“Stories can be true even if they’re not real,” muses nine-year-old Alex Torrey. His whole life has been steeped in stories: His parents were the stars of a cult favorite science fiction television show, Anomaly, and both have continued their acting careers somewhat successfully.
It doesn’t take long for readers of Bob Proehl’s novel A Hundred Thousand Worlds to discover that Alex has been, in a way, living in a world of fiction for most of his life. He knows that his mother, Valerie, is taking him on a road trip from New York to Los Angeles to reunite with his estranged father. But he doesn’t know that the visit will last longer than he imagined, due to a secret Valerie’s been keeping from him for years.
Alex and Valerie’s road trip, punctuated by stops at comic book conventions, where Valerie is in high demand, is the main thread in a novel that, for better and for worse, has quite a few of them.
As the two travelers go their way from one ocean to the other, they befriend a handful of people who are also on the convention circuit. There’s Brett, a sweet indie comic book artist whose collaboration with his best friend causes him more than a few headaches. There’s Gail, the founder of “a feminist and sometimes misandrist website called BrainsOverBreasts.com” — she’s since ditched blogging for a job writing for a major comic book publisher.
And then there’s a group of women cosplayers, paid by convention organizers to dress up as popular comic book heroes and roam the convention halls. Their main function in the novel is to provide a kind of running commentary about the comic book industry; besides their (sometimes funny) quips, it’s not entirely clear what they’re doing in the book.
There are some things that Proehl does well in A Hundred Thousand Worlds. First of all, he’s a talented and earnest writer who never condescends to his characters. While Valerie doesn’t completely understand the devotion fans had for her show, she’s encouraged by the purity of their fandom: “It’s something she likes quite a bit about this little world: the capability of those within it to get deeply and sincerely excited about things. She wonders how they fare in the real world, where excitement is poorly valued, and she tries to think of things she has been excited about. There are so few.”
Until tomorrow: Despite everything, I believe that people are really good at heart.