Skip to content

Third Class Superhero

in stock, ready to be shipped
Save 14% Save 14%
Original price $35.00
Original price $35.00 - Original price $35.00
Original price $35.00
Current price $29.99
$29.99 - $29.99
Current price $29.99
Charles Yu experiments with form and genre to explore the stories we tell ourselves while navigating contemporary life. In "Third Class Superhero," a would- be good guy must come to terms with the darkness in his heart. A couple living in the Luxury Car Commercial subdivision in "401(k)" are disappointed when their exotic vacation turns into a Life Insurance/Asset Management pitch. The author struggles to write the definitive biography of his mother in "Autobiographical Raw Material Unsuitable for the Mining of Fiction." In these and other stories, Yu’s characters run up against the conventions and parameters of their artificial story lines while tackling the terrifying aspects of existence: mothers, jobs, spouses, the need to express feelings.

Heartbreaking, hilarious, smart, and surprising, Third Class Superhero marks the arrival of an impressive new talent.

ISBN-13: 9780544312548

Media Type: Hardcover(New Edition)

Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers

Publication Date: 09-05-2006

Pages: 192

Product Dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.56(d)

Charles Yu is the author of How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, which was named one of the best books of the year by Time magazine. He received the National Book Foundation’s 5 Under 35 Award for his story collection Third Class Superhero, and was a finalist for the PEN Center USA Literary Award. His work has been published in The New York Times, Playboy, and Slate, among other periodicals.

Read an Excerpt

Third Class Superhero

By Yu, Charles

Harvest Books

Copyright © 2006 Yu, Charles
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0156030810

( Third Class Superhero

Got the letter today and guess what: still not a superhero.

Dear Applicant, not a good sign, the number of qualified candidates this year blah blah far exceeded the number of available blah.

I scan the list of people who did make it. A lot of them graduated with me. It's the usual assortment of the strong and beautiful. About half are fireball shooters. A few are ice makers. Half a dozen telepath/ empaths. A couple of brutes, a shape-shifter, a few big brains.

One thing they all have in common is that every single one of them can fly.

I can't fly. I can't do much. On the other hand, it's not like I'm asking for a lot. I don't need to be an all-star. I just want a suit and a cape, steady work, a paycheck that covers groceries. Decent health insurance. But I'll have to wait another year.

At least I have my good-guy card. For now.
Every morning, when I open my eyes, I think the same four thoughts:

1) I am not a superhero.
2) I have to go to work.
3) If I didn't have to work, I could be a superhero.
4) If I were a superhero, I wouldn't have to work.

I was temping for a while to keep my afternoons free in case I got calls for tryouts, but those dried up and I needed to get a regular job for dental andvision. Now I'm a records clerk for a big midtown law firm. I like it because I don't have to talk to anyone or explain myself if I'm missing for a few hours. I just say I was lost in the stacks. People at work don't know I'm moonlighting. They think I'm an actor.
Part of the problem is my name. Moisture Man. Doesn't exactly strike fear into the hearts of the wicked.

For a few months last year, I tried to get people to call me Atmosphero. A few people did it to be nice, but it didn't stick--I think the problem was too many syllables. Shortening it to Atmos doesn't work either, because there's a physicist up in Seattle named Atomos who solves science crimes with a group that calls itself The Nucleus. The registrar says if I use too similar a name I could be sued for infringement. She suggested the name 'Sphero, but that's just plain wrong. Makes me sound like a force-field guy, and, anyway, -o endings are usually for villains.

So I'm stuck with Moisture Man.

A couple of years ago I listed myself in the phone book, which was a mistake, because you can imagine the crank calls I get.
My power, if you can call it that, and I don't think you can, is that I am able to take about two gallons of water from the moisture in the air and shoot it in a stream or a gentle mist. Or a ball. Which is useful for water-balloon fights, but not all that helpful when trying to stop Carnage and Mayhem from robbing a bank.

For years I was on a self-improvement kick. I read all the books and listened to tapes. I ordered everything there was to order by mail. Studied physics, how the big brains can change gravitational constants. I read history, I learned theory, the balance of good and evil, stuff like that. Still doesn't change the fact that I'm minor. Not even minor. A sideshow. A human water fountain.

I did some time in therapy. Turns out, I have a self-destructive impulse and slight megalomania. I didn't need to pay for sixty hours of analysis to find that out. I still go to the gym, but I'm getting old and I can only do so much. I read every word of Heroics for Dummies. $24.99. Written by someone with an MBA. The quick bullet-point tip sheet at the back of the book tells me to "focus on my strengths" and "rely on others when it comes to my weaknesses." That's helpful.
Evenings, I get home, open the junk mail, drink a warm beer. My refrigerator is unplugged and will probably stay that way forever. If I get hungry, there's a twenty-four-hour taco stand across the street. Two for a dollar and free jalapenos if you eat there. I usually get four tacos and load up on salsa.

After dinner, around ten or eleven, I go upstairs to sit with Henry. He lives in the one-room efficiency above me. He's got a futon with a thin blanket, which I set up for him years ago. I don't think he's ever changed it from the couch position. He's got one sink and a hot plate and a toilet room the size of a phone booth. Henry usually watches TV while I read the trades.

Henry is eighty-something but looks closer to a hundred and forty. His skin smells like Naugahyde and his hair pops up from his head in clumps of cotton. Up until last year, he was inhaling two packs of Reds a day, but it got too expensive. In his life Henry has poured so much booze down his throat that if he never has another drink again he will be drunk the day he dies. He's been smoked, cured, pickled, and I bet he'll outlive me by twenty years.

The way we met was this: When I moved in nine years ago, I used to hear loud banging and thumping noises from upstairs about once a week. I ignored it for a while, but one night it went on longer than usual. I went up there and knocked a few times, louder and louder. No one answered. It got quiet. I put on my costume and stood outside Henry's door for a minute.

I heard a whimper. I broke the door down--I could do that kind of thing back then. Turns out it was Henry's son, Harold, making all that noise. He had been beating the crap out of his father every Sunday night for months, an hour or ninety minutes, until he got tired. Henry had been kicked out of the house by Harold's mother thirty-five years earlier for the drinking, but instead of cleaning up his act, Henry just forgot about them and moved into this dump with his fifteen-inch television and ashtray and mini-fridge full of beer. Then Harold's mother got sick and almost died trying not to go to the doctor. Her sister paid the hospital bills and practically raised Harold, and Harold turned out all right, went to college and got married and even had a son of his own, but he was still angry at Henry.
Thing is, I believe Henry when he says he never laid a hand on anyone. I believe him, if only because Henry is the laziest person I've ever met. He only wanted to destroy himself. Did his wife deserve better? Did Harold? Yes. Yes. Henry's not a good guy. He's getting the life he deserves and most days he seems okay with that. I forget that the majority of people don't want special powers, like Henry, who can just barely handle being normal. I don't like the guy, but I guess I have a soft spot for him because he's the only person I've ever actually protected. Even though I didn't really do anything. It was just the costume.

Since then, we've become friends. Sort of. I look in on him a little. Just a little. Not as much as I should. I'll regret it someday soon. It's true. The only kinds of people in this metropolis are failed superheroes and the lonely old men who live upstairs from them.
I wasn't always this way. Nine years ago, I was Young and Promising. I lived my life like I was waiting for some big event to happen. Not just a big event, but a Major Life Development. I had a lot of Capitalized Thoughts back then. I did some things I shouldn't have. I lived with about a six-month time horizon. I didn't care about the people around me. I was going places, stepping on stones, burning bridges. I had a day job, but I looked around and said to myself out loud: You people are all lifers but I'm just passing through. On my way to Big Things.

Then that first letter came and I wasn't on the list. A temporary setback. Until the next year, when I wasn't on the list again. Burnham was. Dolan was. So was Feeney. Just a bump in the road, though.

Until the next year.

And then the next.

And then four more years. I got used to it.

This year, though, I thought something was different. This year, I could feel it. I even told a couple of people. I even admitted to myself that I was nervous. This year, things would turn around.

This year hurt.
Copyright 2006 by Charles Yu
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and
retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.
Requests for permission to make copies of any part of the work
should be submitted online at or mailed
to the following address: Permissions Department, Harcourt, Inc.,
6277 Sea Harbor Drive, Orlando, Florida 32887-6777.


Excerpted from Third Class Superhero by Yu, Charles Copyright © 2006 by Yu, Charles. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.


Table of Contents

( Contents

Story 1 ( Third Class Superhero
Story 2 ( 401(k)
Story 3 ( The Man Who Became Himself
Story 4 ( Problems for Self-Study
Story 5 ( My Last Days As Me
Story 6 ( Two-Player Infinitely Iterated
-Simultaneous Semi-Cooperative
Game with Spite and Reputation
Story 7 ( Realism
Story 8 ( Florence
Story 9 ( Man of Quiet Desperation Goes on Short Vacation
Story 10 ( 32.05864991%
Story 11 ( Autobiographical Raw Material Unsuitable for the Mining of Fiction