by James Turner
In Praise of Librarian Warriors
A review by William Alexander
We have few badass librarian stories. Joss Whedon gave us Rupert Giles, who can swing a sword as well as shelve a tome. Kelly Link introduced us to Fox, the gorgeous and similarly sword-wielding librarian in the story "Magic for Beginners." The husband of Audrey Niffenegger's The Time-Traveller's Wife takes care of Special Collections as his dayjob. The orangutan librarian of Terry Pratchett's Discworld series is not to be messed with. Infinite librarians inhabit Jorge Luis Borges's very small story, "The Library of Babel."
This is a fine company of heroes, but, given what we owe librarians, it is still an insufficient tribute. Librarians were among the first to stand up to the Patriot Act. They safeguard the sum of our knowledge and keep it findable. They let us read books for free. They spend their days battling forces of darkness and ignorance, and now they have Rex Libris to demonstrate this to the world.
James Turner's square-headed, noir-ish, immortal survivor of Alexandria's famed library is a marvelous creation. He wears a dark suit and speaks with the accent of a hard-boiled tough guy. He fights demons and villains and alien warlords. He carries weapons and equipment in his notebook by "fictionalizing" them first. He's read everything ever written, and he knows where to find it all. He debates leadership and economics with Vaglox, an alien tyrant made out of crystals who won't return an overdue copy of the Principia Mathematica: "I can recommend a slew of writers to ya: John Stuart Mill, Amartya Sen, Fareed Zakaria, Gurgolzorg the Elder of Planet Demospero Five...It doesn't have to be a zero sum game! Trust over fear, baby! Trust over fear!" The crystalline bad guy isn’t persuaded, though, so Rex is forced to abandon rhetoric for rocket launchers.
Turner's dialogue is as full of winks, nudges and erudite invocations as an Eliot poem or a Simpsons episode. While on his SF mission against the warlord Vaglox, Rex refers to the Three Laws of Robotics, uses "grok" to mean "profound understanding," and "Belgium" to mean "@#%$#!" Lovers of mythology and the classics will also find plenty great and groan-worthy jokes and references. Rex describes his first love in Alexandria: "She could talk Neo-Platonist philosophy like no other. It made me hot. Real hot. She was the ideal made real." He riddles with the sphinx outside the office of his boss, the Egyptian god of writing, who always refers to himself in the third person (and whose dialogue made coffee shoot out of my nose): "Get Thoth a raspberry chocolate latte with the cream and chocolate sprinkles. Thoth commands, librarian! Obey! Sprinkles!"
Turner's art, while angular and obviously computer-drawn, is expressive and dramatic enough to impress any luddites in the comic-reading crowd. His writing does come perilously close to excessive cleverness, but his stories and characters ultimately transcend the artful mess of literary in-jokes and seemingly incompatible genres. And Rex's adventures, however silly, are also important -- if librarian heroics seep into the public consciousness, then our civilization may have fewer book burnings to look forward to. Don't let the importance spoil the fun, though; Turner makes vegetables taste like dessert.
William Alexander is a frequent contributor to Rain Taxi.
Get a year of Rain Taxi for only $15!
Rain Taxi, a winner of the Alternative Press Award for Best Arts & Literature Coverage, is a quarterly publication that publishes reviews of literary fiction, poetry, and nonfiction with an emphasis on works that push the boundaries of language, narrative, and genre. Essays, interviews, and in-depth reviews reflect Rain Taxi's commitment to innovative publishing.
Click here to subscribe to Rain Taxi, ride of choice for the Lit Fiend!