Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Tangled River

Hey, the 1940s called, they want their drawing style back.

...Y'know, for an overused joke, I so rarely get to use that joke.

Anyway, Tangled River. Is a webcomic. Is clear. Is clean. Is sci. Is fi.
Is somewhat declarative.

Then again, that suits its general aesthetic. Like Freefall, Escape From Terra or A Miracle of Science, Tangled River owes a lot to the golden age of science fiction, when SF was just regaining a hard science edge. Though, really... can anything with humanoid "aliens" ever qualify as hard Scie Fie?

Tanya is the oldest "beta" or second-generation human on an alien planet inexplicably inhabited by an entire earthlike ecosphere complete with tribal stone-age "aliens" with pointy ears and face spots. Having the entire story narrated from her necessarily limited adolescent perspective imbues it with a forced but engaging sense of mystery aside from the usual "coming of age" schlock. Her world consists of chores and teenage dating drama and caring for her chronically depressed mother until she's called to adventure by a flaming portend in the sky, to plumb the mysteries of human technology's sudden failure and their expedition's fragmentation.

The target audience for this one's a bit hard to pin down, if it even has one. Drawing style: clean, well-proportioned, but on the other hand theatrical. A teenage heroine might indicate a teenage market, but the story moves much too leisurely, nonviolently and non-romantically for that. A "coming of age" story might indicate a condescending adult audience looking down their noses at youth, but Tanya's a surprisingly level-headed and respectable girl, all-in-all. General tone and pacing might indicate sedate hard science fiction, but its pointy-eared "alien" setting undercuts that and fails to deliver the constant technoporn one might expect.

The best I can situate it is teetering awkwardly between Robinson's Red Mars and Heinlein's Podkayne of Mars, though really even that's an unfair comparison. (Also: distinct lack of Mars.) Despite all it might be said to lack, despite its seeming initial simplicity, Tangled River holds together well enough on the merit of its own mix of interpersonal and interplanetary intrigue. It can't lack what it doesn't need. If you like old-school space pioneer stories, this one's for you.

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