1 out of 4 stars
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At first blush, Superhighway by Alex Fayman is a book that any sci-fi fan would love. A story that moves along at a brisk pace, a god-like super power that almost, almost, could work in the real world, and potential consequences both personal and global. Unfortunately, Fayman’s first attempt at writing a book is an embarrassing self-congratulatory ego stroke that is an absolute slog to get through despite its rather brief 250 pages.
The plot, as it were, is simple: a bright young orphan inexplicably gains the power to insert himself into the internet. Along with this ability comes the power to instantaneously transport himself anywhere in the world, and also the ability to ‘download’ any information he comes across into his own brain. The mystery of why he is able to do this, as well as the potential for good or evil that these powers imbue him with form the backbone of this freshman novel.
Before I tear this book apart I want to note that I do not know Alex Fayman. He is probably a nice guy, and I think that writing an entire novel is an admirable accomplishment. If I had written my first novel, I would want people to critique it in an effort to help me better myself and to improve as a writer for my next novel. I will attempt to critique this book without attacking Fayman himself, as difficult as that may be.
My first, and perhaps biggest problem with the book is the main character. Sure, the adage of “write what you know” is a tried and true one, but the protagonist of this book is clearly just the author himself. The character’s name is 'Alex Fine'; the author’s name is 'Alex Fayman'. The similarities do not end there, as both Fine and Fayman are orphans who grew up in Los Angeles. Again, these similarities are not inherently bad, but I think that Fayman’s closeness to his protagonist prevent him from properly characterizing the star of his book. Young Alex Fine is perfect. Over the course of the book he describes himself (and is described by others) as incredibly smart, incredibly attractive, a gifted runner, conspicuously strong and muscular for his age, and naturally brilliant at flirting and sex. He literally has no flaws, and this is before he obtains god-like superpowers. As a narrator he is not relatable and, frankly, not likable at all.
This leads to my second biggest problem of the book. Without delving into spoilers, Alex does not suffer any major consequences for his actions, nor does he learn any valuable lessons throughout the entire duration of the plot. Arguably the only truly devastating consequence that happens in the book happens at roughly the 33% mark, and does not even directly happen to him. After this event, virtually nothing bad or consequential happens to Alex for the rest of the novel. The supposed 'climax' of the book is a much more personal one, but by the last page it appears that Alex has completely gotten over it. He never actually learns a lesson and is never forced to come to terms with anything he does. There are many points in the book where he does something or affects someone else’s life in a huge way, but all of these characters and plot threads disappear.
All of this would be completely forgivable if the book itself was fun to read. Unfortunately, not even this is true. The book is extremely repetitive, and huge swaths of its pages are dedicated to the minutiae of what Alex does immediately before or after he teleports. One of the most original and clever concepts in Superhighway is the fact that teleportation takes up a huge amount of energy and, as such, Alex must consume huge amounts of food after a jump. This concept is cool, and the potential ramifications of this are manifold. Unfortunately, under the writing of Fayman, the result of this quirk is just that literally thousands of sentences in this book are dedicated to what are essentially grocery lists of the food that Fine eats. He never actually struggles to get any food. The number of computer rooms he jumps to that have a fridge in the same room is baffling.
Similarly repetitive are the descriptions of the various secondary and tertiary characters in the book. Every woman is unbelievably attractive (or, as Fayman usually describes them, ‘hot’); they are also without exception absolutely obsessed with Alex. Every male is described as handsome and muscular, although of course no one is as handsome or muscular as Alex. The only other classification to person which a person can belong in Fayman’s world is ‘old’, of which there are only a few members.
Also questionable, and frankly somewhat alarming, is Alex’s treatment of women throughout the book. To say they are objectified would be an understatement. Females only exist in this world to adore and give their bodies to Fine. At one point, before making (flawless, passionate) love to one of his girlfriends, Alex literally describes the girl as a piece of meat that he has ‘won’, and proceeds to ‘feast’ on his ‘prize’. I am not a prude person, nor am I against the idea of a flawed or unlikable protagonist. Antiheroes are some of my favorite characters in literature. It is quite possible that Fayman the author purposely wrote Fine the character this way to paint him in a negative light. Unfortunately, since Alex Fine never really learns a lesson, nor is he ultimately, truly punished for any of his behavior, I am forced to conclude that this is probably just how Fayman the author also sees women. It is in these passages that Superhighway transcends the label of ‘bad’ and descends into the category of ‘gross’.
In fact, the pacing of the novel from start to finish is odd. The definite climax, as I mentioned, comes at around 30% of the way through the book, while most of the exposition happens at the end. This is not uncommon for books that contain a mystery, but literally the last 50 pages are a big information dump. The book abruptly ends after this dump.
I believe this book was self-published, and it shows. While not unreadable, there are a number of prose choices that even a moderately skilled editor would have flagged. While not errors necessarily, they are questionable/redundant word choices, such as early in the book when Alex says, “I figured a few minutes would painlessly cease the pain”. These lapses in judgement would be forgivable, and probably not even noticed, if the plot of the book were more interesting.
When it comes down to it, this sci-fi concept, while interesting, has been done before. It has also been done much better. Jumper by Steven Gould tells essentially the same story, without the internet conceit, and does it in a much more compelling, entertaining way. Jumper’s protagonist is also a flawed, nihilistic jerk, but Gould KNOWS that and makes sure he gets his comeuppance. On the other hand, the classic 1990s Cartoon Network TV show Freakazoid also features a superhero-like main character who can harness the power of the internet to do good in the world. Freakazoid, unlike Superhighway, treats the material as it truly is: goofy schlock. Where Jumper is compelling, Superhighway is inconsequential, and where Freakazoid is a fun exercise in anarchy, Superhighway is a boring exercise in by-the-book plot points. If this concept is interesting to any potential future readers, there are better options out there.
With all of the preceding ideas in consideration, it should be of no surprise to anyone that I rate this book 1 out of 4 stars. It is dull, contrived, poorly written, poorly characterized, quite sexist, and has been done better before. Literally any other book would be a better use of readers’ time. Fayman shows potential as a writer, and I hope that he continues to write and improve, but this is decidedly not a good book.
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