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Vulcan's Forge. By Roger Leloup. Translated by Jean Jacques Surbeck. New York: Catalan Communications, 1989. 48p. (The Adventures of Yoko, Vic & Paul, 1). $6.95. ISBN 0-87416-065-0.

The Three Suns of Vima. By Roger Leloup. Translated by Dwight Decker. New York: Catalan Communications, 1989. 48p. (The Adventures of Yoko, Vic & Paul, 2). $6.95. ISBN 0-87416-076-6.

Science fiction

Kids, teens, adults

In book 1, an oil rig drilling off the coast of Martinique hits a mysterious "glazed, luminous, and highly magnetic" substance. Yoko Suno, a newscaster for a French TV station, recognizes the substance as being what her glowing sphere is made of. She had been given this sphere by the alien Kani, a Vinan. Yoko and friends Vic and Paul fly to Martinique, expecting to meet Kani there. They find the oil rig in desperate danger; a strange storm has sprung up around the platform, and the men there are ready to abandon it. But Yoko comes up with a plan to calm the waters, and when they do so they are also able to rescue an unconscious man trapped in a strange pod. The man is blue; Yoko recognizes him as a Vinan. Sure enough, moments later, a craft rises from the waves and Kani arrives. The Vinans currently live below the surface of Earth; the oil rig accidentally pierced a tube carrying lava that they were going to use to create a land mass for themselves in the middle of the ocean. The lava is threatening to creep into a subterranean pocket of combustible gases, and the explosion would likely destroy the nearby islands. Kani doesn't want this to happen, but the evil leader of an opposing Vinan faction does. Only Yoko can help stave off disaster by posing as a Vinan and accompanying Kani underground.

In book 2, the Vinans have given up their plans to live on Earth's surface and instead create a starship to take them to their former planet in another galaxy. They had fled that planet millions of years ago because it was threatened with destruction; arriving on Earth, they went into hibernation underground, awakening only recently. Now, Kani, Yoko, Vic, Paul, and several others travel to distant Vina to see if it's still habitable, or, indeed, whether it even still exists. They find that though it has stopped rotating and has one hot and one cold side, it indeed is habitable where these zones border each other, with surface dwellers living in superstitious awe of "the Supreme Leader," who "controls the forces that regulate the hot and cold winds" that blow over the surface of the scarred planet. Of course, Yoko and Kani have to investigate this "Supreme Leader." What they find in the mysterious Leader's tower will forever change Kani's life.

These books invoke some of the spirit and feel, but none of the quality or charm, of the Tintin books. The best thing about them is Yoko, who is very proactive and often jumps headlong into the action. Some of the art is very nice, too; the depictions of the various science-fiction elements are highly detailed and occasionally stunning, such as the various apparati that deal with lava in book 1, and the cerebral amplifier for the Supreme Leader in book 2. However, these small pleasures are overwhelmed by the relentless mediocrity and downright stupidity of the rest of the stories.

Granted, these books are meant for children. But kids' books have standards as well, and these titles fall far short. For one thing, note the series name: "The Adventures of Yoko, Vic & Paul." That implies that Vic and Paul are important characters, right? Well, both are nonexistent in the books. Their images appear, but in no case does either one do anything important. I'm not kidding--they're not even as important to the plot as the throwaway characters that Yoko and Kani beat up in book 1. Every word that comes out of Paul's mouth is a complaint (he's clearly meant as comic relief), and Vic has so few lines that you're genuinely surprised when he speaks. Both characters could easily have been excised from the series without affecting it in the slightest. That's BAD.

Equally distressing are the plots of the books, which are often incoherent (and irrational when they are coherent). Both books rely on deus ex machina, with solutions to problems cropping up conveniently as the need arises. For example, when Yoko needs a bow and arrows (don't ask), the Vinan children just happen to have a machine that will make anything, and when she's discovered by an adult while visiting with the kids, the kids just happen to have little stunners that knock the guy out. Needless to say, this machine and the stunners do not figure into the story at any other time. The text is heavy on clunky exposition, especially at the end, during the climax of the second book (the worst possible place for such exposition). Many crucial events are unexplained--why is Kani kidnapped by the Supreme Leader's robots? Why is Yoko needed to help stem the lava flow? Why was Kani released from suspended animation, but not her twin sister? Why, if there are eight brains controlling the winds on Vina, does only one of them take action when the Supreme Leader threatens them? And so forth. Also, all the Vinans look alike, especially the men.

Although book 1 is flatly stated to be the "first of several science-fiction adventures of Yoko, Vic & Paul," it has the feeling of a sequel, because the previous encounter of the trio with the Vinans is referred to constantly. We never do find out how they met or what happened before, except in little flashbacks or clunky references to their previous adventure.

The so-called science of these books is nothing short of asinine. In the second book, for example, appears this little conversation about the feasibility of traveling faster than light:

VIC: Any object that goes FASTER THAN LIGHT leaves its energy behind and disintegrates!

KANI: Unless it travels through a medium WITHOUT LIGHT! Then there's no limit to acceleration!

Haven't heard "science" this stupid since my last Ed Wood movie.... Finally, there are rough spots in the translation; for example, a character who is stunned by electricity is referred to as "electrocuted," and "all systems normal" is translated as "all systems nominal."

Reading these books gave me a new appreciation for Tintin and Herge's vastly superior storytelling skills. Kids might enjoy Yoko's adventures, but they're not worth any kind of search. The series' good points are few and far between. Not recommended.


Copyright 2000, D. Aviva Rothschild


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