So, brief note, the “Reading for the Hugos 2016” titles were feeling a little repetitive. I’ll still be reviewing Hugo-eligible works (and they’ll all have the Hugos2016 tag), I just won’t be bothering to note it in the title.
Matt Fraction, of Hugo-nominated Sex Criminals fame, has another graphic novel out this year that hasn’t gotten nearly much buzz. Sex Criminals was my top pick for the last Hugo vote – I’m a sucker for library-related fiction – but I may have liked this even better.
And once again, I find that Goodreads reviewers don’t share my opinion. Well, some of them at least. The reviews seem to be split between What the hell did I just read and This is goddamn genius.
I lean strongly toward the latter, but I understand both perspectives: No doubt, this is not the kind of book you can flip through casually and expect not to get hopelessly lost. It does require a bit of focus (and it doesn’t hurt to have at least a passing familiarity with The Odyssey, on which it’s based), but it definitely rewards the effort of a close reading.
At the start of ODY-C, Odyssia and her all-female crew, having just sacked the siegeworld Troiia after a century of war, prepare the ship for its long voyage back to their homeworld of Ithicaa. The end of the war, however, means the gods have lost a valuable source of entertainment, and the Olympians proceed to make the voyage home for Odyssia very difficult indeed, as the crew encounters a pleasure planet of lotophages, a colossal alien cyclops, and the strange Aeolus who offers them a perverse bargain in exchange for a shortcut home.
So, basically, a gender-flipped SFF version of The Odyssey, but Fraction brings a lot of smart twists to the source material that make it a distinctive story in its own right. Fraction mashes up that sort of magical Clarke’s-third-law technology with elements of myth in a number of original ways, and some of those permutations, like the backstory that explains the lack of men in the story, border on brilliant. And Christian Ward’s art is just a trip, falling somewhere in the hallucinatory terrain between Alejandro Jodorowsky’s ill-fated Dune adaptation, a prog rock album cover, and your uncle’s airbrushed 70s panel van.
There are a few missteps: The narration occasionally trips over itself in an attempt to emulate the epic register of Homer’s original (and I spotted at least one glaring typo which I think got missed in the archaic syntax), but overall, ODY-C brings exactly the kind of genre-stretching, bar-raising originality that I think needs to be celebrated and awarded. With so many good graphic novels already released this year and more yet to come, I can’t guarantee it’ll make my final five for the Hugo nominations, but it definitely has a damn good chance.