Valerie Torrey was once the female heroine of a scifi series on TV. Years ago, though, she fled LA to New York, taking with her three-year-old Alex. Six years later, mother and son's reverse that migration for reasons that slowly appear in the text of Bob Proehl’s A Hundred Thousand Worlds. Val and her precocious child make the trip west in three steps while she revives that iconic character for fans at comic-cons along the route to LA. To the cast of characters, Proehl adds Brett, a comic artist, and Gail, a writer. A troupe of women in cosplay drag accompanies them.
Proehl digresses into long discussions of the art and business of graphic novels (though he never actually uses that phrase) and even a little on TV series. At the same time, however, he does little to describe his characters, except to occasionally mention that Gail’s a lesbian who favors sweatshirts. The “superheroes” are, frankly, even more ridiculous than those on the shelves at your local store – “Speck & Iota” instead of Ant Man, “Ferret” and “Ferret Lass” instead of… whomever.
What’s sad for this reader is that Proehl is highly accomplished when it comes to the turn of phrase, and seems to do a good job of capturing the emotional bond between mother and son. As befits a novel written in this decade, the characters’ back-stories unfold slowly within the plot rather than being laid out at the beginning. In fact, Proehl does a better than average job of spinning this out.
Where A Hundred Thousand Worlds falls short, for this reader anyway, is that it has no ending… it merely peters out somewhere around page 360, and the characters simply wander off into various sunsets. Given Proehl’s careful construction of intertwining lives – down to casting Brett’s ex-girlfriend as Alex’s one-time babysitter, a connection unbeknownst to all – it’s disconcerting to see the little band disintegrate in the end. Considering all the page space Proehl gives to the idea of endings in comics, you’d think he’d have more of an ending for his novel.