I can tell you the first time I heard of Bob Proehl. It was from Eta Lambda Chapter Pi Kappa Phi brother, Tim who is Bob’s actual brother. He posted about Bob’s book A Hundred Thousand Worlds which I finally got around to reading this year after finding it in a small bookshop in Ithaca, Buffalo Street Books. 2016’s A Hundred Thousand Worlds is not the first book I read from Bob, the first being The Nobody People, which has a sequel out this year The Somebody People, which are books strongly in the Sci Fi genre about mutantesk people in the world.
With that said, this review is about A Hundred Thousand Worlds, Bobs freshmen book. This book follows Alex and his mother, Val, on a journey across the United States using comic-cons as the venue to tell most of the story telling. Intertwined we get the stories of other characters including comic book writers, comic characters, a tv writer and the episode stories from the TV show Val used to be on. There are a few underlying mysteries throughout the story including why did Val flee California to New York with Alex at an early age? Why isn’t Andrew, Val’s co star and Alex’s father, still in the picture? Happened to Tim, the show runner from Vals and Andrews show? Also what is going on in the world of comics? It’s a very interesting story which I am going to spoil in the coming paragraphs.
The world of comics explored in A Hundred Thousand Worlds is quite interesting. It covers the gambit of the big two and independents. In doing this it tackles some of the dilemmas seen in comics today. One issue addressed is sexism in comics, both in its writers being mainly male and the themes in the comics. Our one lead female writer at the big two, Gal, seems to be having a hard time breaking into the big name characters, and is actually being dropped from her arc due to “creative differences.” She keeps pitching great ideas but cannot seem to get through and the big two are really cast as a man’s world. As much as I love Scott Snyder, Jason Aaron and the likes this is not an untrue assessment of the big two in real life. At one dinner the book tackles the fact very famous writer seems to have rape scene in any comic that he reached 100 issues in. The book also addresses credits in comics a la Siegel and Shuster and Bill FInger. A Hundred Thousand Worlds also explores how the death of creativity is hitting comics big two as they are limited with what they can do due to movie deals and franchises, which ends up having a surprising offer get presented to Gail to create something new and original, not something done often at the big two in the past 15 years. Overall it’s an interesting look into the comic industry with some real world undertones mixed in.
One plot point explored that I found interesting but did not love was the fact that Alex writes a comic book with one of the independent artists, Brett. It starts interesting enough with Alex exploring the comic con floor and running into Brett at his table. Brett asks Alex if he is looking for a commission and Alex interprets this as asking to do a Co-Mission and write something together. This event leads to a friendship that gets built upon and is done very well, but yet the comic that they write together didn’t click with me. I know it’s Alex and Brett’s way of dealing with things but I just seemed to not be able to connect to the story in these sections which caused it to be the one part that really dragged in the book for me.
Val is the semi mysterious main character which the entire book really revolves around. She is the central character to every arc and hers is an extremely interesting story. What we know in the beginning of the book is that Val is taking Alex west to LA from NYC and to her fame she is using the comic con circuits to get there. Val played an Agent Scally like character on a show called Anomaly, which to me kinda seems like X-Files meets Sliders. We slowly uncover more and more of her mystery, including the fact she ran from LA with Alex and is now headed back as Alex’s father, Andrew, wants to have his portion of custody of Alex, though he has been uninterested up to now. This leads to the story being partly about a mother and son who grow apart as he grows but more because there is an event which will force them to grow apart, one she wants to both run from and protect Alex from, knowing that her “baby” will be grown and a pre-teen after his time with Andrew, he will be changed. Over time we learn why Val and Andrew are not together, an event I honestly did not see coming, and not to get into to much spoilers but it has to do with murder. Looking at the book from the perspective of a parent, Val’s story really is a story about parenthood and wanting to do what’s best for your child at all possible cost even if some actions are questionable.
The most sci fi part of this book is Alex and his magic words. He believes that a special magic word will have power. In the beginning of the book he attempts to say city names backwards, including Olaffub and Acahti but I think he may have had better luck with Retsehcor. I think this is one of the most fun concepts in the book and one I wish was explored more often, if not only to get to see more fun backwards names but also to see if any of these words have real magic. Early on it seems to be a key character trait of Alex, but is missed through most of the remainder of the book, this may be to the fact he himself is growing up and past this, he is changing.
Alex’s magic words do lead to the unclear ending which I am going to explore as I found it thought provoking. I have avoided major spoilers up to here but at this point I’m going to go full steam ahead, so warning spoilers ahead. (Skip the rest of this paragraph if you don’t want main plot points spoiled.) You know how I said an event happened that drove Val away, well it was a murder of the showrunner Tim’s wife, Rachel, at an award ceremony. Turns out Andrew was having an affair, and after breaking it off, the girlfriend got jealous. She shot Rachel in front of Tim and Val because Rachel was with Andrew at that moment, the bullet most likely meant for Val. This has a lot of immediate ramifications, Andrew and Val split, Tim has a mental breakdown, and the shooter has a breakdown thinking she is in the show Andrew and Val are from but still ends up in prison. Val ends up fleeing LA after she finds out that for one of Andrews rendezviews for the affair Alex was in the next room. This leads to Val fleeing LA with Alex for his safety, never wanting to go back. All of this is very important to how things end, and in some ways makes the ending a bit magical. For Tim, he ends up getting better near the end of the book. The Tim in the modern times of the book is very broken mentally, until the near end, he seems to be having an up swing, and we find out the shooter killed herself in prison. It is almost as though Tim knew before he actually knew, and when this happened he could stop living in fear, which helped him come back to life in a way. For Alex, we learn the shooter’s name near the end of the book, which I honestly do not remember myself, though this feels semi intentional as Val didn’t want to remember the name and this is Vals story as much as it is Alexs. This name and the events related to it are something Alex didn’t know though, and names have power. This leads me to one of two interpretations of the end of the book, Alex says something to his parents and the book ends on this. My explanation grounded in reality is that Alex says the shooter’s name to get something he wants as he knows this name holds power over both his mother and father, the name is “magic”. The one less grounded in reality is Alex says the shooters name backwards, and this had real magic in it, the result was something fantastical we are only left to wonder about.
Overall Bob Proehl A Hundred Thousand Worlds was a very interesting freshman book, though I have not read many books from freshman authors. The characters were compelling and the story was very well woven with all the elements Bob brought in. I actually just bought The Somebody People at Barnes and Noble this weekend and cannot wait to bring you the combined review of The Nobody People and The Somebody people at some point in some future.