Sunday, February 9, 2014


Christopher Baldwin spent a decade writing and illustrating the daily life of a capricious, emotionally unbalanced, self-destructive, cerebral, hypercritical misfit. Given that, would you like to see the spin he can put on larger-than-life SciFi heroes saving the galaxy?

Read Spacetrawler. It's completed, so you need fear no cliffhangers. Really, it might be said it's slightly over-cooked, as the short bonus story tacked on at the end progresses rather by-the-numbers, mere fan service without inspiration. Really, even by the epilogue of the main story itself, it was obvious that Baldwin was rushing to tie up this work and move on to something else. (And he's already started publishing that something else.) Still, it is well worth the time.

Though the author chose to advertise it as a comedy comic and indeed manages to pack some laughs into every page, Spacetrawler's humor is relatively dark and tightly interwoven with character and plot development, not the repetitive, gratuitous triviality of most gag-a-day strips. If one were to compare it to the most famous SciFi parody, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Spacetrawler's tone would much more closely resemble the preachier, more bitter later installments than the relatively lighthearted first book.

Neither does it wallow in maudlin overstatement. It strikes that ideal balance toward macabre derision at the oppressor's wrong, the law's delay, the pangs of despised love, the insolence of office. Baldwin's style is too deeply rooted in the human condition to make for eye-opening science fiction by itself. His aliens though pleasingly alien in shape are human, all-too-human in their behavior, but the juxtaposition remains consistently amusing. It's a lot like Fry and Leela's first conversation in Futurama.

Fry: What's with the eye?
Leela: I'm an alien, alright?
Fry: Cool, an alien. Has your race taken over the Earth?
Leela: No, I just work here.

And, as in George R. R. Martin's Tuf Voyaging, the layers of humor and adventure conceal poignant commentary on the moral perils of do-gooding. While not true antiheroes, the limitations of the heroes' own nature and their largely unworkable dilemmas result in many of their decisions being "fucking ape-shit evil" as one character summarizes toward the end. In contrast to Tuf's largely detached, principled ethical calculations, Martina and her impulsive, passionate band of revolutionaries live with the constant emotional backlash of their actions. The most fascinating moments of the story are those draconian final measures, carried out or averted, those moral lode-stones which nonetheless weigh down the spirit.

To me, much of it was unintuitively touchy-feely. I am much more at home on the Ark with Haviland Tuf, making solitary, rational choices than on the over-crowded Star Banger. Most characters' co-dependence grates at times and I found myself echoing Krep's exasperation. I do not often find them relatable... but they are believable, and all the more interesting for having to make Tuf* decisions without the benefit of Tuf's introversion.


*And if you thought I could write two whole posts mentioning Heavy-and-Tough without punning him at least once, dey don't know me vewwy well, do dey?

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