16 May 2017

Hugos 2017 [Prelude]: Saga, Book One by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

Comic hardcover, 504 pages
Published 2014 (contents: 2012-14)

Acquired December 2014
Read April 2017
Saga, Book One

Writer: Brian K. Vaughan
Artist: Fiona Staples
Lettering+Design: Fonografiks

For years now I've been claiming I was going to vote in the Hugos, the fan award for the best in science fiction and fantasy. I'm almost never up-to-date in the field, and the Hugos seem like a fun way to find out what's at the top these days. Plus, you get to make lists! Ever year I find some kind of excuse: too busy, too many racists in the finalists, and so on. But this year, I resolved I would finally do it. I'll be chronicling my Hugo journey here on this blog, as I try to read all the finalists for Best Novel, Best Graphic Story, Best Related Work, Best Short Story, Best Novella, and Best Novelette prior to the July 15th deadline.

Saga, Book One isn't a finalist for the Hugos this year, but Volume 6 is, which gives me the impetus to finally read Book One, which collects Volumes 1-3, and which I've had for a few years now. I've heard Saga compared to an adult version of Star Wars, and it really is in a way that few space operas are. Like, you could call Battlestar Galactica or The Expanse "adult" versions of Star Wars, but they're not really-- they're too "grounded." Star Wars isn't really science fiction (in some senses of sf, anyway), it's space fantasy: it's got ghosts and magic and bizarre, implausible aliens. Saga has these in spades: its aliens are humans with animal parts, or maybe even just animals, and its robots look like humans with tvs for heads, and one of the main characters is a ghost, and there's a cat who says "LYING" whenever it hears someone lie. But it's adult: there's swearing and viscera and sex and all the gory details of pregnancy and prostitution.

Yet it's not the immature kind of "adult": the sex and violence and so one give the story weight and heft, and elevate it into something fully itself. Saga may remind you of Star Wars or Romeo and Juliet or Battlestar Galactica in some ways, but it's not trying to be any of them. Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples have created something really unique, with star-crossed romance (the main characters are from the opposite sides of a deadly war), pathos (there's a bit with Lying Cat that was just heart-wrenching), and the right amount of kookiness (the main characters bond over a cheap paperback romance novel that turns out to have a deeper meaning).

Despite the darkness of it, it's beautiful: Fiona Staples I don't think had done much before Saga, but as in Y: The Last Man, Brian Vaughan has found the perfect artistic collaborator for the story he's telling. Horrifying creatures, human emotion, forbidding vistas, beautiful emptiness, all are rendered perfectly by Staples. A lot of depth comes from the narration, which hits the balance between corniness and insight, and is hand-written by Staples herself, the perfect finishing touch. Everything about the book is beautifully done, down to the page and font design by Fonografiks. (The deluxe hardcover has a very in-depth making-of feature, which I really enjoyed. Both Vaughan and Staples have fascinating processes.)

The sprawling story (seriously, there's not just our main characters, and their daughter, but also the parents of one of them, and a ghost, and the bounty hunter chasing them and his companions, and a robot prince, and a pair of investigative journalists, and probably others I'm forgetting) moves in genuinely inventive and surprising ways across in first eighteen issues, and I finished it eager to see where it would go next.

Next Week: Visiting a Broken Earth, in N. K. Jemisin's The Fifth Season!

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