Valerian and Laureline: The Land Without Stars cover

Valerian and Laureline v3: “The Land Without Stars”

A Note on Spoilers

If you’re reading this, you’ve likely already read the book.  I’ve seen it in my traffic on this site.  The first book in a series gets most of the hits, and then they trail off quickly afterwards.  If you wanted to know whether “Valerian” was a series for you, you’ve already made up your mind long before volume 3, or until I shout something at you in the headline. (“10 Reasons to Read This First!”)

It’s important to keep that first review spoiler-free, then, to entice people to read something you want to recommend to them. As time goes on, you’re dealing more with the regular readers and less with newbies.

I’m going to start using spoilers in these reviews.  It’s not my intent to ruin the whole book or to spill every secret.  However, it’s tough to talk about this book without getting at least halfway into the events of the book. And I won’t spoil the ending.

Valerian and Laureline: The Land Without Stars cover
 

No Stars, But Plenty of Layers

The story starts as Valerian and Laureline prepare to leave four colonies of humans to their encampments on the most outer edge of known space across four planets, Ukbar I through Ukbar IV.  For some reason, this is a big and scary deal.  Even though space-time ships exist that can jump back and forth from anywhere to this outer edge at any time, it feels like these camps are being left to their ultimate fates out here.  Weird, but OK.

At each stop, Valerian gives a speech commemorating these brave frontier folks before being taken out back to sample one of the new alcoholic beverages they’ve learned to make while on their new planets.  Valerian gets more and more drunk — for absolutely no plot or character reason.  Maybe it’s supposed to be some kind of slapstick thing that doesn’t resonate anymore, 45 years later? (Remember Foster Brooks?  He made a living at faking drunkenness in the 1970s…)

Valerian drives drunk.

I like the way Mezieres tilts the panel (and the lettering) slightly to show how drunk Valerian is.

While on the fourth colony, they learn that there’s another planet careening through space that’s going to crash into their planet and kill everyone.  Additionally, its speed and trajectory means it’ll behave like a pool table ball and bounce off the other three planets and kill everyone there, too.

Valerian sobers up immediately.  He  calls Bruce Willis and his team.  They fly to the planet to make it explode. (It is an indisputable fact, after all, that it’s easier to train a driller to be an astronaut than vice versa.)

No, sorry that was “Armageddon.”

Valerian and Laureline go to the planet, themselves, to see what they can do with their small space time ship.

They find nothing on the planet.

Inside the planet, though, is another story…

 

The Hollow Planet

Like something out of a Peeters/Schuiten Obscure Cities album, a pair of cities exists inside the hollowed out planet.

There’s also a sun (actually, the core of the planet, floating in the middle) and a moon that orbits the core.  Inside the planet. Did I mention that yet?

You know what?  If Jules Verne can write “Journey to the Center of the Earth” and only go a few miles deep, surely Pierre Christin can go all the way and hollow the whole planet out and make its core the sun.  It provides an interesting environment for this story to be set in.  It also helps the plot out, by explaining some of the less worldly beliefs many of the planet’s citizens have (they’ve never seen stars), and later explaining how it is the planet is going faster off its course.

This is a set-up I could easily see in the more pulpy science fiction days of cheap newsprint magazines.  I think it’s one of the reasons I’m liking “Valerian and Laureline” so far, despite any misgivings.  It’s a bit of a throwback for me, being part of a world of storytellers that trail-blazed science fiction closer to the 1950s than the more slick and commercial feeling most stuff gives me today.  It feels like  to me you could leave more to the imagination back then than you can today, where an internet filled with pedants will lecture you on how you got the physics of a hollow planet wrong.

So, really, just sit back and enjoy.
 

It’s All About the People

The best part is the people they meet inside.

First, it’s the simpletons of the book, the Lemms.  They are nomads, who travel in the shadow of the sun when the moon gets between them, digging small explosive rocks out of the ground.  They are unaware of the outside world, or of simple things like self-preservation, really.

The world at war with flogum in "The Land Without Stars"

It’s the nonchalant “Of course” that cracks me up every time I see this panel now.

What do they do with these rocks, which they call flogums?  They sell them to the two major cities inside the planet, who are at war with each other.  They don’t play favorites.  They sell to both, helping to perpetuate a war that’s gone on as long as anyone can remember, for reasons everyone’s forgotten.

There, now we’re getting back to something closer to a Vietnam War parable.  This book was originally published in 1972, based on a serialization from two years earlier. It was bound to happen.

Also, all the exploding rocks are starting to rip the planet apart, and move it faster towards the colonies Valerian and Laureline are trying to protect.

With that, Valerian and Laureline make plans to infiltrate the two cities to learn what’s going on and if it would at all be possible to stop this crazy planet from hitting Ukbar II into the corner pocket.

 

Battle of the Sexes

Here’s where things get weirder. Christin likely wanted to write one of those science fiction stories that makes humanity look at itself in a mirror for acting in weird ways by showing them the inverse of how they behave today.

In the city of Malka, the men do all the work while the women run the war, and test the men to find the best candidates to wage war before they “send you to The Palace of the Supreme Femininity for a procreation session.”

Valerian plays the part of the good soldier boy to learn more about them.

The Men in Charge of Valsennar

Meanwhile, in Valsennar, the flamboyant men who run the delicate, colorful, and ornate city let the women run the war and do all the work.  Laureline plays the part of the cute but confused eager woman who wins their leader’s attention and affection.

At that point, Valerian and Laureline conspire to end the war, save the planet, and prevent the Ukbar colonies’ demise.

Spoiler: They do.   I’m not going to spoil everything, though. It’s a clever way with some funny consequences, but you just need to trust in the magic voodoo of the technology that exists in this world.

Valerian gets back to drinking again in the last panel on the last page, bringing the whole story full circle without using his drinking as anything that influences the direction of the book at all at any time.

 

The Continued Evolution of Mezieres’ Art

The manly city of Malka, as seen in the third Valerian and Josephine book.

The windows or openings in the middle of the building aren’t drawn in graphic detail. It’s just a thick black stripe in the right spot to fool the eye into reading what Mezieres wants it to read for him.

Mezieres still dazzles with his environments.  I can study his angles and his attention (or lack thereof) to detail all day.  There are some very impressive background images in this book. If you stare at them for a half second, you’ll realize they look like loose doodles.  Also, some of the architectural “detail” in the cityscapes aren’t detailed line work but rough placements of shadows that your mind finishes off for him.

Valsennar is a delicate city without much detail in this introduction to it

Look to the middleground and background, and you’ll see how loose the artwork begins to look.

This is the city the men run, which is not likely how you’d picture such a thing to be designed. But look at it for a few seconds. You’ll see that once you get past the foreground stairs and railing, the detail in the far off buildings is almost non-existent. It’s a thin-lined outline of some random buildings.  As you’re reading through the story for the first time, you probably don’t see this.  Again, your mind finishes things off very well.

Layout wise, this volume sees Mezieres starting to move further away from the rigid structure of two half-pages per page. There are plenty of examples in previous albums where he lays out taller panels in the middle of the page that couldn’t be broken up, but this is the first time he goes for a full page montage sequence.  In superhero comics, this is a normal page, but in les bandes dessinées, this really jumps out at me.

 

Mezieres draws a full page image in the third Valerian and Laureline volume.

 

The Character Problem

Who are Valerian and Laureline?  At this point, we don’t know much about them, at all.  They are romantically entangled in some vague way.  They did share a kiss in the second album, after all.

They are police, of a sort, in the future.

Valerian seems to know more than Laureline, though Laureline is quite competent at what she does, and is probably smarter than Valerian would ever give her credit for.

Valerian is a bit of a chauvinist, but not quite in the same charming way as, say, James Bond.

They’re both fairly quick thinkers, at least as far as it’ll help out the plot.

Why do they do what they do?  What makes them different from each other  What makes them unique?  What makes them relatable?  What makes you want to root for either of them?

That’s what the series is lacking so far.

“Valerian and Laureline” is completely plot-driven.  The two leads are just the vehicle through which you see these new worlds and their amazing situations.  This isn’t a rarity in pulp sci-fi.  I’ve read plenty of science fiction from the 50s and 60s that was about the science of the story at the expense of the characters.

But, usually when a series develops, so do the characters. I know from doing my on-line research that Laureline is from a time further in the past and jumped ahead in time to live this adventurous life she now enjoys.  That might help explain some of her reluctance and her occasional over-reactions to shocking news.  She’s not exactly the most naive character ever, but it shows up here and there.

Valerian is just the cardboard cut-out of a Hollywood hero — square jaw, dark hair, bright eyes.  Beyond that, there’s not much.

I spent a large chunk of my teenage years reading classic science fiction, mostly the works of Isaac Asimov. So I’m used to the concept of a story that is plot-driven.  Most movies are, too, but they at least attempt to imbue their lead characters with real personalities.

I greatly enjoy the strange new worlds of “Valerian and Laureline,” the art that’s made to show it to us, and the occasional twist of fate that makes a story come together in the end.  I hope that as the series settles in, we learn more about the two lead characters in the service of a story.

 

Recommended?

Despite all of that, yes.  This is just fun pulpy and imaginative science fiction/fantasy.  It’s probably more fantasy, since the science would be on very shaky ground.  But that just gives Mezieres and Crispin a better shot at stretching themselves and creating more new stuff to wow us with.  It is a product of its time in some ways, though, and you’ll just have to deal with that.  That’s something I need to remind myself of from time to time.

(This is Pipeline BD 100 review #12 of 100 for 2017.)

Previously

Valerian and Laureline v1 The City of Shifting Waters cover header

Volume 1

Valerian v2 The Empire of a Thousand Planets cover

Volume 2

 

2 Comments

  • JC Lebourdais January 27, 2017 at 8:04 am

    The earth itself is hollow with a floating sun at the center. That’s where Skartaris is, you should know that. Obviously those guy have read the Burroughs book series, Pellucidar and Carson, which were published in France in paperback form in the early to mid 60’s.

    Reply
  • JC LEBOURDAIS January 27, 2017 at 6:29 pm

    Strange thing I just noticed about those Valerian albums, the coloring of the insides looks funny. It’s all brown-ish or shades of blue all over, as a consequence there is very little contrast to truly appreciate the inks. Methinks they were digitally recolored for the english version, except for the covers apparently. Is there a mention of that in the books?
    I’m going to see if I can dig up the originals from my collection to see the difference.

    Reply

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