Review by: KEN KORCZAK
This is a book about two ordinary young people who suddenly become extraordinary beings.
In the case of the young man, he’s not so typical because, for starters, he’s 17 but already on his death bed. Pax is dying from a horrific disease called scleroderma – it involves the tightening of the skin and connective tissue. It’s an agonizing way to die.
His only friend, Scarlett, has problems not quite as urgent: She’s a drab, gawky 17-year-old whose lack of feminine grace, good looks and charm means she’s not exactly the most popular girl in school. She’s an outcast and bullied.
But the fortunes of both Pax and Scarlett are about the change in a most amazing way: A couple of meddling “super beings” from the astral world are going to transform them into powerful, indestructible entities with god-like powers – Pax’s diseased body will be replaced with solid titanium and Scarlett will be made of “negative energy” and fire.
If it sounds like an intriguing premise for a thrilling fantasy/science fiction novel, well, it is. It’s made more interesting because there is a decent plot here – Pax and Scarlett are immediately caught up in a game of inter-dimensional politics which will determine nothing less than the survival of the entire human race.
Author JOHN PATRICK KENNEDY writes extremely well; his prose is natural and fluid. He has a lucid, no-nonsense style. He definitely has a sense of pacing and rhythm, balancing scenes of intense, violent action with periods of serene and calm.
And yet, acknowledging all of the above, I AM TITANIUM left me feeling bland and uninspired, even depressed. I’ll be brutally honest: I felt relieved to get to the last page – much in the same way that people are glad when one of Michael Bay’s over-long Transformer movies finally rolls credits.
It’s that frustrating feeling to be inexplicably bored while embroiled in long scenes of spectacular, intense action and eye-popping special effects – while at the same time knowing that all this eye candy is about as nutritious as real candy – empty calories that taste good, but ultimately leave you starved.
The action scenes in this book go on way too long, especially the epic battle between Pax and “the monster” in the latter third of the book. It grinds away page after page and quickly wears tedious – and then after all that, the “monster” and Pax end up working for the same cause anyway!
There are other factors that also seriously erode our reading experience. For example, before obtaining super powers, Scarlett was a typical angst-ridden teen, at odds with her parents, a loser at love (actually, a total nonstarter) and socially alienated. After she gets super powers, she becomes something even worse. Still angst ridden, alienated and troubled in love – even though all on a different level and for different reasons now.
Despite the fact that he’s dying, Pax starts out as a hopeful, even positive young man with a meaningful goal – the study of the astral realms — but after he obtains super powers, he becomes a typical sullen teen with an endless stream of things to aggravate him and complain about.
A long bout of losing his virginity (having sex seven times in one session) only results in complicated “girlfriend” problems.
His dialogue devolves into a series of grunted monosyllabic phrases liberally seasoned with the “F word.”
His own inept actions (such as accidentally killing a street protestor) infuses him with existential angst.
His rocky relationship with his mother deteriorates to an even lower order.
Speaking of mom, Pax’s mother, Dr. Julia Black, is revealed to have a level of humanity barely above that of the infamous Nazi doctor, Josef Mengele – and she becomes the focal point of an almost inexplicable series of scenes wherein she interacts with some AI robots – which is at best, tangential to the entire narrative and, at worst, borders on not making much sense.
However, for me, what is truly dejecting and saddening about this book is that the mass of humanity is treated as so much insignificant cannon fodder – uncounted thousands of people are killed, maimed, burned, crushed, eaten, hacked up, stabbed, flung through the air, smashed against walls, mashed into pulpy lumps of flesh – it’s all part of the collateral damage resulting from the wacky adventures of two teen super heroes fighting to save humanity.
I found myself wishing that a book that centers on an epic battle to save humanity would display an overall greater sense or empathy for that humanity.
Ken Korczak is a former newspaper reporter, government information officer, served as an advocate for homeless people as a VISTA Volunteer, and taught journalism at the University of North Dakota for five years. He is the author of: BIRD BRAIN GENIUS
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