The sequel to Aldebaran and this time there is more interstellar travel and another planet to explore! Kim Keller is back, on her way to Betelgeuse to find out what went wrong with the settlement there. On Betelgeuse, just as on Aldebaran, there’s an oppressive dictator in charge, but the settlement is much smaller. Mai Lan, a young woman living on Betelgeuse, is about to be taken from her farm to the settlement by a group of soldiers because they have instituted the abhorrent policy of mandatory procreation to boost the numbers of the fledgling human settlement. She escapes with the help of the semi-intelligent local ape/bear-like creatures called Iums, with whom she has a unique close connection. Betelgeuse also offers some more answers and new questions about the Mantris creature that was studied in the previous series.
Two things to notice here. First, the artist Luiz Eduardo de Oliveira (drawing as Léo) sure is interested in undressing his female characters and have everyone fall in love with them. Mai Lan, the girl on the run, is given very revealing clothes by Leo. She’s nearly naked. The English translations actually have modified art where they drew on some extra underwear for the more sensitive readers in the English speaking world. And Kim Keller is so attractive to every male she encounters that they all fall in love with her right away. Including an alien. It’s all a bit ridiculous, a bit dated too. The second thing I find more interesting, and that is an ongoing debate about whether the Ium creatures are intelligent. If they are, then the human colony is illegal and has to leave according to the UN charter of this future. The Iums are the new biological mystery of the Betelgeuse subseries. And they are cute.
The Ium problem revolves around the fact that we recognise intelligence by our ability to communicate and build stuff, but those signposts may not hold when dealing with alien intelligences. A satellite might not detect any cities or roads and therefore conclude that there is no intelligent life present, but maybe a deeper association with the local wildlife is necessary to come to that conclusion. The series also gives an interesting variation on the problems of maintaining a successful colony. Using the excuses of a “crisis situation” and “lack of resources”, Kim and the rest are held hostage and immoral decisions are made. Those same excuses are used for a hierarchical society and old gender roles.
I enjoyed Betelgeuse more than its predecessor Aldebaran. The themes were more interesting and so were the conflicts in the story. The animals and the geography, which Leo so enjoys to draw, are more beautiful too. But it took a downturn for me in the final volumes. What didn’t work for me is the obsession over Kim and her love life. She’s constantly told how pretty she is with every new meeting. Every man falls head over heels in love and all the soldiers turn into disgusting creeps. There are overlapping love triangles until one character even says “This whole thing is like a bad movie”. Yes, it is, and saying that doesn’t excuse it. It doesn’t make me like any of the characters more and doesn’t add anything to the story.
The final volume is even more like a bad movie, unfortunately. There are structural problems with the story. There are some last-minute twists in the story that make Kim’s journey take a sharp turn towards the ridiculous, and the central conflicts of the whole series are simply shouldered aside. Leo really wanted to make Kim the heroine of his story and he did that by making her the object of adoration of everybody, and one consequence is that the resolutions of the conflicts are in the end about relationship problems and discussions about breast sizes. The more interesting stuff about alien intelligence and making a colony work lies forgotten in the end.
Don’t remember a thing about this, just that I liked the drawings.
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Perhaps for the best, haha. The drawings are still good. I think my Leo journey ends here.
Is Mai Lan the bald girl? Gotta say, not a fan of bald chicks…
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Yeah that’s her. Looking relatively modest here. And for some reason she’s bald. Guess that happens sometimes.
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