Science Fiction and Fantasy Association of New Zealand

Black And White Black And White
by Jackie Kessler And Caitlin Kittredge

Supplied for review by Hachette New Zealand

Reviewed By: Jacqui Smith

The superhero sub-genre, while being dominant in comics and doing pretty well in movies and on TV, is not well represented in the actual novel – the kind with many words and relatively few pictures. A brief poke in Wikipedia shows less than forty entries in the category (although it doesn’t list all the Wild Cards novels). There are a couple of SF classics in there, like AE Van Vogt’s Slan, but most are the novelisations of comics. Black and White is, as far as I can tell, an original novel, with no relation to any established comic series. The premise is somewhat original in that the mutations that bring extrahumans into the world are the deliberate result of a mysterious program called the Icarus Project – ostensibly a method of stimulating fertility in childless women. Some years in the future, most extrahumans work out of the Academy of Extrahuman Excellence, run by Corp-Co. Their work, in the main, is dealing with rogue extrahumans. Which brings us to out heroines; Jet, whose power is shadow, working for the Academy and Iridium, whose power is light, who is regarded as a rogue. As you may guess, the authors are playing with the idea that things aren’t exactly black and white, and that superhumans in a more realistic world would find issues much more complex than they are in the comics.

The structure of the novel is doubly interleaved as we swap from Jet to Iridium as protagonist, and from the present to the past as we see the girls as teenagers at the Academy, learning to be proper, well-behaved extrahumans, alternating with them as adults with more adult problems. I have never been fond of this style of exposition, but I am generally willing to put up with it, if it seems necessary to the plot. In this case, it was probably inevitable, being the simplest way to write the story and the background at the same time. The plot is basically about Jet trying to find and take down Iridum, her former friend, as Iridum attempts to find out what is really going on – and the underlying theme is about the effects of having extrahuman powers on the all too human mind. This is most obvious in the case of shadow powers, those that we are told are doomed to go crazy.

And why shadow powers in particular are affected that way is never made clear. That is part of the problem. For me, this novel was ultimately less than satisfying, because the Icarus Project was never fully explained, and there were too many questions left unanswered. One can only hope that more answers are forthcoming in the next novel.

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