Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Mooncop by Tom Gauld

If Jim Ballard had mellowed into a gentle wryness in his extreme old age, he might have provided a script for a book like Mooncop, the story of a man left behind by a now-fading space age, one guy left to do a pointless job in a place beautiful and hard and cold and alien.

But Ballard is dead, and he never mellowed -- that was the beauty of Ballard, actually. He just got more concentrated, like a good wine aging into brandy. So we needed Tom Gauld to tell this story, in words and pictures, and I have no idea if Ballard ever came into Gauld's mind while he was writing or drawing Mooncop. (I'd like to think he did, at least for a moment.)

There is one cop on the moon. We don't know his name; everyone just calls him "Officer." Not that there's a lot of everyone -- the moon is emptying out, for whatever reason, with employees being transferred back down to earth and pensioners moving to be with their children and space museums moving to places where they'll get tourists. There are few people on the moon when Mooncop opens, and even fewer when it ends.

Robots replace some of the people -- not always with good reason, not always all that well, but that's life. Everybody has plans and budgets and expectations, and when the man running a shop on the moon moves to Holland, you send up a replacement. Maybe that replacement is a robot, and maybe the company hasn't really thought through the demand for that shop among a shrinking lunar population. But life goes on, and there's a cop to keep things running smoothly, if anything unsmooth ever happens.

It doesn't. It hasn't for a long time, if ever, and our Officer is a little sad, a little bored, a little fed-up, and more than a little ready to go somewhere else. Somewhere that isn't emptying out.

He doesn't quite get what he wants -- who does? -- but he gets something, in the end. As with all of Tom Gauld's work -- the short comics in You're All Just Jealous of My Jetpack, the previous graphic novel Goliath -- Gauld is understated and quiet and observational rather than obvious and pointed. Gauld's characters are all Everymen and -women, rubbery arms and nearly-blank faces leaving them just individual enough to talk to each other.

We are all Mooncop. That's all I'm saying. This is my story as much as anyone else's. It's probably yours as well, if you're old enough. Gauld is good at that -- at making a particular thing that is more than just its particulars.

Mooncop isn't the book most people would think of when they think of a title like Mooncop. But if you like the moon, or cops, or quiet stories, or the futures that didn't happen -- or if you've just been knocked around a bit by life, I think you'll enjoy it.

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