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Planetes: Volume One
Makoto Yukimura
Tokyopop, 236 pages

Planetes: Volume One
Makoto Yukimura
Makoto Yukimura began publishing Planetes in Japan in 1999 in Kodansha's Morning magazine. The first volume came out in tankoubon (graphic novel) form in 2000.

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A review by Susan Dunman

When moving to a foreign country, travelers often take with them essential elements of their culture, including laws, religion, entertainment, and... garbage. Space is no exception, so it's not a surprise when there's too much "space trash" between Earth and a new lunar colony. The debris poses a deadly threat to spacecraft and its removal necessitates the creation of a new job in space, the extra-planetary sanitation worker.

Hachimaki is a young astronaut who has recently signed on with a small outfit to remove space junk from Earth's orbit. Hachi's dream is to own his own ship and he's saving diligently for that first down-payment. The Toy Box is a floating garbage truck that's owned and piloted by Fee, a confident, resourceful woman who craves cigarettes that she can't even smoke on her own ship. Completing the three-person crew is Yuri, a veteran astronaut trying to cope with his own personal demons after the tragic death of his wife.

This manga-style graphic novel is a remarkable depiction of outer space and the people who choose to live there. It is a collection of five inter-related stories which envision life in space in the 2070s. Each story takes a closer look at one of the Toy Box's crew members, examining their personalities, motivations, and changes in perspective as a result of their unique work experiences.

Except for introductory pages drawn in color, all illustrations are in crisp black and white. Drawings effectively pace the flow of the story, keeping the momentum going. The graphics work nicely with text to complement the story, rather than compete with it. Particularly effective are illustrations which depict the vastness and loneliness of space.

In fact, it is the immensity of space that seems to have the power to hurt or heal. In the first story, "A Stardust Sky," Hachimaki is learning the ropes of zero gravity garbage collection and tries to become friends with Yuri. But Yuri is distant and seems distracted when he's working outside the ship. It's as if he's always searching the black void for a sign. If space gives him the sign he's looking for, will it do more harm than good?

In the second tale, "A Girl From Beyond the Earth," Hachimaki finds himself in a medical rehabilitation center on the moon after suffering from low gravity disorder. While waiting for his body to strengthen, Hachi searches for resolve to continue his astronaut dreams. Encounters with other patients, including a young girl born on the moon, give this reluctant astronaut something to think about.

Fee takes the limelight in, "A Cigarette Under Starlight," which offers a humorous look at the lengths to which dedicated smokers will go in order to light up. Even a notorious environmental group, the Space Defense Fighters, had better stay out of Fee's way on her pilgrimage to the lunar spaceport's nearest smoke machine.

"Scenery for a Rocket" focuses on family relationships and how space can impact those on earth, as well as those above. Hachimaki and Yuri take some time out to go earthside and visit Hachi's family. Yuri learns that Hachi's father is also an astronaut, and his little brother has a rocket workshop in the back yard. It would seem that space fever runs in the family, but all may not be as it seems.

The final story looks at the psychological implications of living in space. Sure, it can be thrilling, but it can also make you crazy. "Ignition" further explores Hachi's compulsion to be an astronaut and opens the door for the second volume of Planetes. This invitation is most welcome because these characters make you want to learn more about them.

As author and illustrator, Makoto Yukimura creates a believable near-future that's filled with the excitement of discovery on both personal and planetary levels. It doesn't shrink from the many dangers faced by those exploring space, yet the overall tone is upbeat and positive, assuring those with big dreams that the adventure is worth the risks. In true manga style, the book reads from back to front, right to left. Because it's so easy to get involved with this story, you may forget you're reading the book backwards. That's a very good sign.

Copyright © 2004 Susan Dunman

Susan became a librarian many light years ago and has been reviewing books ever since. Audiobooks and graphic novels have expanded her quest to find the best science fiction in Libraryland.

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