Wednesday, July 5, 2017

A Hundred Thousand Worlds by Bob Proehl

My plans to read like hell over my long 4th of July weekend were completely dashed by last minute opportunities to spend time having fun outside in the sun and an unexpected (but happy!) home project. But this was  a good thing, as it gave me time to think about this novel after I finished it. It's one that you need to read and digest slowly. 

I'll begin by saying I read this book with very little knowledge regarding the world of comic books and comic book conventions, so there were probably many things that I missed just through lack of knowledge.  But, I worked in a bookstore for many, many years, and have friends who are comic book fans, so I completely get the fandom that surrounds series, superheroes, authors and illustrators.  
There is a large cast of characters, with Valerie Torrey and her nine year old son, Alex, in the center of the plot. Valerie was once Bethany Frazer, the female lead on a wildly popular sci-fi tv show, Anomaly.  Valerie and the male lead, Andrew (who plays Ian Campbell) meet, marry, and have Alex during the course of the series.  But their marriage falls apart, and Valerie flees to New York with Alex, and six years later they are returning to Los Angeles so that Alex can live with Andrew.  Valerie is dreading this, but doesn't have a choice, since she basically fled in the night and has made no attempt to contact Andrew or let him see his son.  And Andrew hasn't made any attempt, until lately.  Something momentous had happened that tore them apart, and ended Anomaly prematurely.  

Stopping at comic conventions from Cleveland, to Chicago, to finally L.A. gives Valerie time to spend with her son, and a reconnection to her fame as the iconic Bethany Frazer.  It's been a long time since she had identified with Bethany, and she's not ready to revisit the past. 

There are a host of other characters, each with a sizeable storyline of their own.  Gail is the only female comic writer; she's tough, frustrated with her career, and dreams of striking out on her own without being bound by the ties of a large publishing company.  Brett is part of a duo that is working the conventions to bring attention to their independently produced comic series Lady Stardust.  He's also at a crossroads, and wondering how to be happy and make it in the comic book industry.  

Valerie and Alex have a road trip story; full of questionable hotels, late night storytelling, and many moments of wanting to be back home.  All the characters cross paths over and over again as we get to know their stories, their motivations, and how each uses storytelling to work through their problems.  They are all at major crossroads; who will leap forward, and who will let the past limit them?

I have to say it was a bit slow going at first; but about halfway through I realized I was invested in each story and wanted to see where they lead.  There's a point in the novel where one character talks about how stories are so much bigger in the beginning, because they can go anywhere, but eventually they are winnowed down because there needs to be an ending.  That's kind of how this novel plays out.  Alex is a smart kid, but he's trying to write his own story; Gail and Brett both change the endings of their stories; and Valerie finds it in herself to make a big decision and make peace with her tragic past.  The plot is neatly tied up, except for Alex's.  Maybe I missed something, but the way I read the last few pages, author Bob Proehl leaves it up to you to finish the story how you would want it.  Instead of feeling frustrated, it's a great way to demonstrate the power of storytelling, the power in all of us to write our own story, and the knowledge that our stories never end.

A big thank you to Viking/Penguin for the chance to read and review this book.  It's not something I would have ever picked up myself, but I'm glad I rewrote my reading story this summer and dipped my toe into the world of comic book fandom.  I would recommend this novel for a sci-fi or even a comic book group.  There are a lot of things to discuss, and many characters who represent real world giants in the comic book industry.  There are plenty of plot points, characters, and real world references to keep a group of fans busy for hours. 

Rating:  4/6 for a novel that has a bit of everything:  road trip adventure, mother-son dynamic, comments on the comic book industry with all of the good and bad, and characters that read like everyday people just trying to write their lives.  

Available in paperback and e-book. 

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