From Nobody to Somebody
A review of Bob Proehls Nobody People and Somebody People
You know, trilogies are really popular. I wasn’t too aware of two book series, a duology (a pair of related novels, plays, or movies), until I read Bob Proehls, The Nobody People (Del Rey September 3, 2019 )and The Somebody People (Del Rey September 1, 2020.) (Quick aside, Del Rey is quickly becoming one of my favorite publishers.) Bobs take on mutants, or as he calls them Resonant, is very intriguing. He tackles all different sorts of powers while at the same time crafting an interwoven story of being different, time travel, and the human condition. The books together create a very amazing story that overlaps. Due to this, I will most likely not keep them separated in the following review, so with that Spoilers Ahead.
One of my favorite things about this book series is the exploration of powers. I know when we see superpowers in fiction, a la Heros or X-men. A lot of the time everyone has absolutely amazing powers and though some people are cooler than others everyones is cool in their own way. I mean, I cannot tell you a mainline super hero story that has someone who can craft music out of thoughts, this book has that. This book series tackles powers differently. Not all powers are what you would call cool, but they each have their own use. For example there is someone who can puke up a metal like substance and make statues out of them. Not exactly the most amazing power in the world, but in the end a power, and something that makes them different from regular humans. We meet many minor characters like this throughout the book that have minor powers, though most of our main characters have the really cool powers.
One thing Bob adds to the series I really enjoyed was the Hive. This was a psychic space in which Resonants could escape to and talk to other Resonants. They leave their physical body and enter one of the mind, their Hive Body. It existed somewhere in a dimension close to the Source of their power and allowed a private space for Resonants to exist. I found this to be a very cool twist on the munant story, especially with exploring the source of their powers. It was also very different in that Resonants sometimes needed to hide from the Hive so other Resonants could not find them, and when they developed their powers they would start to appear in the Hive, sometimes before they even knew they had powers.
The tale of the Resonants starts when the US tests the nuclear bomb the first time, that opens up something that gives humans powers. This is where Kevin and Raymond get their powers, both Professor X like mind powers. This is also where the battle of good and evil starts in this story. Though Kevin and Raymond are lovers over time their belief for the future of Resonants splinters. Kevin believes that over time they can integrate into society and go public, which is a big part of the first book. Raymond sees the possible horrors of what will happen if the public learns about Resonants and changes his focus to controlling all he can to save himself. This ends up in a battle in which Raymond is beaten by Kevin and cast into the Hive which fuels the conflict that spans book 1 and 2.
Another aspect of the books that are explored is Resonant culture. They quickly developed their own culture, finding each other and starting commune and private communities. Before they are out in the public this allows them to live a life being themselves, not hiding their abilities. Though in most of the communes they need to hide from the public as their abilities are physical, like tree bark for skin, which causes them to need to hide. Sometimes, powerful Resonants even use their ability for less than moral purposes to set up these communities, manipulating people to sell them houses and land.
The first book, The Nobody People follows Avi Hirsch, his wife Kay and their daughter Emmeline Hirsch. Avi is an investigative journalist, Kay is a lawyer, and Emmeline is a powerful Resonant, most likely the most powerful one there has ever been. Through the events that unfold due to secrets, plots and disceptions by both themselves and others their family story ends up being a tragedy. A lot is on the line with their story, and at the center of it stands a little girl who could possibly save the world. Avi ends up being a tool in the game Kevin is playing and so does Kay, one that brings Resonants public and turns the world of The Nobody People on its head.
After the reveal of the Resonants to the public the book is off running. We continue to explore the mystery of Owen, a Resonant with the ability to take the real world into his void, destroying what is touched, and who controls him. I won’t spoil this because the twist in this book took me for a major loop which was much appreciated as I did not see it coming. The book also takes us on the adventure of what happens once humans know about Resonants and it goes about as expected. A war breaks out, an underground militia starts kidnapping Resonants and putting them in “camps” which devices to tamper their powers. The world is on the brink of all out war and no one appears safe. That is when the event happens, Fahima, a Resonant with the power to talk to tech, creates a device which can give more people powers and using Emmeline as the battery she powers the device. This is where the world of this book is turned on its head a second time, the world is changed with more people suddenly having powers and the balance is shifted.
Racism is a key motif throughout both books. Bob explores Human on Resonant racism, Resonant on Human racism and even Resonant on Resonant racism. One of the more interesting things that happens in book one is a dealing in Congress. An old hyper religious congressman hates Resonants, and there is a bill on the floor to vote for more rights for Resonants. While after the event he gets powers, which he then strikes down the bill and kills himself because he hates what he becomes. I found this very interesting as there is a lot of talk about people who hate people until they get to know them, but people like this congressman, filled with so much hate, exist in the real world and in Bob’s crafted world. I very much enjoyed this exploration of people that he takes us on.
The second book, The Somebody People, takes place 7 years after the first book. This book has a lot more flashbacks to explain how we got where we are today, and really explores Kevin and Raymond’s story. The book does a great job crafting a new world, one in which the US is destroyed with the Resonant winning the war. This new world is made for them while outcasting regular humans or Damps as they call them. It also deals with the social political issues of war, both nationally and abroad and what will happen when Homo Sapien is replaced by Resonants.
Though most of the war takes place in the first book I would say the second book is overall a darker story. In book one Kevin crafts such a world of hope, and tells the story of a world made better by Resonants. Of course the humans react poorly but when finally in control Resonants really become the new oppressors. Nothing changes other than who is in power. The world is absolutely amazing for Resonants but it is bad for regular humans and many die, even by causes that would have been treatable before the war.
On top of all that the “Good Guy” Resonants still have to deal with an internal threat to the Resonant community. There is something going on, a darkness being cast over the Hive and zapping the life out of some Resonants, making them soulless warriors for an unknown cause. This is the war of the second book, the war between Resonant’s and their differing ideologies. It crafts an intriguing story, a really human story told through fantasy, which in the end has a ton of hope in it.
I cannot help but look at these books as Bob’s take on current life and conflict crafted through a story. There are a lot of motifs that drive this story, from racism, to despair to hope. Bob does a really good job exploring these, though at times a little over the top in tongue and cheek comments on current social issues. Some I wonder if they will age well. Though overall he really explores a divided America through amazing story crafting. He latches onto emotions like fear, differences and the evolving complexities of life and creates a story filled with suspense and really great characters. I couldn’t put the second book down finishing the 604 page story in just a week.
Overall I thought The Nobody People was the better of the two books, but that is because I love world building and that is what the first book is about. Both The Nobody People and The Somebody People are amazing books. I left a lot out of this review not to spoil the fun. If you like the X-men, if you like Heroes, if you like superheroes in general I implore you to go out and The Nobody People and The Somebody People. Hey, with the time of year maybe it can even be a christmas gift to yourself. It truly was a great work of fiction, one I wouldn’t mind seeing grace the queue of Netflix, HBO or Hulu one day. And hey, if you don’t trust a nobody like me, maybe this tweet from a somebody like Chrales Soule will change your mind.
I read @bobproehl ‘s THE NOBODY PEOPLE, about a secret society of powered folks – “real-world X-Men,” basically – and I loved it.
So excited it got a sequel – THE SOMEBODY PEOPLE, just out, and can’t wait to read it!