Sunday, July 29, 2018

Books: Planetes

Before Alfonso CuarĂ³n's Gravity made Kessler Syndrome a household word, Makoto Yukimura explored the concept in his hard sci-fi manga Planetes. The comic follows the crew of the DS-12, a ship tasked with the unglamorous job of cleaning up orbiting space debris. There are dangers both natural (the relentless vacuum, space dementia) and man-made (eco-terrorists, trigger-happy militaries), but most of all, the characters confront the big questions of human spaceflight. Why do we want to go up there? And what are we leaving behind?

The DS-12 crew are "astronauts" in the sense that they live and work in space, but they're treated like glorified garbagemen in the setting of Planetes. Their day-to-day struggles will be familiar, despite the spectacular scenery: determined Hachimaki needs the money to buy his own ship, Captain Fee chafes against terrestrial authority, stoic Yuri searches for a memento of his dead wife, and rookie Tanabe wants to prove her worth to the rest of the crew.

The writing in Planetes deftly balances comedy (a house-trained - well, a spaceship-trained - cat) with poignant drama, and the artwork is uniformly excellent. I do think the momentum wanes in the second half of the series due to some subplots that don't go anywhere; still, if you're in the mood for a realistic depiction of human spaceflight, it's a great choice.


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