thanks for spurring me to read it.
    I’m not sure what to think about the spate of superhero stories in the last decade. At worst they seem to me like wishing, a way to sit home and imagine someone will get the world out of the mess it’s in. At best they are oversimplifications of what it’s like to be a hero, specifying that you have to have a “power” that comes to you mysteriously.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. pdtillman says:

    First of this year’s Nebula nominees that I’ve read, that are actually award-worthy. 4 stars for me, too. Thanks for the review, and pointer.

    Liked by 1 person

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