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Monday, December 3, 2012

The Moon Moth -- The Return of Real Science Fiction -- in a graphic novel

     When I was a young nerd in middle school, once a week or so I would walk to my Grandpa and Uncle Dirk's house.  They were both professors and their house, despite the best efforts of my mom and her sisters, always seemed in a perpetual state of rumpled disorder -- rather like a library that someone had been living in.  In that house I was given free reign of the study in the basement -- with no one asking me when I would be done looking at books so I could clean my room or mow the grass or whatever.  It was glorious. 
     The basement study had shelf upon shelf of philosophy and theology and history and astronomy.  But my favorite section was the old science fiction that my Uncle Dirk had bought in his younger days.  Here were endless issues of Astounding Science Fiction -- each about he size of a slightly overgrown paperback.  Here were books by Phillip K. Dick, A.E. VanVoight, Asimov, Bradbury, Larry Nivin, Arthur C. Clarke, and Ursala K. LeGuin.  And these books were not action movies set on other planets, these were first of all SCIENCE fiction.  Within them were concepts of physics and time travel, astronomy, sociology, psychology, and biology -- ranging from well-grounded theories applied to new environments, to whacked-out crazy thoeries that were fun to read about.  Though such fiction was sometimes a bit wordy, it was, at its best, fiction that made the reader think and wonder and dream.  I loved it.
     Star Wars came along (and I fell in love with that sort of story as well) but other than Blade Runner's brief revival of Phillip K. Dick's work, pure science fiction fell by the wayside, replaced by novels and stories that seemed to have a far better grasp of how to tell a story, but much less interest in the science. 
     And now, out of the blue, First Second publishers and Humayoun Ibrahim (who is a graphic novel creator I have never heard of before) bring out a brilliant new adaptation of Jack Vance's The Moon Moth

The story is a little hard to explain.  Edwer Thissell is an ambassader of sorts from Earth tot he planet Sirene.  Thissell has arrived on the planet with very little briefing but soon finds it a bewildering place.  The inhabitants of Sirene all wear masks to indicate their social status.  They communicate multimodally using words and music -- with different instruments indicating different social situations.  The moral code of their society is based on each person acting in his or her self-interest.  And Thissel has to solve a murder -- in this setting where the masks mean you can never tell who you are dealing with, the moral code means that you can never tell who is telling the truth, and errors in musical communication etiquette are punishable by death.
     This book is not for everyone.  But if you (or one of your students) like puzzling things out, like stunningly beautiful illustrations (see below),a good detective story set on another planet, and some excellent story twists at the end, thsi book might become one of your favorites.

It might also fit in well with some high school social studies units (though it would be a stretch.)  Anyway, check it out.  Let me know what you think.

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