In a future where the polar icecaps melted, the oceans rose, and reality TV is even more insanely popular than it is today, most people are just trying to get by day to day. Many, like Orson, take to the oceans above the old cities and salvage for whatever scraps of the old world they can find. But Orson is not quite like other people. Sure, he is a scavenger, and poor to boot, but Orson has a unique past. He and his 17 siblings were genetically engineered for one purpose: to go to Mars. They were given expanded bone mass and flesh density intended to make them more suited for the long flight between Earth and the Red Planet. But the world wasn't exactly ready for genetically engineered humans, and the outcry was loud and universal.
That's the past, though. Now, Orson is a scavenger who is running out of things to salvage. On a trip into dangerous waters, he comes across a ship in distress, and rescues two people: a man and a child. The man is wounded, possibly dying. And the child? She is possibly the most famous child in the world. Adopted by a Brad and Angelina–type reality television supercouple to be part of their “Ark,” she was recently kidnapped. The whole world is looking for her. It's up to Orson to see her safely home again. Not an easy task when everyone seems to be hunting him, too.
I've had Spaceman: Deluxe Edition in my “to be read” pile for a while now. I admit, the cover intrigued me. Having finally bit the bullet and purchased it, I have to say that I am still thinking about it a week after finishing it. There are a lot of strong themes here, including climate change, the moral and ethical concerns over human cloning and genetic manipulation, and, of course, our obsession as a society with reality television. The combination makes for an interesting read, one where author Brian Azzarello’s views aren't exactly hidden in subtext.
This was not an easy read, and I should preface that by saying that there's a lot of sex, nudity and violence in this book. But that wasn't what made it difficult for me to read. First, there was the language. In building his world, Azzarello has created a dialect all his own. It took me a while to get into the cadence of the speech and figure out what people were saying, even to the point of having to reread the first part of the book a couple of times to pick up on everything. Second, the themes of the book are blatant. No hidden meanings here whatsoever, and to some (like me), that can be off-putting.
Don't get me wrong—it's a good read once you get going, but I can see where some people might not stick with it long enough to get there, and that's sad. Orson's character arc—from astronaut to scavenger to potential hero—could be a compelling one. However, Orson doesn't really change over the course of the book. None of the characters really do, which makes the book feel more one dimensional than it should, or could, be.
I'm trying to decide where this story falls, genre-wise. Sci-fi? Absolutely. But is it dystopian or apocalyptic? I see elements of both. It will appeal to people who like either, but isn't for the kids in the family, or anyone easily offended by sex and violence.
The art, done by Eduardo Risso, is fantastic. The world shines through here, and we are given excellent details, from Orson's boat to the flotillas and docks where people live, and the drowned skyscrapers of the past.
I ended up buying the Deluxe Edition Hardcover, which includes all nine chapters (issues) of Spaceman, plus a sketchbook.
Patrick Hester is an author, blogger and 2013 Hugo Award Winner for Best Fanzine (Editor - SF Signal). He 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 was nominated for a 2012 and a 2013 Hugo Award. In addition to his Kirkus posts, he writes for atfmb.com, SF Signal and Functional Nerds.