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A Hundred Thousand Worlds: A Novel Paperback – June 6, 2017
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An Amazon Best Book of July 2016: It’s easy to compare Proehl’s A Hundred Thousand Worlds to Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. Both center on comic books, and both take those creations seriously (as well they should). But where Chabon’s tale is wide in scope, Proehl’s is tightly framed on a handful of weeks in which four people—a comic book artist, a comic book writer, a former TV star, and her nine-year-old son—travel cross-country to various comic-cons. Proehl’s touch is both sensitive and assured: Even the smallest interactions between Alex and his mother, Val, echo with a bright poignancy. Young Alex is the beating heart of the novel, and A Hundred Thousand Worlds can easily be read as a coming-of-age tale, but its steely strength lies in its recognition that we’re all constantly growing up, no matter how old you are. And growing up is always a wee bit painful. Says a Joss Whedon-esque TV director, staring out at the convention hall of the Los Angeles comic-con: “You know what all this is, don’t you? This is the immune system of the human soul. Superheroes, space rangers, time cowboys, they are the T cells of the spirit. There were always here to save us. We made them to save us.” After reading A Hundred Thousand Worlds, you will add Proehl’s smart, flawed, and thoughtful characters to the list of those who can save us and our dreams. --Adrian Liang, The Amazon Book Review --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
From Publishers Weekly
Proehl lovingly illustrates the world of fan culture in this debut novel, presenting an accessible story with plenty of insider shout-outs for the true nerds. Years prior, on the heels of a terrible tragedy, Valerie Torrey ran away from a successful career on television. On "Anomaly," an X-Filesâtype show that inspired a rabid fan base, she and Andrew Rhodes played a time-traveling duo; off the set, they conceived a son. The story unfolds as Val drives their son, Alex, cross-country from Brooklyn to Los Angeles to reunite with Andrew. Alex hasn't seen his father in six years. At nine, he is small for his age and full of wonder, and right at the border of a more adult understanding of the world. Val hasn't told Alex that she'll return to New York without him. Instead she plans the road trip to coincide with her appearances at a number of comics conventions dotted across the country, and, as they draw closer to Los Angeles, doles out stories to Alex from the show that brought his parents together and tore them apart. Along the way, Val and Alex meet Brett, an illustrator who is touring to support his indie comic "Lady Stardust," and Gail Pope, a woman writing a series owned by one of the two major comic book distributors. Gail provides insight into the insular world of professional comic books. The prose can feel a bit heavy-handed in its earnestness, but this is an ambitious debut effort, and Proehl conveys his deep affection for comics and the people who build their life around them. (June)\n --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Apart from that, however, the story succeeds because of Val and Alex, the mother-son pair who are at the heart of this story. Val is the former star of a wildly popular SF show who has left the world of LA and Alex’s father behind to live and work in NYC. Now, she is taking him back across the country to his father, slowing the journey by stopping at various conventions along the way. Val tells Alex stories of her life with his father as episodes of her show and he explores the conventions, meeting a number of interesting characters.
If I have a problem with this story, it’s that I have mixed feelings about the past tragedy that eventually gets revealed near the end of the novel. If not exactly tacked on, as it fits in with the story, in seems unnecessary in comparison to the emotional investment in the family relationships. In my estimation it takes away from the core story.
And yet, that is a small complaint about a novel that impressed me greatly. As one of those guys who grew up in the world of science fiction and its fandom, I love the setting but I love even more how the setting flavors the story but isn’t the story. You don’t have to be interested in fandom to enjoy this story of family.