Valerian and Laureline volume 4 Welcome to Alflolol

Valerian and Laureline v4: “Welcome to ALFLOLOL”

No Spoilers Here

Remember how I said I’ve given up being spoiler-free after writing the first two reviews?

I’m going back to not spoiling things (too much), because I think this book is the series’ best entry point for completely new readers that I’ve read so far.

And not just because the title bears a resemblance to internet shorthand for a creature from Melmac who’s humored by his own jokes.

“Welcome to Alflolol” is the funniest and most enjoyable book in the series so far.  If a new reader to the series asked me where best to start, this is the book I’d pick from the ones I’ve read so far.

Valerian and Laureline volume 4 Welcome to Alflolol

 

The Story Is Not What You Think It Is

It begins with a wall of text explaining what the planet Technorog is all about.  It’s the super large planet that humanity has taken over from its abandoned owners to strip bare for materials for its ships, fuel for its ships, vegetables for its eating, etc. etc.

This is not subtle.  In fact, the caption box describes the humans’ activities on the planet as “intensive exploitation.”

It’s the planet humanity has chosen to conquer and strip-mine, basically.

It’s easy to see that this will be the book about environmentalism and being kind to the environment, non-renewable resources, and all that stuff.

But it doesn’t go there.

 

Instead, The Aliens Happen

The aliens are coming home.

Valerian and Laureline are just leaving from a check-up on the planet when they meet up with an alien ship coming back to the planet.  That ship is filled with aliens who, as it turns out, live on the planet.  They had gone out for a vacation for a few thousand years and were just returning. (They’re really really old, you see.)

They’re very pleasant, amiable aliens, too.  You want to root immediately for their smiling faces and their cute dog-like creature.

But their sudden reappearance on such a grand time scale raises new questions.  How can you give them their planet back, especially when it would mean the loss of so much production?

This is an unprecedented situation.  Valerian invokes the clause that they have to give the returned aliens their home back, but the devious little leader of the planet who can think only about production has other ideas.  He’s going to fight this every step of the way, by adhering to the letter of the law.

If anything, the initial feeling that this would be a parable about environmental destruction gives way to obvious parallels to the plights of Native Americans as the colonists spread west. (Where do you put them after you’ve take over their land?)  I don’t know if there’s a similar parallel in France’s history, but I’m sure there is somewhere.  They did their share of globe trotting and exploration, too…

 

The Conflicts Become Obvious

The conflict comes on two fronts. On the surface, it’s all about The System versus The Aliens. The humans can’t just give up what they spent so much time building up and on which they rely now for all the niceties of their life.  That includes the very methods by which space time travel are made possible.

Laureline wakes up, but blames Valerian for her troubles

Trouble in paradise…

The secondary conflict — and arguably the more interesting of the two for someone who’s devoted so much time to the series so far — is between Valerian and Laureline.  Valerian is a good soldier.  He plays by the rules and takes his job seriously.  Laureline wishes to be fair, and to play by the spirit of the rules rather than their letter.

She’s also befriended the aliens, an in particular their cute dog-like creature who loves her unconditionally.

Valerian is internally conflicted, too.  He agrees with Laureline, but knows his job and his place in the world dictate his actions otherwise.  He’s a man of the law and must follow that to the letter.

At last, we’ve found a plot where the protagonists of the series show their differences and their characters!  I was just complaining about that (“The Character Problem”) with the last volume

This book is a very good start towards exploring who they are, at least.  I hope it carries on in further volumes.

The Story Structure

The main city on Technorog is Technorograd

Can’t get enough futuristic cityscape from Mezieres.

The story is very linear. There’s one plot here.  How can the people laying waste to the planet for its resources peacefully co-habitate with the people who lived there first, but forgot to leave an “Out of Office” message for any would-be “exploiters”?

The story advances in a series of rising complications.  It’s a pretty straight ahead story.  Valerian tries to make things better, but is overruled.  The new plan is worse than the last.  Things get worse and worse as this cycle repeats.

There’s also a bit of a slow burn going on here.  The bad guy controlling the planet’s production is getting more and more frustrated by the situation and by the aliens who, despite all the hardships placed upon them, keep smiling and doing their thing under increasingly trying circumstances.

There is no great twist to the story that challenges all your assumptions, or sudden shifts in personality brought upon by the actions of their opposites.  This is about people backed into an unfortunate situation and trying to fight their ways out in opposite directions until something breaks.  The solution to the problem is clever and funny, but doesn’t show itself until the very final panel of the book.

The story stands nicely on its own.  You don’t need to know anything going in to enjoy this.

Pierre Christin does a great job in setting things up for later pay-offs, but is most successful in finally starting to define these characters and why they do what they do, and their different styles in doing it.

He also shows that he’s aware of how Laureline has been portrayed in the series so far.  She’s the easy kidnap victim and the one to be considered weakest or slowest.  She takes a principled stand here, and follows through on it.  Even then, there’s more than one occasion where she’s the victim that Valerian saves, and even he seems to be annoyed by that.

Valerian complains that Laureline keeps getting kidnapped.

OK, so he’s not the most empathetic guy, ever….

But she’s more aware of what’s going on, in a panel that seems a bit like Christin being a little aware of the patterns his stories are falling into:

Laureline declares misogyny

Jean-Claude Mezieres creates a new and immediately likable family of aliens, including their pet.

He designs a series of environments for the planet, from desert to forest to oceanscapes. There are also times where he can keep things simple and powerful.  Indoor talking heads scenes wind up with background elements acting as frames.

There’s a lot to take in with this book, which is another reason it’s a favorite of mine.  Mezieres draws a diverse set of worlds within this one world, without the story needing to be scattered.  This one planet is a convenient excuse for all sorts of settings.

The Happiest Note of Them All

At last, the crossbar-I problem in the lettering is fixed as of this volume.  (See all examples of lettering above.)

No more tripping over that ugliness….

 

Recommended?

Yes.  This is the first book, really, that I’m not hemming and hawing over.  Previous volumes had a lot to recommend them, but came with a series of conditions or warnings.

“Welcome to Alflolol” is just a fun read, with a much lighter touch in the text department.  There’s a definite goal and a well-defined struggle between two parties with conflicting interests.  The escalation of their struggle makes this more dramatic until the story reaches a breaking point where all seems lost, but Valerian can still save the day.  And, at last, there’s some characterization at work.

Plus, you get more of Mezieres’ designs and storytelling, so that’s all good.

If someone asked me today where they should start reading the series, this is the no-brainer answer I would give them today. Start here.

(This is Pipeline BD 100 review #13 of 100 for 2017.)

Previously

Valerian and Laureline v1 The City of Shifting Waters cover header

Volume 1: “The City of Shifting Waters”

Valerian v2 The Empire of a Thousand Planets cover

Volume 2: “The Empire of a Thousand Planets”

Valerian and Laureline: The Land Without Stars cover

Volume 3: “The Land Without Stars”

7 Comments

  • dancondonjones January 30, 2017 at 2:49 am

    I read that one a few months ago. It starts off okay, but I found the ending unsatisfying. I game it 2.5/5 in the end.

    Reply
  • dancondonjones January 30, 2017 at 2:50 am

    *gave

    Reply
  • augiedb January 30, 2017 at 10:18 am

    True, the ending does come without any kind of warning or hint, but I liked it for that reason somehow. It breaks the rules of good storytelling (Checkov’s Rule, in particular), but as a comedy piece, it fit right in for me.

    I might just rate it lower after I’ve read more of the series, though. Maybe I’m a bit blinded by how much better this one was than previous volumes, instead of as a story on its own . I’ll have to come back to this in the future to see…

    Reply
    • dancondonjones January 30, 2017 at 10:24 am

      I’m a little hazy on what the ending actually was, but I remember feeling it was a little too clean after the way the humans had been abusing the aliens.

      Reply
      • augiedb January 30, 2017 at 12:41 pm

        (SPOILERS, everyone else….)

        Basically, all the other aliens give up and leave the planet. The family that Valerian and Laureline first met up with because First Contact Ambassadors, who are, by law, to be given all the room/board/amenities they need on earth. So, yeah, the evil humans win, the aliens lose their home planet,but the family we really like get treating like royalty in a way.

        And this is a law that’s never mentioned until the last panel of the book. It’s a classic deus ex machina.

        Just typing this out makes me want to lower my rating of this book a star, but since I don’t do star ratings, I avoided that issue.

        Reply
        • dancondonjones January 30, 2017 at 12:47 pm

          Ugh! Yeah that’s it. It’s a shame because the initial set up was quite good.

          Reply
  • JC LEBOURDAIS January 30, 2017 at 6:04 pm

    Don’t diss it guys, that’s the French way. Forget all the American tropes and the predictability that goes with it, where the traitor has to be punished, there has to be hope for the little guy, etc… It is so boring.

    Reply

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