Less Than Hero by S.G. Browne (Advanced Reader Copy)
Release Date: March 17, 2015
Genre: Fiction, superheroes, supervillains, humor, satire, don’t do drugs kids
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Summary: Lloyd Prescott is part of a not-so-elite group of people who volunteer as human guinea pigs for pharmaceutical trials. You know, the kind that test out drugs that aren’t yet on the market. As a result, Lloyd and his fellow misfits (who make a living guinea pigging for pharmaceutical companies) begin to exhibit strange superpowers that may be connected to their years of testing untested drugs. Now that they finally have a purpose in life, will these 21st century Mystery Men use their powers for good or evil?
Less Than Hero is a fun new look at the superhero genre inspired by ridiculous drug side effects, human pharmaceutical testers and outcast superheroes like the Mystery Men, the X-Men and the duo in M. Night Shyamalan’s only other good film: Unbreakable.
It was also originally a short story entitled “Dr. Lullaby” in Browne’s collection Shooting Monkeys in a Barrel.
Have you read Browne’s second novel Fated? The two tales take place in the same universe — modern day New York City– and are occurring at the same time so be on the lookout for crossovers! Browne revealed that oddly enough he came up with ideas for both books at 10PM “exactly 30 days apart.”
Less Than Hero‘s narrator is Lloyd Prescott, a man with no ambition who enjoys living a non nine to five lifestyle testing drugs for pharmaceutical companies (called guinea pigging) and panhandling for money on the streets of New York City, which includes taking money in exchange for being insulted by strangers.
We also get a few interludes from the other guinea pigs Lloyd regularly keeps in contact with through a guinea pig support group, all of whom have been forced to test drugs for companies that pray on “the poor, uneducated, and desperate” so that those who can afford new drugs get them.
There’s Charlie, the high school student who was forced to drop out to take care of his dying father and stepmother. A mishap with their wills left Charlie with no inheritance.
Frank is the patriarch of the group who lost it all when his wife left him and took their joint business with her. He spent his entire divorce settlement at the racetrack.
Next is the classic rock guru Randy, the horny flirt (get it? you get it) whose knee injury and lack of insurance led to high medical bills and eventual bankruptcy.
Vic was a middle school teacher who threatened the principal, putting him on a black list of all the school districts in the area.
And Blaine was the victim of payday advances after identity theft left him in a bind. To earn extra money to pay off the cash-advance fees, Blaine turned to guinea pigging.
Finally, there’s Isaac, the stuttering wannabee thespian who can no longer get work due to his speech problems.
Before getting into testing, Lloyd was an independent contractor who lost his job. Unable to gain unemployment, he drained his life savings and took on two part-time minimum wage jobs to make ends meet before falling into the guinea pig life.
Unlike his fellow guinea pigs, Lloyd could return to the world of marketing — his career five years prior — but he lacks ambition, drive and instead chooses to sleepwalk through his existence, unsure of his place in the world, a fact which upsets his longtime girlfriend Sophie.
Eventually, the individual members of the group begin to realize that they have developed the uncanny ability to cause spontaneous vomiting, seizures, rashes, erections, tiredness and sudden weight gain in others — common side effects of on the market pharmaceuticals, which leads them to believe their years of drug testing has literally empowered them.
With their super powers combined, the guinea pigs form a not-so elite group, first punishing the rude (loud cell phone talkers, people who don’t hold open doors, those who are rude to food service workers) before moving onto protecting those who can’t protect themselves: the homeless citizens of New York City.
As with any superheroes, they eventually must deal with mighty foes: supervillains causing hallucinations and memory loss, and Lloyd must deal with the realization that he may have finally stumbled across his destiny as the very symbolic Dr. Lullaby.
- There’s no group more loveable than a band of misfits
- Satirizes the for-profit nature of pharmaceutical companies
- Props for Sophie’s living statue character the Fairy and her love of pixie dust
- Big fan of the hidden and the not-so hidden crossovers
- Vomit, so much vomit (did I mention the vomit?)
- “We’re like pharmaceutical soldiers, fighting on the front lines of medical science to defend your right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of antidepressants.”
- “The rest of us don’t really have a plan but just make it up as we go, like Indiana Jones. For some, things work out and they end up rescuing the girl and having a ride named after them at Disneyland. For others, they discover that trying to win the lottery isn’t a viable plan for living happily ever after, and end up a disappointment to their parents.”
- “And although our loved ones and ardent supporters do their best to encourage us and make us believe in what we have to offer and how talented we are, sometimes the stories we tell ourselves have more often. And the more often we tell ourselves these stories, the more likely we are to believe them.”
- “I’m a victim of my own inertia, having succumbed to the ennui of my existence.”
- “When I think about having children, it’s always more as an abstract concept. Like love and beauty. Or the existence of Bigfoot.”
- “We’re genetic mutants. Freaks of science. A product of our profession. The modern prescription for an overmedicated society.”
- “Once you have the power, the last thing you want to do is give it up.”
All of S.G. Browne’s books are worth adding to your to-read list, but I’m especially partial to Big Egos (in which drugs give the personalities of famous celebrities and fictional characters), Fated (a story about the actual, real-life personification of Fate), Breathers (the zombie romantic comedy that started it all) and the Christmas-themed Breathers novella I Saw Zombies Eating Santa Claus.