Aldebaran – epic, humanist euro-fantasy
Each Cinebook volume contains two of the original French volumes:
Volume 1: Aldebaran: The Catastrophe & The Blonde
Volume 2: Aldebaran: The Group & The Photo
Volume 3: Aldebaran: The Creature & Betelgeuse: The Betelgeuse Planet
Aldebaran is a very European sci-fi epic – full of bizarre monsterous alien creatures as a group of people struggle their way across alien landscapes attempting to decipher the peculiar mysteries of the Mantris; an alien intelligence capable of granting seeming eternal life to a select group of humanity. But it’s also a very humanist fantasy, concentrating as it does on a small group of disparate people finding their way in this world against a background of science-fiction fantasy.
Two survivors of a devastating attack on their village by the Mantris; 17 year old Mark and 13 year old Kim find themselves caught up in a journey across Aldebaran – a journey that sees them inexorably drawn into a century long mystery and the secret of seeming eternall life. Along the way we see the pair struggle through the hostile jungles and seas of their planet, spend several years (between books) in jail after falling foul of Aldebaran’s dictatorship and slowly begin to discover the secrets of the Mantris after falling in with two mysterious strangers.
(The Mantris, the reason for the Aldebaran quest, mysterious and all powerful.)
Humanity’s connection with the strange alien lifeform goes back well over a hundred years when it contacted a group of 8 people and gave them the gift of 8 capsules. And from that point on, every ten years this select group finds itself inexplicably compelled to gather together at the spot the Mantris will next appear to provide the capsules once more. Over the years they’ve realised that they’ve stopped ageing – the Mantris’ gift appears to hold the secret to eternal youth. It’s the last two surviving members of the eight who Mark and Kim find themselves seemingly continually linked to, and it is they who will change the pairs lives forever at the end of the Aldebaran saga.
(The fauna and fauna of Aldebaran – not the most hospitible of places. Leo’s artwork and imagination comes up with some genuinely disturbing alien species.)
Aldebaran is pure space-opera, with the growing development of Kim and Mark and the rest of the diverse group set against the fantastical tale of the planet they live on and the mysterious Mantris. It’s a real slow burn of a read, and prone to passages that just play too slowly, with swaths of expositionary text replacing any real plot movement. It’s packed full of accidental meetings, co-incidences replacing plot developments – and it gets annoying at times. So much so that I very much doubt that if I’d just had Volume 1 in front of me I’d actually have considered going out and getting the rest. This one may well be one solely for the dedicated sci-fi and fantasy purists.
The art is accomplished work by Leo, fully able to illustrate both the mundane and fantastical elements of the story. His ability to create genuinely disturbing Alien landscapes and monsters is particularly impressive – many times I’ve turned the page and been repulsed by the artwork – and in a book like this that’s a very good thing. As usual, my knowledge of European artists and styles lets me down in the description, but there’s a very familiar look to the artwork that struck me almost immediately: Steve Dillon. The figure work and faces particularly remind me of the Preacher artist, a ragged but solidly readable style.
(Cinebook’s artwork changes at play in Aldebaran. The mysterious appearing bra, uneeded surely in an adult sci-fi graphic novel?)
Aldebaran’s also the first book where Cinebook’s policy of altering the artwork to make it more palatable for a non-European market cause problems. (And sadly, by non-European, they’re including the UK). It’s happened before (The Scorpion and Largo Winch in the books I’ve looked at) but only in Aldebaran has it proved contentious for me. The additions of badly drawn underwear in a book that’s clearly adult science-fiction and fantasy and labelled 15+ by Cinebook is just visually annoying. In such an adult book, dealing with normal human relationships I honestly don’t think the sight of fairly tame nudity is really that much of a problem. But badly added, innapropriate underwear of the sort found all the way through Aldebaran – that is a problem.