Saturday, 9 August 2014

Miscellaneous Reviews 09: Yoko Tsuno and Samuel R. Delany

Yoko Tsuno: Le Matin du monde (The Morning of the World):
The seventeenth album in the series, Le Matin du monde asks a pretty important question: is a bande dessinée still good when it’s a simple story told by a highly skilled storyteller? I would argue that yes, it’s still good but it makes for a slightly disappointing read.

The story is very straightforward. Yoko visit Monya in Indonesia (confirm) and they, along with Rosée du matin, Vic and Pol (confirm name) travel back in time to 1350 in order to save the life of a dancer who’s condemned to death because of Monya who interfered in the local village during a previous visit. Monya’s reason for travelling back in time in the first place was that she simply wanted to. After making Indonesia her adoptive home in the present at the end of La Spirale du temps, she began to study the country’s history. This led to an exploratory trip back in time. That’s pretty irrational behaviour for someone who’s seen the negative side effects of time travel. You would think she’d be more responsible. Likewise, it’s kind of unsettling to see Yoko endangering herself without a second though to her newly adopted infant daughter, Rosée, on so many occasions. I can’t say I’m happy about it but at least her friend Vic (dark haired one, confirm name) called her out on it.

I get the feeling that Leloup liked the idea of the special bond Yoko developed with the mural of the dancer at the temple near the home of her cousin Izumi and he wanted to explain that bond through a time travel story. That seems to be a pretty clear starting point when thinking of a time travel story, start from the end and work your way back. It’s unfortunate that Leloup couldn’t think of anything more interesting than a time travel rescue mission, especially when the end of the story is a breakneck race to the finish line, as if Leloup ran out of pages in which to tell his story.

For a series that has regularly been defined by its intelligent plotting, it’s disappointing to see Leloup produce something with so little depth. I can forgive him because his art continues to be top notch but I sure hope the next Yoko Tsuno story I read seems him once again in great form.
My review is based on the French edition published by Dupuis in 1988.

The resolution sucks. It went all wonky when I shrank it down.

The Jewels of Aptor written by Samuel R. Delany:
The Jewels of Aptor is the second book written by Samuel R. Delany that I read. I’m not sure exactly how I discovered him, it could have been because some of the writers I like listed him as an influence or maybe I regularly found his work on lists of best science fiction and fantasy books. I don’t know. I can’t remember but he’s been on my radar for a little while so naturally I looked for his books at my local used bookstore. I found most of his oeuvre and many of the novels were there in multiples. The first I read was Babel-17 because I liked the title and the cover. I read this one because it as a slim volume and I wanted to read something quick between other novels. I was good but I’m not blown away. I had a similar reaction to Babel-17 thought the latter is a much better work and I think I would enjoy it better during a second read because I know what to expect. One great thing about Babel-17 is that it defies expectation of a science fiction novel of the 1960s. I doubt I would enjoy rereading The Jewels of Aptor and it’s a shame because I really want to like Delany’s work.

The story is one of those often strange and regularly unappealing combinations of fantasy and science fiction. It might be better described as post-apocalyptic fantasy. There isn’t much science so I’ll just drop that entirely. The story is set approximately 1,500 years after the Great Fire, a nuclear holocaust of some sort. The Great Fire resulted in many different birth mutations and other strange phenomena. Even after all those years women are still giving birth to children with multiple limbs or to children with magical abilities. Sometimes the mutations are obvious and other times they are more subtle, such as a man who’s grown larger and stranger than any other man. His mutation has gone unnoticed for most of his life while others, such as people with four arms, are easily identified as mutants.

It’s in this setting where a goddess, or one representation of the goddess, sends two men to the island of Aptor to acquire her daughter (or yet another facet of the same goddess) and the titular jewels of Aptor. The men in question are Geo, a young poet, and his friend Urson, giant sailor. Most of the book focuses on their time spent on the island and their various theories as to what is going on. The characters frequently discuss what is happening to them and they try to make sense of it all. The one constant of the book is that everything changes. Perceptions, allegiances, individuals, magic and technology, religious and mythology, everything is constantly shifting. It’s one of the main themes of this work, mutability. Knowledge, understanding and discussion also play an important part but it doesn’t make for a captivating story. Yes, the prose is dense yet filled with poetic language and turns of phrase. Delany, who wrote this novel at the tender age of 19, shows tremendous potential and he’s lived up to that potential.

Like the story, The Jewels of Aptor constantly changes. It’s a story that works within a few different genres; the characters are both fascinatingly original in how they’re presented but also very familiar. Events that take place seem to involve science of old on moment and the next, something more akin to magic. Parts of it are great, they really art but parts of the book are also a real bore. While I didn’t love Babel-17 I could recognize why it’s considered a classic novel. It was, at the very least, interesting. I haven’t enjoyed The Jewels of Aptor nearly as much but I’m still glad I read it as it’s helping me better understand the works of Samuel R. Delany. I’m not done exploring his oeuvre, I have at least two novels waiting on my book case. I just hope they’re more along the lines of Babel-17 or something even better.

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