~by Minister Faust
2007 Philip K. Dick Award Nominee
From the Notebooks of Dr. Brain is definitely superhero fiction, though perhaps not quite what you would expect to come from that particular sub-genre. The book was a somewhat controversial nomination and finalist for the 2007 Philip K. Dick Award, which is given to an "original science fiction paperback published for the first time." The exact definition of "science fiction" is something that is perpetually being debated. And where exactly do superheros and their ilk fall in the spectrum? Like most things, there are arguments both ways. I first learned about the book when it was glowingly referred to by one of the judges from that year, Steven Piziks, who was participating in the Kerrytown Bookfest's SF panel. Despite almost being tossed aside initially because of the superhero element, it eventually ended up winning the award's Special Citation (basically, it was the runner-up). Not bad for a sub-genre parody.
Although the cover says the book is From the Notebooks of Dr. Brain by Minister Faust, a Canadian author, inside is really a copy of Unmasked!: When Being a Superhero Can't Save You from Yourself: Self-Help for Today's Hyper-Hominids, the newest self-help bestseller by Dr. Eva Brain-Silverman (aka Dr. Brain), celebrity shrink of superheroes and supervillains everywhere. The case study she has chosen deals with her work with a highly dysfunctional superhero team ordered to undergo counseling or risk being suspended from the F*O*O*J (the Fantastic Order of Justice): Iron Lass (aka Hnossi Icegaard), the Flying Squirrel (aka Festus Piltdown III), Omnipotent Man (aka Wally W. Watchtower), Brotherfly (aka André "P-Fly" Parker), X-Man (aka Philip Kareem Edgerton), and Power Grrl (aka Syndi Tycho). The group member's external conflicts with each other are only a mere shadow of their own personal inner turmoil and anxieties. And when Hawk King, supposedly immortal and the leading founder of F*O*O*J, is found dead, the heroes suddenly have even more problems that they need to deal with.
I really wanted to like this book. I mean, come on, the premise is hilarious. Super humans (and non-humans) are going to have super problems and they're going to need exceptionally talented therapists to put them back together. Unfortunately, it just wasn't as good as I was expecting and hoping it to be. The author pokes fun at and parodies all sorts of stereotypes but in doing so relies too heavily on those stereotypes. Almost every main character is written with an accent which was amusing at first but I found it to be more distracting than anything else. And for something that's supposed to be a self-help book, it gets too caught up in the narrative for me to be entirely convinced. Not all is bad, however. There are some genuinely funny bits. I particularly enjoyed the absolutely outrageous and absurd names, histories, organizations, and powers of the superheros and supervillains.
Ultimately, I thought the book fell flat, though I know of plenty of people who really enjoyed it. I'm still trying to make sense of the ending. Perhaps I was trying to take From the Notebooks of Dr. Brain too seriously, or maybe I just wasn't in the mood, but I really felt like I had to slog through the book. While I like to think I'm fairly knowledgeable about comics, I'm not particularly well versed in superheroes. Therefore, I probably wasn't catching all of the references and parodies, which could have been part of the problem. So, while at times amusing, From the Notebooks of Dr. Brain just didn't work for me.