This massive book caught my eye for a couple of reasons. First, I know Dark Horse puts out great books. Second, the cover is a fascinating mix of fairy tale creatures and science fiction elements like rocket ships and wormholes. Who wouldn't want to pick that up and thumb through? It's essentially an attempt to reimagine classic fairy tales (a trend these days) in a science fiction setting. Editors Andrew Carl and Chris Stevens sought a plethora of indie and up-and-coming writers and artists like Farel Dalrymple (Pop Gun War), Ryan Ottley (Invincible), Khoi Pham (Daredevil), and Brandon Graham (King City) to put a wholly new and different spin on these familiar stories. And I have to admit, they have done a damned fine job of it.
Once Upon a Time Machine: 432 pages. 50 stories. 26 writers. 51 illustrators. This is a gigantic book filled with different artistic styles and takes on the various stories. Imagine if someone took the time to adapt Gardner Dozois' The Year's Best Science Fiction: Twenty-Ninth Annual Collection into a series of comics/graphic novels—that's the scale and scope of this volume. Ambitious, I know, but it really works and better than you might think.
For example, Chip Skelton and Amida Azeez Olayode's take on The Three Musketeers is set in Lagos, Nigeria, 3276 A.D. Who doesn't want to see Porthos, Athos and Aramis battling the Cardinal's robot army on the top of a train through traveling across a barren African landscape? As a twist, Porthos and Aramis are blind and see through the eyes of Athos. Andrew Carl and William Allan C. Reyes reimagine John Henry as the greatest pilot/space miner in history, battling for human rights against the rise of robots programmed to do the job cheaper and more efficiently.
Another stand out is The Tortoise and the Hair, reimagined as The Tea Garden Soap Box Grand Prix, by David Tanh and Marcus Muller. The Kame Clan and the Usagi Clan decide to take their feud to the racetrack, where the Usagis have traditionally dominated. A very clever adaptation drawn in a Manga style complete with giant robots. What's not to love?
But for a truly beautiful piece of art, I'll point you to The Shepherd and the Weaver Girl by Saajan Patel and Jim Giar. This tale is illustrated in a classic style with rich details and such fantastical elements as a mechanical flying bull against a backdrop that could be in any Hong Kong martial arts flick these days.
One more for you—The Billy Goats Gruff, or The Crossing by Charles Fetherolf. Set in a post-apocalyptic future, Billie is a slick, also known as a gruff; she's a scavenger, traveling outside the safety of the GRF—the Government Relocation Facility, to navigate the waterways and bring back much-needed supplies. Done in a watercolor style, this piece is particularly striking.
I could go on and on: Pinocchio as a holographic AI, The Mouse and the Lion envisioned as a cautionary tale about genetic engineering set in a world where gladiatorial games have returned, or Humpty Dumpty used to illustrate a virtual reality created inside the shattered mind of a boy.
Once Upon A Time Machine is wonderful addition to any library and truly has some imaginative reinterpretations of classic stories and fairy tales, enough so that it stands out from the crowd.
Patrick Hester is an author, blogger and Hugo-nominated Podcast producer/host who lives in Colorado, writes science fiction and fantasy, and can usually be found hanging out on his Twitter feed. His Functional Nerds and SF Signal weekly podcasts have both been nominated for Parsec awards, and the SF Signal podcast is nominated for a 2012 Hugo Award. He writes for atfmb.com, SF Signal and Functional Nerds.