Axiom-man by A.P. Fuchs

This is how self-publishing should be done. Too often, a self-published novel is let down instantly by a poorly designed cover that’s nothing more than a piece of stock photography with some text overlaid. But the cover of Axiom-man looks beautiful. Not only is it well drawn (the talents of Justin Shauf and Kyle Zajac), but it shows excellent marketing sense. The comicbook style is designed the capture the attention of superhero comic fans everywhere. I’m not even one of the those, and yet I was intrigued.

If you saw this on the shelves of your local bookshop, you could be forgiven for thinking it was a graphic novel. But it’s a straightforward novel. Superheroes and the written word – I can’t help thinking that’s got to be a hard nut to crack. The kind of stories such characters facilitate are usually visual, containing all kinds of thrills and spills – perfect material for movies and comics. For novels? Well, I can’t fault Fuchs for making a hearty attempt. Rather than going for all-out action, the novel Axiom-man actually spends many of its pages in domestic territory, telling the story of Gabriel Garrison and his struggle to fit his secret life as a hero into his normal life as a helpdesk operator. The story was interesting, and I found myself picking the book up at various points in the day, just to read a little more (this is something I rarely do; I normally just read at bed-time). I have to confess, though, that Gabriel’s dorky, bumbling put-ons were a little too reminiscent of Clark Kent, and his powers not dissimilar from Superman’s.

Partway into the story, a new hero arrives on the scene, calling himself Redsaw. He saves a few lives and soon steals the affection of the city. Although Redsaw’s abilities are on par with Axiom-man’s, Redsaw is a very different person. Axiom-man runs from the press, whereas Redsaw basks in the adoration of the public. Axiom-man wants to team up for the benefit of all, whereas Redsaw is unwilling to share the glory. You all know the saying, “With great power comes great responsibility.” This is the story of what happens when great power is given to the irresponsible – to a self-seeking man filled with pride and prone to outbursts of anger. It’s not long before Redsaw’s hot-headedness causes the accidental death of an innocent man. In one single moment, he is despised by all. Everything changes for him. And then, he changes. I loved this part of the story. Redsaw is a far more believable villain than the likes of the power-crazed General Zod from Superman II. If I have one criticism of this aspect of Fuchs’s novel, it’s merely that it didn’t quite go where I was hoping. I was more interested in reading about the deliberate fall of a man from grace than the possession of a man by an ethereal dark power. There was more potential to this side of the story than I feel was realised.

Towards the end, the story gets down to the anticipated high-octane fisticuffs between hero and villain. And this, for me, was the proof that superhero stories need a visual medium in order to have the proper impact. It was the least interesting part of the book. I can imagine the exciting comicbook frames in my mind, but they don’t carry the same weight in prose. I think the author made a good overall choice to write Axiom-man as a domestic story, with the action scenes sporadic and short.

The book is well edited, with few typing and typesetting errors – streets ahead of the majority of self-published fiction. I’ve read one other book by A.P. Fuchs: A Red Dark Night. Axiom-man shows a distinct improvement, not only in terms of presentation, but in Fuchs’s own maturing style as an author.

Although not marketed as a children’s book, I think Axiom-man would make great reading for boys, not only because boys love superheroes, but because the novel is written from a Christian standpoint, touching on matters such as selflessness, deception and ego. So, if there’s a birthday coming up near you and you can’t think of a gift to buy, consider a personally autographed copy of Axiom-man from the author’s website.

A Red Dark Night by A.P. Fuchs

The story opens with a girl, Shelly, sleeping in a dormitory at a girls’ summer camp. She is awoken by the feel of something strange and liquid-like crawling up her thighs. This mass soon takes on a human shape and almost kills the girl, stopped only by the appearance of a mysterious man in a cape. With the opening scene forming a prologue, we cut to two decades later, and a girl called Mary, one of the witnesses to the strange characters. Mary returns to Camp Silverway as a counseller, to face the fears that have haunted her all her life. It’s not long before the blood-creature (known as a Bloodan) returns, and there are more than one of them.

The novel reads like a 1980s B-movie in print – deliberately so. The setting especially reminded me of Friday 13th. There’s nothing deep or pretentious going on. It’s just a blood-soaked nightmare that wants nothing more than to pull you along for the ride. On that score it succeeds. The story cracks along at a good pace, and there wasn’t a single moment of boredom. The plot is fairly unpredicable, with elements of time-travel thrown into the horror to keep you on your toes. There’s also a fairly good red herring thrown in, that makes you believe you know how the heroes are going to escape, but the author chooses to take the story elsewhere. (Bit of a shame though, because it’s a damn good red herring.) The time-travel paradoxes unfortunately had my head in a bit of a spin by the end of the novel, and I couldn’t quite make sense of all the events.

The characters are believable for the most part, with the exception of a few moments when I felt the author mis-stepped. First, the opening scene with the stuff crawling up the girl: I think the universal reaction would have been to leap out of that bed for your life, but instead she keeps very still. In another early scene, Mary says to Tarek (the guy in the cloak), “Hold me,” and it feels so out of place because they barely know each other at this stage. But these are just moments, and they don’t really spoil the overall experience of the story.

One element of the book which raised an eyebrow with me was its one sex scene. Not only is the sex depicted in great detail, but the sudden appearance of a Bloodan turns the whole scene on its head, giving way to one of the most gruesome death scenes I have ever encountered. Normally I wouldn’t bat an eyelid, but I happen to know that A.P. Fuchs, like me, is a Christian, and I found it difficult view this kind of writing as compatible with our beliefs.

The novel is self-published by Fuchs’s own company Coscom Entertainment. Kudos to him for going this way; I am a big defender of the self-publishing route, especially when the author chooses to do all the work himself, instead of using one of the existing print-on-demand publishers. The typsetting is well laid out for the most part, but there were a couple of glaring errors which I found hard to forgive, as they could only have resulted from a less than thorough check of the final proofs. Also, despite the book being edited by a third party, many grammatical mistakes remain.

Overall, I had an enjoyable time with this novel.