A Hundred Thousand Worlds hit the bookshelves June 28, 2016, or, right when I needed something to read that was a little more portable than my giant 50th Anniversary, one-volume copy of The Lord of the Rings. I had been seeing the title popping up in different newsletters and Goodreads recommendations over the last few weeks, and decided that, even though I knew next to nothing about it outside of the setting (a road trip hitting several comic conventions across the US), I should give it a shot.
Summary from Penguin Random House:
Valerie Torrey took her son, Alex, and fled Los Angeles six years ago—leaving both her role on a cult sci-fi TV show and her costar husband after a tragedy blew their small family apart. Now Val must reunite nine-year-old Alex with his estranged father, so they set out on a road trip from New York, Val making appearances at comic book conventions along the way.
As they travel west, encountering superheroes, monsters, time travelers, and robots, Val and Alex are drawn into the orbit of the comic-con regulars, from a hapless twentysomething illustrator to a brilliant corporate comics writer stuggling with her industry’s old-school ways to a group of cosplay women who provide a chorus of knowing commentary. For Alex, this world is a magical place where fiction becomes reality, but as they get closer to their destination, he begins to realize that the story his mother is telling him about their journey might have a very different ending than he imagined.
A knowing and affectionate portrait of the geeky pleasures of fandom, A Hundred Thousand Worlds is also a tribute to the fierce and complicated love between a mother and son—and to the way the stories we create come to shape us.
Let me start by saying that even though this is Bob Proehl’s debut novel, it was packed full of emotion, beautiful descriptions of the ordinary, and multiple plotlines that interweave into a fantastic, heartfelt story. Oh, and it is also stuffed with references, Easter eggs, and nostalgia that only a fan of nerd culture could spin together. It’s the kind of book that is hard to describe while you are reading it, but impossible to put down.
The story centers on nine year old Alex and his former TV star mom Valerie Torrey as they road trip across the country making stops at various comic conventions along the way. Val starred in the show Anomaly, which is a stand in for popular shows like X-files or Firefly, and is stopping to make appearances on their way to LA, where her ex-husband/former costar still lives. Along the way, they meet indie-artist Brett who works for Black Sheep (think Image or IDW), Gail, a writer for National Comics (DC), and a pack of professional cosplayers. Proehl uses these side-characters to explore the inner workings of the comic industry, and fandom in general.
Like most good novels, A Hundred Thousand Worlds is tinged with a little sadness.
It is full of measured tension, but broken up with up with nostalgia and comic relief. Proehl does a good job with Alex as a protagonist. He is wise for a nine year old, but never seems too wise for his years. His burgeoning friendship and “co-mission” with Brett is a fun side-story, and his commentary on life in general is fascinating.
In the Acknowledgements section, Proehl describes A Hundred Thousand Worlds as a love-letter to a medium that has been dear to his heart since he was a kid, and it really shows. Proehl’s commentary on the culture of fandom is unique and interesting, and his story is one that will resonate with people. Few books leave me with a book hangover, but this one certainly did. I wholeheartedly recommend A Hundred Thousand Worlds to anyone looking for a captivating summer read.