First up, just wanted to apologize to my readers for a very slight change in format this week. It’s been crazy times over at Uncle Mac’s house with my job and Mrs. Mac’s job, so instead of doing my usual deep dive into a single book, this week I’m going to do a quick list of a couple recommendations that I think you should all check out. If all goes according to plan, next week I’ll be back to drone on endlessly about some obscure book that only E.A. Henson and I have ever heard of. Until then, off we go!
Last week I highlighted a horror book, Black Stars Above. It was a creative and imaginative tale of cosmic horror that I felt really pushed the boundaries, in a good way, of what the comic medium could do. I also spoke last week about how the comic book industry needs to spread its wings more and really take full advantage of not only the unique features of comics that separate them from other types of media, but along with that how they also need to break free from the restraints of “superhero” books, and really work to try to get other kinds of stories out there for people to see. To that end, this week I’d like to talk about three great science fiction books currently out there that you could pick up and read during our comic drought, all of which do an excellent job of highlighting what the comic medium can really do.
First up, Sea of Stars
Sea of Stars is science fiction, in that it takes place in space and involves space suits and spaceships and outer space hi-jinks, but it’s not really what we would call “hard” sci-fi. If we were placing it on the great scale of science fiction, with Ray Bradbury on one end and Robert Heinlein on the other, this definitely skews more Bradbury, where science and technology exist to help explain away what needs to be explained away, while at the same time not allowing reality to get in the way of telling an interesting story.
Here’s the blurb:
Being a space trucker may sound like a cool job, but in reality it can be boring as hell. So when recently widowed Gil gets a long-haul gig across the universe, he figures it’s safe enough to bring his young son Kadyn along for the ride. But when their “big rig” gets bitten in half by a gigantic Space Leviathan, Gil is separated from his young son—with a breached suit that’s venting oxygen at an alarming rate. He’ll have to defy the odds and stay alive long enough to rescue Kadyn. But Kadyn seems to be getting all the help he needs from a talking Space Monkey riding a Space Dolphin… or maybe it’s the strange powers he’s suddenly manifesting.
I’m a very big proponent of having art that matches the story being told. Grand, sweeping narratives need art that matches them in terms of both scope and vision. You can have the best story in the world, but if the art doesn’t match, it’s going to kill your book. Meanwhile, you can have the most spectacular art in the world, but if your story is terrible then even Jim Lee can’t save it (Just ask Frank Miller).
Sea of Stars is a beautiful book. The art is full of deep, lush purples and blues, which help to not only make space feel more wondrous and alive, but also to make it feel more alien and dangerous. Space is a very real character in this book, one that is vast and, at times, overwhelming. This is a nice juxtaposition from far too many cosmic comics that portray space merely as a black void that needs to be rushed through in order to get from one place to another. Instead the reader is constantly finding their eyes dancing over the page, trying to soak in just the sheer massiveness of the expanse, something that is hard to do on a 7” x 10” page, I tell you. (And don’t message me about page size. I rounded).
This book definitely has some all-star heavyweights working on it. Jason Aaron and Dennis Hallum (who you might remember me mentioning in my classic XO Manowar review) provided the script, while Stephen Green and Rico Renzi provided the arts and colors respectively. All of them are at the top of their form, and I was very happy that at C2E2 this year I got to spend a few minutes chatting with Stephen Green and telling him how much I loved this book.
The story is tight and fun, the art is wonderful, and the book just got released in a trade collecting the first 5 issues. If you want a solid read that you could share with younger readers during this time, Sea of Stars is a great place to start.
The second book I want to recommend this week is the book Heist, or How to Steal a Planet.
Here’s the blurb:
Welcome to planet Heist! It’s the cutthroat capital of the entire Nehring System, home to billions of the worst men and women in the galaxy. The Pan-Galactic government has no idea what to do with the planet, but conman Glane Breld and his band of thieves know exactly what to do with Heist—they’re going to steal it. It’s Ocean’s Eleven in space, brought to you by writer Paul Tobin (Colder and Bandette) and Arjuna Susini (The Replacer)—the only minds crazy enough to steal an entire world.
My favorite Batman villain of all time is hands down The Riddler. The problem with that is that he is a very hard character to actually write for. He has to be smarter than everyone else, except Batman, so you have to write a story about a genius who can confuse everyone, who himself has to be outsmarted by another genius even more genius than him. Needless to say, a lot of writers struggle when it comes to using his character.
The same holds true for heist fans. When you set up a heist story you need to have a brilliant plan in mind, drop enough clues so the reader can follow what is happening, as well as predict what could go wrong, but not so many that when it does go wrong they already can see where the story is going to go. Rick and Morty just did a great episode highlighting the issues with heists, and I highly recommend it to anyone who is confused about what I’m talking about.
Heist, or How to Steal a Planet is a heist story that get’s it right. The story is tight, interesting, action packed, easy to follow and yet full of enough twists and surprises that it’ll keep you entertained throughout. The setting, a criminal planet full of people who know and hate our main character Glane, is one that will feel familiar to fans aware of science fiction tropes, and yet is different enough to feel fresh and unique. Just like space is a character in Sea of Stars, the planet Heist is very much a character in this book, and I found I had a much fun figuring out how the planet worked in the story as I did following the actual story itself. This one is a fun read, and is a great book to give to someone who might not be that into comics, but likes a good mystery thriller.
The events of the book were just starting to build towards the plan going into effect, with most of the players being on the board, right before Diamond shut the doors, which means that if you want to get caught up and avoid any of the spoilers, now is the time!
The last book I want to recommend is Canopus
Here’s the blurb:
Helen wakes up marooned on a lifeless alien planet 300 light years from Earth with no memories beyond a hazy sense of extinction-level urgency to return to Earth. Joined by her robot companion, Arther, she explores the planet to find materials necessary to repair her ship. However, circumstances are not as straightforward as they seem: along their perilous path, Helen’s most painful memories return to her, as monstrous manifestations hellbent on her destruction. In this mind-bending sci-fi adventure, Helen’s story unfolds into her past and future, revealing a poignant conclusion that will leave you speechless.
Canopus has quickly become a real favorite of mine. Dave Chisholm, the author and artist on this book, has created a story that is beautifully unfolding before us in a way that few stories do. The book is definitely another on the Bradbury side of the sci fi equation, and that’s a good thing. This book reads like the best Twilight Zone or Outer Limits episodes, and would feel right at home in a collection like The Martian Chronicles.
I don’t want to give too much away, but I will say that this book has some really fun twists, and definitely has some scares and surprises along the way. It’s only 2 issues into its 4-issue run, so I really recommend grabbing the first two while you can. I get the feeling that there will be big things happening with this story in the future.
Alright my friends, those are three quick recommendations for you to grab up while you wait for comics to return. All three series are still ongoing, so like I said now is the time to play catch-up! If your LCS is open, call them up and see if you can get those books!