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A Hundred Thousand Worlds
by Bob Proehl
Viking, $26.00, 354 pp
Published: June 2016

This book will speak to SF/F con-goers but only lightly – while it does make use of our cons, it isn’t the focus of the story.  It’s a story about a mother, Valerie, and her young son, Alex, on a cross-country journey.   Val was once a star on a hit SF TV show and, as such, is still a popular icon.  The show ended abruptly with a tragic death that most strongly affected the writer/director, a dear friend of Val’s.  Val and her co-star/husband, Andrew, started to drift apart over his infidelity.  But there was one event, six years earlier, that sent Val careening across the country to New York City where she took up theatre.  Alex is nine years old now and in all that time he hasn’t seen or heard from his father.  Val and Alex take their leave of Val’s old friend, the director, and Alex starts to suspect the reason for the journey isn’t exactly as his mother tells it.  She tells him that she’s been booked on several SF/F cons across the county, ending up in Los Angeles – where his father still lives.  

At the first convention, Alex makes the acquaintance of a comicbook writer, Brett, and dragoons him into co-writing a story.  Brett brings along a bevy of cosplayers and a lesbian comicbook writer to the story.  And, in the way of cons, many of these characters troupe on to the next convention and the next.  You don’t quite see the caravan but it’s there. 

As the story begins, it seems disheveled, chaotic even…much as the atmosphere at any con.  But as the month progresses, relationships come together and stabilize.  As Val tells bedtime stories to Alex – stories related to the defunct TV show – he starts to understand that the story Val is telling him has more levels than he understands.  He just knows that his beloved mother is unhappy with their destination and it takes him a while to understand the real journey.

Some of the characters don’t seem connected to Val and Alex and I wondered for half the book what their purpose was.  I think the author wanted to connect with fans by bringing choice characters and situations into the story without blowing the fan experience and cons over the top.  I felt the connections were too tenuous to make the story really solid.  But I’m okay with it overall because the underlying relationship of Val and Alex was strong.  I was also impressed with the child’s character; it was really due to Alex that I can say I had a strong emotional reaction to this book.  The plot could have used some tightening up and stronger character connections.  It was a simple plot with a fan-related setting – which should amuse most of us. But it was a good story about a very smart little boy.  ~~ Catherine Book

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