- Posted by Johanna on May 28, 2008 at 7:11 am
- Category: Graphic Novel Reviews
- CREDITS: by Tim Eldred
- PUBLISHER: Tor Books; $19.95 US
Tim Eldred’s Grease Monkey is the kind of story you don’t see much anymore. It’s a serialized space adventure, a collection of chapters in which a young boy struggles with growing up and falling in love in an exciting science fiction setting.
Robin Plotnik is a cadet assigned to fighter maintenance. He’s a space mechanic, working under a mentor who happens to be an intelligent gorilla. Robin’s going to learn the way the real world works, in spite of his fancy training, and the virtue of emotion, especially passion.
The two mechanics support the Barbarians, an all-female fighter squadron who are top of the heap. And Robin’s got a crush on Kara the librarian. His daily work leads to lessons about the virtue of imagination and the importance about loyalty and true friendship. The two are also tweaking the bureaucracy they find themselves within. Although the bigger picture deals with terror at what happened to the earth and hope provided by the Benefactors, daily life is quieter, although with its own challenges — winning combat competitions, fighting prejudice, putting up with stupid administrators and their pointless rules.
There’s an animated feel to the storytelling. Eldred can draw people and spaceships, the characters and setting, easily and well. There’s a manga feel to the design and layout, backed up with the increased detail more typical of American comics. This isn’t traditional science fiction (which explores “what if” some concept), but humorous adventure. (Comedy is essential when you have a talking gorilla, especially when he’s hopped up on too much cold medicine.) And there’s some romance as well, with a refreshingly practical take. Sometimes your dreams work out; sometimes they’re learning experiences that don’t go the way you expect, but you’re the better for it.
The earlier chapters betray the project’s history. Their dark shading, while readable, shows that they were originally published (by Kitchen Sink in 1996) in color. The later sections are more open, more obviously designed for the black-and-white used here. There’s a lot more to the checkered history of the project, but Eldred includes it in the back, along with his notes on what each story means to him.
The short story-as-chapter structure makes for excellent family reading, with one a night, perhaps. That’s if you can put the book down … it’s rather like potato chips, “just one more” and several hours later, you’ve gone through the whole thing. The characters seem like real people, the kind you want to meet and hang out with, and you’ll leave wanting more. It’s terrific adventure that conveys life lessons, like the best Robert Heinlein juvenile novels.
There are sequel chapters online along with preview chapters from this book and additional extras.