Ulysses Dietz Member of The Paranormal Guild Review Team
It took me a minute to get caught up in Amanda Meuwissen’s narrative for After Vertigo – jumping off the premise of a massive solar flare triggering DNA markers all over the world and giving a chunk of the global population special powers – some merely enhanced, some super. The obviously parallel with the X-Men hovered always in the back of my mind, which is too bad, since Meuwissen manages to craft something fresh – and gay – out of this popular comic-book mythology.
We have a forty-year-old virgin, the brilliant but socially inept Benjamin Krane, who has become a sort of local savior in terms of finding technology to combat those endowed with new powers who choose to use them for evil. One of the clever twists in Meuwissen’s story arc is that the gift of super abilities seems to tip people toward the dark side – magnifying whatever sense of inferiority or being unappreciated by the world into a desire for dominance and revenge. Dr. Krane’s genius is turned toward mediating these newly- acquired powers, and also trying to find a way to incentivize being a good guy.
To do this, Krane needs to confront and trap a relatively harmless super known only as Streak – whose lighting-fast speed (shades of the Flash) allows him to enter anyplace and steal anything. Unlike some of the more sinister supers, Streak only steals, never harms.
So, for all the familiar tropes of other super-hero-sci-fi stories, After Vertigo manages to tell a new tale, all the while giving readers the m/m romance they are looking for (and something mainstream sci-fi is really loathe to commit to, despite all the press that the slightest LGBT hint gets in the Internet). Streak, whose name turns out to be Grey, is instantly fascinated by Ben, because he has never seen someone who actually cares about other people more than about himself in the way Ben does. The development of this relationship is the strongest part of the story. I was less convinced by the stories of the other supers, the bad guys, since only one of them really gets any development so that we understand motivation. There was also a thread of forgiveness – finding the good in someone who does evil things – that I found very difficult to swallow. There is a moral difference between theft and murder that cannot be spackled over with platitudes.
Overall, however, Ben Krane and his motley family won the day for me. The one odd detail on which the author insists is Ben’s fascination with M/F romance novels, putting himself in the role of the female. This is not incidental, but a strong plot thread, and served only to remind me that Amanda Meuwissen, for all her talent, is a straight woman writing romances for other straight women. As a gay man, this kept reminding me that I’m on the outside looking in on other people’s romantic fantasies, even though the book is supposedly about me and my kind.