Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mézières
When a rogue planet threatens a new Human colony, Valerian and Laureline are sent to investigate and discover a barren, rocky surface… and a whole world beneath it! The people who live inside Zahir have never seen the stars. Divided along gender lines, torn by a senseless and bloody war, they are unaware that their planet is hurtling towards disaster. To stop it, the two agents of Galaxity will have to infiltrate both sides and force a reconciliation.
Oh dear, here we go again, Volume 3 of Valerian and Laureline, one of the greatest sci-fi epics in printed form…. except I still don’t really see it. Granted, I’m warming to it, I really am. With Volume 1, I just couldn’t see it, it all seemed a little too dated and staid:
“It reads and looks to my uncultured eyes like a badly produced late 70s cartoon series, the kind with badly drawn characters against static backgrounds who always found themselves with every plot device meticulously explained to the point of near irony and every situation the hero finds himself in has some immediately available solution.”
There was more to enjoy in Volume 2:
“… still not the classic I keep being told Valerian is, but the improvement here on the first volume is profound. I can only hope that, as so many of you have promised, this series keeps on this upward curve. Because at this rate, somewhere around volume 5 or 6 I imagine I may well be agreeing with you about it being a bit of a classic.“
This one starts with a problem and quickly ascends at least partway to the wonders I keep being promised. Problem first.
Valerian and Laureline is often hailed as something of a masterpiece in humanism, but all the way through The Land Without Stars the humanism has a distinct smack of chauvinism about it.
Take the first few pages and the repeating gag of Valerian delivering the farewell speech to the colonists of the four planets of the Ukbar system. He finds himself doing the space equivalent of nipping through to the billiard room for brandy whilst the little women chat about knitting or such-like:
And that feeling carries through the volume, as Christin splits up the pair to investigate the planet careering into the Ukbar system, plunging into a society split across gender lines. Valerian finds himself a slave warrior to the female amazons of the city of Malka, and Laureline a bride in the male dominated city of Valsennar. But there’s little subtlety, little avoidance of the worst stereotypes. And unfortunately it seems so ancient, so out of date. Am I being hopelessly reactionary? Overly sensitive? Should I simply look at it as a product of its time?
But what saves this one is that, once you look past the sexism, there’s something important here; Laureline comes into her own, isolated from Valerian, the conflict is solved through negotiation, thinking, diplomacy, the worlds are saved by adapting the political and social ideologies of the people, not through force. It relies not on force, but on the inventiveness of the protagonists, and of course, the inventiveness of the man writing these protagonists.
And even better, what really makes me think that, even though it’s not there yet, but at some point I’m going to be fully on-board with all the fans is sheer out and out epic stuff going on in the sci-fi, specifically the quite wonderful planetary geography of the planet Zahir:
Yes, okay, hollow planets are nothing new, but there’s a real sense of the “wow” in the manner in which Christin, and especially Mézières just throws us into the situation. That sort of legendary imagining is the sort of stuff that I wanted much more of.
But sadly, after that early bit of rather impressive wonder it does settle down to a somewhat pedestrian affair, although like I said, I did appreciate Christin adopting a far more thoughtful resolution than much sci-fi manages.
So, just like with Volume 2, I find myself coming to the end of another Valerian and Laureline review with a sense of “maybe I’m missing something?”, or maybe it’s simply, as I keep being told, a series that takes off in a couple of volumes time. This one was good enough, but it’s still not up there in grand epic stature yet.