I hear that quote all the time and from people of all walks of life both teens and adults. Even some who read comic books will reluctantly agree. And who can blame them? The big eyes, colorful pictures, and fast paced action certainly seem to be aimed at children.
Naoki Urasawa, author of Monster and 20thCentury Boys, is not your usual manga writer. You won’t find outlandish facial expressions, ridiculous hair styles, or unbelievable sight gags. Instead you’ll find realistic characters, multilayered storylines, and complex mysteries. Take a look at the two manga covers at the bottom of the page. The first is from Osamu Tezuka's Astro Boy. The second is from Naoki Urasawa's Pluto. Both covers depict the same character, and tell the same story but Pluto radically transforms one of Astro Boy’s first adventures into a complex mystery full of intrigue, betrayal and secrecy.
Pluto follows Geist, a German police officer investigating the murder, one by one, of the world’s strongest robots. The trail he follows leads across the globe, into a world radically changed by the introduction of robotic labor, and also into the past, exploring the terrible consequences of the 39th Middle-East War.
It pulls no punches portraying the gritty consequences of conflict and the quest for weapons of mass destruction. However, Urasawa does so by humanizing the characters, even (or rather especially) the robots. Each of them -from the very human Astro Boy to the monstrously inhuman Pluto- feel real to the reader. You can’t help but empathize with them even as you are reminded of their inhuman origin. Each chapter revealed new layers of the mystery and answered questions implied, by never asked in earlier in the series and even as I mourned the loss of favored characters, I loved how the story unfolded drawing me deeper into the plot volume by volume.
Pluto is a compelling mystery, one that treats the future as respectfully and honestly as any Asimov or Heinlein novel. Point to it the next time that someone dismisses the graphic novel you read as "childish" or use the ideas Pluto explores to debate the nature of humanity. Better yet, hand them a copy of Pluto, and let them discover it for themselves.
Don't miss my other Great Graphic Novels
Scott Westerfeld says that he set out to write the space opera that he would have liked, and he came up with one that a lot of us like. In this tale he weaves together an espionage story, political intrigue, romance, future history, the ethics and ramifications of artificial intelligence, the ethics and ramifications of immortality, a commando raid, and one of science fiction’s more elaborate and high-tech ship-to-ship battles. And this empire is ruled by heroes who have passed on to their reward, both literally and figuratively, as the emperor has the power to grant immortality to those who obey him, but only if they agree to die in the process. Originally written as one novel to be called Succession, the publisher decided to split the story into two books: The Risen Empire, and The Killing of Worlds. (They’re not sequels, but one story in two volumes.)
Ray Bradbury has died at the age of 91.
Do you know Bradbury? Do you read Bradbury? If not this is your chance to get to know him through a kaleidoscopic projection of imagery of Bradbury Stories: 100 Of His Most Celebrated Tales (HarperCollins, 2005). Short stories seem to work in this ever-increasingly busy world with the Internet, Social Networking, and cell phones among other gadgets. You can easily go through one story in 3 or 5 minutes, and then get distracted by other things in life without having your story disrupted the next time you pick up the book again. Bradbury’s stories are definitely great reads due to their incredible depth and variants. Besides his sci-fi stories (his longtime obsession with planet Mars) you will discover other stories of that explore family love, romantic love, fairy tales, and horror. Some stories read like Hollywood screenplays (due to the author’s associations with the movie industry) but not without emotional depths: The Drummer Boy of Shiloh, Banshee, Henry The Ninth, Downwind from Gettysburg. Others create dreamlike atmospheres and mystery: That Woman on the Lawn, The Wish, Death and the Maiden. Others explore time-space travel with interesting personae: Darling Adolf, The Laurel and Hardy Love Affair. Across all tales there hangs a veil of nostalgia and doom, with a risk of being excessively poetic. Reading one story in this collection will definitely drive you to the next, and you will find it difficult to put down the book.
Check out other Ray Bradbury's books.
In John Falkenberg, science fiction giant Jerry Pournelle created an ethical mercenary colonel whose private army fights for more than money or glory. This edition, named The Prince, recently collected the Falkenberg saga (originally 4 books) in a single volume. Set in the CoDominium universe Pournelle shares with frequent collaborator Larry Niven, the Falkenberg stories follow the adventures of these mercenaries as they fight to restore order to the chaos that follows the collapse of an interstellar republic. Pournelle does not neglect the military action, but neither does he wallow in testosterone and guts, creating a tale that will appeal to fans of science fiction, military fiction, or just a good story.
In Stone Spring, author Stephen Baxter imagines what we now call “Europe” as it existed 10,000 years ago, when the land mass that becomes Great Britain was joined to the rest of the continent by a great fertile plain. Mr. Baxter calls this land Northland, and tells us his version of what it would be like to live there in 7300 B.C.
The story focuses mainly on the community and families of Etxelur, located in the far northeast of Northland. Etxelur is a matriarchal community, inhabited by six extended families. They live in the Seven Houses and worship the Mothers, who they believe first created the world. They were known by traders for having the best flint. Flint Island, the source of their wealth, was accessible by walking across a narrow track built barely above sea level.
Other inhabitants of this land mass included the warlike Pretani from Albia, a male-dominated society who have little respect for women, and the snailheads, who call themselves the One People. The One People lived far to the south in the area of the white cliffs, but rising sea levels cause them to move north into Etxelur territory. The land is big and none of these communities wanted to live near one another.
From far away three strangers arrive in Etxelur, Novu, who grew up in Jericho, but was sold by his father into slavery with a trader, and Ice Dreamer, a young woman with a new baby, whose far western homeland had also been flooded. She ans her daughter were possibly the last surviving members of their people.
Changes were also occurring to the land and as a result affecting the sea.
“…ice melted and water flowed. Under this pressure the seabeds suffered their own spasms of compression and release. (pg. 179)…. The undersea landslip would not be a large event, on a planetary scale. Only a volume the size of a small country, a mass of mud, sliding deeper into the abyss. But an equivalent volume of water, pushed aside by the silt, would have to find somewhere to go.” (pg. 223)
This event formed three huge waves. Each wave forced a wall of water onto the beaches of Flint Island and onto the Seven Houses, with tides higher than anyone had ever seen before. Then before anyone could absorb the extent of the damage, each great wave receded, going out and down further than ever before. Fish and many other sea creatures are left wriggling on the newly exposed seabed, and there was more. The receding water exposes the shell of a wrecked boat, a stand of trees, remains of houses and earthwork ridges in circular arcs. These are the holy middens, sacred places told of in tales recited by the priest; and depicted in the tattoos painted onto the bodies of young Etxelur women when they come of age.
Those who survived the three great waves awoke to a different world. The changes caused by the waves were extensive. The fertile soil had been replaced with salty sand. The fresh water springs were now salty. A few of the original inhabitants survived, and all the houses were gone. Only questions remained. Who was going to lead them? Can they rebuild? Do they want to rebuild? Follow the Etxelur community for the next 33 years as they make choices about how to move forward.
Stone Spring is the first book of the Northland Trilogy.
One of my favorite varieties of storytelling is when an author takes a familiar format, but then turns the cliché on its head to find a fresh story to tell within the trope. In Michael Flynn’s novel The Wreck of the River of Stars, a kindly starship captain has collected an assortment of rejects and misfits and melded them into a functioning crew, which is a feel-good story we’ve all seen and read dozens of times. And then the kindly captain dies in the first few paragraphs, and the dysfunctional people he has collected are forced to work together to save the ship when disaster strikes. There is an awful majesty to the way Flynn’s story plays out. These are not likeable people, and their personal flaws induce them to keep sabotaging each other’s efforts even when their lives are at stake. But the strength of Flynn’s storytelling is that the reader understands why these flawed characters make the decisions that they do, even while you want to throttle them for doing it. This is not a light or cheerful story, but neither will it be easily forgotten.