Publisher: Studio 407
Reviewed by: Joe Mossman
Here’s something we SF and fantasy nerds have all probably daydreamed about in our dorkier moments: what if fictional universes were actually parallel realities? What if Luke Skywalker and Master Chief and Batman were living, breathing people inhabiting their own independent universes, and the books, movies and video games that depict them are only windows into their lives? Writers often say they don’t create characters, the characters create themselves, and stories go where they want to go. I can relate.
Studio 407’s Fictionauts takes the concept and wraps it up in the gleaming cities, boxy robots and scantily clad heroines of Golden Age science fiction. Hailing from a 1950s retro-future utopia called Hypercity, the title characters are adventurers who travel through various works of fiction in an art deco-looking ship, making sure everything happens the way it’s supposed to. Apparently, fate is not set in the imaginary worlds of Dickens or Doctor Who, and things can go wrong. When we first meet the Fictionauts they’re in the world of Moby Dick, fixing a small problem in the final showdown between Ahab and the whale. It seems the captain had pretty good aim, and would have skewered Moby right through the eyeball with his harpoon…if not for the Fictionauts, who gently nudge the spear so that it misses its target. Neat stuff.
From there, though, the story becomes less about the ‘Nauts’ interactions with famous fictional characters and more about the attempts of their nemesis, classic ‘50s-style villain Professor Calculus Poisson, to strike a deal with the mysterious Agent X. X wants to open a gateway between fiction and reality, something that ends up being a lot more complicated than it sounds. The plot is very self-aware; we meet beings like Lady Conceptia and visit places like the Ideopolis and the Enigmaverse. The Fictionauts’ ship itself is powered by “meta-ink” tanks, and the team even meets a group of friendly…Sea Monkeys. Yeah. It’s sort of like what you’d get if you crossed the Imagination Land episode from South Park with Inception – a brainy, densely layered metafictional narrative that’s fun to read but can sometimes be a little too smart and too wordy for its own good. I like to think of myself as a pretty sharp guy, but I found myself re-reading several parts just to make sure I had a good grip on the plot.
There’s a lot to enjoy here, especially for those old enough to recognize some of the many, many references to classic SF that Fictionauts delivers. From skimming other reviews and previews, I noticed how everybody seems to pick out a different fondly-remembered movie monster or vehicle or character; for me it was a brief background cameo of a Dalek that made me smile. There’s a little something for everyone, and Leandro Rizzo’s smudgy, inky art recalls the comics printed on pulp paper those of us of a certain age remember thumbing through as kids. The Fictionauts themselves are very much comic archetypes of the 1950s; square-jawed Dalan Valley, the heroic leader; the beautiful, hourglass-shaped Zool Stone, a vain, slightly annoying actress whose uniform covers a lot less of her than the boys’ do; Emerio Standford, the team’s professor; and Jack, a “ficto-sapien” who was rescued from a short story by Charles Dickens and whose words are lettered in a more elegant, old-fashioned font.
Those too young to remember or who just don’t appreciate the influences might not be willing to put up with the sometimes confusing plot. It’s certainly original, though (I’m a sucker for metafictional stuff) and clever enough in its use of the “pop culture of the time” to be worth taking a look at.