Review: A Hundred Thousand Worlds, Bob Proehl

Bob Proehl’s book A Hundred Thousand Worlds is not RPF, but RPF resides in its bones. Valerie Torrey is a Gillian Anderson analogue who is taking her son Alex across the country to meet his estranged father Andrew, who stars in a show that sounds strangely similar to Californication. Along the way she stops at various cons, signing autographs and answering questions about her stint on a show called Anomaly, where she met Andrew in the first place.

A Hundred Thousand Worlds

There also feature analogues of Gail Simone and Ed Brubaker and Alan Moore and a range of other comics lights, which if you know comics you may successfully puzzle out and if you do not then you are probably fine to read the book anyway, although you may wonder why we are spending so much time with this Gail character away from the primary mother-son relationship we care about.

A Hundred Thousand Worlds is wonderful in many ways, chief amongst them being its affectionate, clear-eyed depiction of fan cultures and the many worlds of geekery. It’s trying to be a lot of things, and it succeeds better at some than others: Interstitial chapters reveal the “origin stories” of real, fictional, and semi-fictional characters within the world of the book, which gets old quickly. On the other hand, Val’s bedtime ritual of telling Alex a (lightly or heavily edited) synopsis of various episodes of Anomaly works brilliantly as a means of building their relationship, the world Val comes from, and Proehl’s vision of raising a geeky kid. It made me want to tell my own nephew stories from my favorite television shows when he gets a little older.

How right you are, Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

BUT. While Proehl takes exceptional care in depicting the worlds of geekery, the same cannot be said of his depiction of mental illness. Halfway through the book (spoilers), you learn that when Alex was a toddler, a deranged fan (who also happened to be sleeping with Andrew) shot and killed the Anomaly showrunner’s wife. The book refers to her only as The Woman until the very end, when a reporter shouts out the news that she has killed herself. The few bits of dialogue we get from her are all like this:

You’re her. But you’re older. Are you from the future? Are we in the future now? I’ve wanted so much to talk to you. To tell you how sorry I am. Or I was. Has it happened yet? I think it’s happened for me already and you were younger then. It all feels present. . . . I’m here and I’m talking to you but also right now I’m shooting her. Because if you can’t tell if it’s future or past, then it’s right now. It all happens at once, all the time.

In other words, crazy-person dialogue written by someone who’s never spoken to (or been) a crazy person, in the mouth of a character who receives no interiority or even the courtesy of a name (until she completes suicide). If an author wants to portray a violent mentally ill person, then fine, proceed with caution; but Proehl appears to have taken absolutely no care with this character, and so of course her portrayal reinforces toxic stereotypes about mental illness and violence.

Also, the book mixes up metonymy and synecdoche. Try harder next time.

ETA 21 June 2017: Hi everyone, I have an update! Author Bob Proehl found this post and emailed me to say that I was totally right about the ableism, it was obvious now that someone pointed it out, and he is really sorry and will try to do better next time. It made me come over all warm and fuzzy.

He also made a joke about metonymy and synecdoche that made me feel awful for being snotty about that. I was displacing my annoyance over the portrayal of the mentally ill lady onto this metonymy thing, and that’s mean. Metonymy and synecdoche are really hard to keep straight. Nobody should feel bad about getting them confused.

  • Stefanie@SoManyBooks

    Hmm, think I’ll skip this one. I am, however, all for you telling Buffy bedtime stories to your nephew!

  • Uhg #lazy

  • Akilah

    Also, the book mixes up metonymy and synecdoche. Try harder next time. — Well, I never expected to read this in a book review. A+ geekery here.