By Ian MacAllen on Monday, July 18th, 2016 at 9:04 am
Bob Proehl enters into the world of comic book and science fiction fandom in his debut novel A Hundred Thousand Worlds. He was joined at Greenlight Bookstore in Brooklyn to talk about the novel, super fans, and comic books by Ryan Britt, author of Luke Skywalker Can’t Read and Other Geeky Truths.
Proehl’s novel is the story of Valerie Torrey, former star of a cult sci-fi show, and her son Alex as they travel west on a comic book convention tour. Alex’s father, Valerie’s costar, has is estranged from both of them.
Often comic books and science fiction can be inaccessible to casual readers of the genres, so Proehl invented every single reference in the novel rather than drawing on real world characters and plots. The comic books in his world are not those of Batman, Spiderman, or X-Men, but rather fictional creations he made up. Proehl chose this tactic so that anyone could read the book and not worry about missing obscure references. But, he adds, inventing fictional science fiction worlds are a lot of fun.
Valerie is the star the show Anomaly based loosely on late 1990s science fiction like X-Files in part because he wanted to focus on an era when the internet was still a nascent technology. Fandom was different before the invasive power of the internet. X-Files also is somewhat less geeky than space travel shows like Babylon 5 or Star Trek and within the world he needed the show to function as a more mainstream success.
Throughout the novel, Valerie retells stories of the episodes to her son, but often she changes the plotlines. She is editing them to tell the story she wants to tell.
Anomaly has plenty of potential stories. Proehl spent a lot of time writing out plots for episodes of the show, often as a form of procrastination. So why not write the science fiction story? “I’m not a super high concept writer,” he says.
Writing out just the pieces of a science fiction, fantasy, and comic book worlds means that readers never see the whole thing and all the details don’t need to work like they would in a fully fledged story.
There are plenty of toxic elements in fan culture, Proehl says, and he wanted to write a story about the type of fan culture he wanted to see. He wanted to imagine fandom after it reconciled the problematic elements. It is important to learn to love something while recognizing the problems with it.
“I go back and forth on fandom,” Proehl says, because it can be toxic in many ways, but this is also a minority opinion.
“I have a lot of faith these things will sort themselves out.”
One area many super fans argue about is maintaining the continuity within the fantastical universes. They often get upset when a movie differs from the book it is based on. Proehl prefers a more selective approach saying there is so much to choose from, it becomes unnecessary to love everything.
At present, Proehl is reading more D.C. Comics than Marvel, but a few months ago he probably was reading more Marvel. It goes back and forth, he says. He prefers Batman to Superman, and says he was never really onboard with Deadpool. He is not, however, a gamer, saying that while many of those worlds are interesting, he simply doesn’t have time to play games.
Much of what he writes about in A Hundred Thousand Worlds when it comes to the comic book industry is accurate. He ended up speaking to people working in the industry, especially about details like pay scale.
The book itself began as an idea across twenty pages he had written, and then walked away from. He ended up taking a residency in the woods, where he wrote most of the first draft in a month. He had no internet to distract him. He spent another year and a half revising and editing.
Bob Proehl and Ryan Britt
Tuesday, July 12, 2016
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