Charles Yu is the author of the novel “How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe” and the short story collections “Third Class Superhero” and “Sorry Please Thank You.” In 2007, Yu won the National Book Foundation’s 5 Under 35 Award. When discussing Yu’s work, Italo Calvino comes up as does Douglas Adams and Kurt Vonnegut. What strikes me is Yu’s flair for a natural and casual humor mixed in with philosophical musings and various games with language and narrative. You can read my review of “How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe” right here.
“Most people I know live their lives moving in a constant forward direction, the whole time looking backward.”
― Charles Yu, How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe
There is a very strong contingent of sci-fi fans who take issue with Charles Yu’s time travel novel being true science fiction. Well, how about if we all just take a deep breath and relax and just call it fiction. Does that work for you? To get caught up in the sci-fi is not the right approach. Take, for instance, Stephen King’s “11/22/63.” The sci-fi in that book amounts to a very simple “portal,” you walk through a door and that’s it. For the hardcore crowd, well, one of the greatest, if not the greatest work on time travel, Jack Finney’s “Time and Again,” also employs a simple process to get on with the time travelin’. That’s not to say Yu is happy to settle for a magic door because, in fact, he goes all quantum physics on you in his own way. So, let’s revisit “How to Live,” which was recently reissued in print and is also now an e-book.
“I hate my job,” says Redmond, our main character. He is stuck in quite a rut. Whoever thought time travelling was exciting, had never seen it from his point of view. In the hilarious comic book, “Out of Time,” we follow Redmond around and get to see the nuts and bolts running of a time travel service. This is a very well-paced comic with a great dry sense of humor. This is one of the comics you can find at the Glasgow Comic Con, Scotland’s Comic Book Festival. That takes place this weekend, July 5-6, 2014. Let’s take a close look at this comic.
Here is a minicomic I recently completed that features Smith Tower, a Seattle landmark celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. In this comic, Smith Tower is a character in its own right. We follow a number of characters who are searching for answers. Among the searchers, two main characters emerge. We can’t be sure how these two are connected but, as fate would have it, their paths become inextricably linked. Whether that is cause for celebration or concern, remains a mystery. For fun, let me wax on for a bit on this new work, minicomics, and the art process.
“Interesting Drug” will be your next favorite time travel story. Meet Andrew. One day, he’s a retail clerk. And the next, he’s a mad scientist. It’s all a matter of timing. This graphic novel, created and written by Shaun Manning and illustrated by Anna Wieszczyk, is published by Boom! Studios and is part of its Archaia line.
Writing high concept sci-fi, with its vast potential, can be a challenge to pin down into a cohesive narrative. One false move with jargon or a rant, and you can lose your casual reader, sucked into a void never to be seen again. With “Gonzo Cosmic,” a new comic book series, Garry Mac has created something with plenty of twists and turns but with a solid narrative and cast of characters that will keep you grounded and, more to the point, hooked.
“Mr. Peabody & Sherman” is the latest postmodern revamp of a modern classic that delves deep into the psyches of characters that were never meant to be analyzed. The original animated TV show is already a pretty subversive treat. Originally broadcast from 1959 to 1964, it simply presents the adventures of a dog and his boy without question. This latest mashup of old and new, from DreamWorks, sets out to answer all those questions about this most unusual dog and boy relationship and turns out to be one sharp and funny movie.
Nikola Tesla, the man that Thomas Edison viciously attempted to discredit, has emerged from the fringes and regained his role as the top wizard in the public’s mind. Among the new crop of science fiction that he’s inspired, there is Jeff Smith’s remarkable new graphic novel, “RASL.” Originally a comic book series, starting in 2008, this hardcover collected work goes a long way in stoking the fires of popular imagination.
“RASL,” which stands for “Romance At the Speed of Light,” is a multi-layered roller coaster of a story. Our hero, or anti-hero, goes by the nickname of “Rasl” and, in our first look at him, he appears to be little more than a thief, although a highly unusual and sophisticated one. We see him hang off a high-rise ledge, pop into a penthouse apartment, and make away with an original Picasso. He fights off a lizard-faced man. And he escapes by being zapped by a turbojet contraption. Yeah, then things really go nuts.
Rasl, it turns out, is far more than the coolest thief ever. He’s Dr. Robert Johnson, a genius-level scientist who has gotten a little too close to the military industrial complex. The good doctor knows too much and is left burdened with figuring out what to do with this special knowledge. Much like all of humanity has been burdened since the atomic genie was let out of the bottle, something else is on the horizon to threaten everyone–but this one is not going to fit in any silo.
In matters of life and death, all bets are off and anything can happen. Smith plays quite well with this sort of high-octane tension. It’s a “North by Northwest” kind of pacing mixed in with a doomsday scenario that cleverly unleashes many a favorite sci-fi theme. You get the Philadelphia Experiment mashed with the Tunguska Event. And you most assuredly get a close look at the world of Nikola Tesla. It is Tesla technology, after all, that allows Rasl to “drift” through dimensions.
What keeps this narrative grounded is Rasl and the circle of characters he interacts with on his journey. There are two women, for instance, that are key to helping him maintain his sanity, let alone complete his mission. There is Annie, who only really knows Rasl as a bushy-haired hoodlum. And there’s Maya, who only really knows Rob, the great man of science. She also happens to know Rob as her lover. Too bad she’s also married to Rob’s lab partner, Miles. Between the two of them, Miles and Rob can provide the greatest scientific breakthrough in ages–if only it were that easy and morally unambiguous.
Drawn in a very clean and animated way, “RASL” is a joy to behold. The characters are all very compelling and the storytelling is immersive. It is perfectly tuned which is what makes what unfolds all the more captivating. Rasl must not only deal with what to do to potentially save the planet. He must confront what it means to exist in the first place. Not only that, given the magnitude of this misadventure, the very notion of reality is explored, just like it is in any good work of science fiction. What makes Smith’s tale special is his thoughtful selection of what to bring to the table.
“RASL” is published by Cartoon Books, available now, and you can check it out here.
If you go to Comic-Con, in San Diego, you are likely to notice other forces at play besides comics and pop culture: the Pacific Ocean, the United States Navy, and the nation of Mexico. Writer Sam Humphries, with artist Dalton Rose, taps into the last on this list with great results in his self-published comics series, “Sacrifice.” Humphries has gone on to launch an impressive career (Ultimates, Uncanny X-Force, Our Love is Real). And now what started it all, “Sacrifice,” has been collected into a gorgeous hardcover published by Dark Horse Comics. The book will be released on August 21 in comics shops, and on September 2 in bookstores.
When you’re a teen who just wants to hide from the San Diego sun, curl up with a Joy Division song, and then suddenly finds himself thrust back some 700 years into the age of the Aztecs, there is no time to hesitate about anything. Sam Humphries is the John Hughes of comics. He is totally in tune with youth angst. He has taken Hector’s rage, his struggle with epilepsy, with fitting into high school, with debilitating anxiety, and he’s shouldered him with the fate of the Aztecs. Humphries doesn’t provide any easy answers. Hector is not going to get away with a simple life lesson.
Check out that front cover art and the art throughout. Dalton Rose is right in step with this over-the-top tale. The driving force is Hector. As Rose describes in the notes at the end of the book, Hector is “a nice cocktail of angst, insecurity, and courage.” Much like the other characters, and even the background to some extent, Hector is rendered in energetic, sharp lines in keeping with the story’s high energy. Rose also praises another character, Itzcoatl, a foil to Hector, who Rose keeps mysterious under his costume. And then there is Malin, a hell on wheels, who is the driving force behind, and in front, of Hector. These are all bold, yet very vulnerable, characters trapped by, but fighting against, forces leading to a very real end to the Aztec nation.
“Sacrifice” is remarkable for many reasons, not the least of which is all the history it so neatly packs into this story. It cleverly handles the classic time travel theme of attempting to alter fixed points in time. Are some things simply unalterable? Hector struggles with his role, his fate, among the Aztecs. At first, he simply wants to go home. Hey, he’s just a kid who somehow fell through a fast food parking lot and is now just way over his head. It is the beautiful young princess/warrior, Malin, who talks some sense into him. Before long, Hector finds himself totally immersed in the Aztec culture. In the end, should he even try to alter history and attempt to have the Aztecs overpower their Spanish invaders?
Humphries and Rose do a great job of taking a story with a lot of fantasy and science fiction elements and keeping it both quirky and grounded. We know that Hector has issues he’s dealing with back in the present day. What we also know is that Hector is a Mexican-American. He does struggle with that dual identity with one foot in each culture and no balance. And we also know that Hector’s family lived near the Black Mountain, which plays a significant role in Aztec history. Not only that, Hector’s father was fascinated with Aztec folklore and regularly recited stories to young Hector about gods, warriors, and Spanish invaders. Is it any wonder then that, when Hector’s life began to crumble, he sought higher ground, all the way up to Aztec temples?
“Sacrifice” gained much praise as a self-published comic series. For those who are already familiar with Sam Humphries and the work he is capable of (a tribute to Jim Henson’s Fraggle Rock was a turning point, quirky, but a point on a significant turn, nonetheless!), well, it just makes complete and utter sense to celebrate the collected “Sacrifice.” So, keep in mind, the book will be released on August 21 in comics shops, and on September 2 in bookstores. Visit our friends at Dark Horse Comics for more details here. And plan to order you copy from Things From Another World here.
ComiXology’s Submit line-up this week includes the first issue of an intriguing comic with a time travel theme, “Time Samplers.” Created by Thomas Gorence, it is written by Thomas Gorence, Erik Koconis, David Pinckney and drawn by Christopher Hanchey. Published by Paranoid American, it is 37 pages priced at $2.99. If you enjoy a plot laced with a healthy dose of conspiracy theory, this one takes care of you in more ways than one. Yes, indeed, this is a wild ride coming at you from various vantage points and with enough twists to keep any fan of time travel stories quite satisfied.
Didn’t we go through a very strange “adjustment” to our financial instituitons not so long ago? We’re all familiar with the big players in the banking system, including J.P. Morgan Chase, are we not? Well, return to the source for insider trading and the like, the original crew of fat cats at Jekyll Island, circa 1913. Point of fact, it was at this elite country club that J.P. and friends cobbled together the U.S. Federal Reserve. In this comic, we find these industrialists meeting with Alexander Graham Bell to discuss his proposals to control the masses through sound waves. Not a bad idea but no one is fully won over quite yet. Although, they are interested in Bell’s prototypes for human slaves in the form of “sheeple.”
That is the scene that two adventurous young men, Cal and Lex, drop in on, through their employment with a mad scientist. It’s a great set up and well worth sticking around for. The artwork is an animated and fun style, light and purposeful. There is attention to backgrounds, architecture, gadgets, and characters. All in all, a comic that brings its A game to the table. You get quirky dialogue, well paced action, and a time travel scenario to sink your teeth into.
Also, as part of this comic, you get a shorter work, “Operation Midnight Climax,” which as a scary amount of CIA stories to tell. Compressed into a mini-comic format, there’s a nice gritty feel to this story of CIA agent George Hunter White and how the CIA made use of just about any and all available drugs for what it considered the greater good.
You can check out “Time Samplers #1” at ComiXology here.