Monday, 2 April 2012

The Thirteen and a Half Lives of Captain Bluebear

Reviewed By: Emily
Basic Info:
Fantasy/satire (+cartoons), 704, available via paperback on Amazon.

Author Bio:
Walter Moers, (born in Germany) is one of the best-known and commercially most successful German comic creators and authors.  Moers has been publishing since 1984. He first became known with cartoon-like comics that were marked by an ironic view of the world and a conscious violation of political correctness. Many of his works first appeared in the satirical magazine Titanic. In addition to these comics clearly intended for an adult audience, Moers also writes stories and books that he has been publishing since 1985. In 1988, his first "Käpt'n Blaubär" story was published, a character that has since been popular on TV, in books, and on audio cassettes. Recently, Moers also became famous for his novels, especially the Zamonia series. Biography source: Wikipedia.

The Break Down:
Captain Bluebear, as the name suggests, is a bear with blue fur and this book chronicles his first thirteen and a half lives spent on the mysterious continent of Zamonia. Bluebears’, according to German author and illustrator Moers, have 27 lives. Which is fortunate for this bear because he’s not the smartest tool in the shed. The plot is set in the fictional continent of Zamonia on Earth before the ‘great descent’ in which Zamonia and several other continents sink beneath the waves.  An orphan floating in a nutshell on the Sea, the azure-furred Bluebear is rescued by Minipirates, tiny nautical geniuses, who raise him. However, once he gets too large, they abandon him to live out twelve and a half lifetimes of adventure populated by many an eccentric character. Among them, are hobgoblins, argumentative waves known as the ‘Babbling Billows’,  dinosaurs who perform daring ‘last-minute’ rescues, Professor Nightingale who transfers his intelligence via an infectious bacteria, and the creatures who inhabit Atlantis.  Magnificent sugarstorms, captured mirages, tornadoes inhabited by old men, the inside of a giant’s head and "dimensional hiatuses" propel the independent and overly trusting Bluebear from one corner of Zamonia to the other. It has been noted on many occasions to being similar to Douglas Adam’s ‘Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy’, except with more cartoons.

The Verdict:
 I am very torn about this absurd book. It’s a complete mix bag and has some absolutely marvellous characters, situations and zany ideas. But it took me weeks to finish, and I’m a fast reader. The reason it took me so long was because the author insists on informing you of every single minute aspect of his fantasy world. This would stop me in my tracks and having me flipping forward to see how much of it I could skip. A good book should never be so full of detail you want to rip out those pages and use them for origami.

For example, when we first arrive in Atlantis we are told of every species that exists in the city, which takes 16 excruciating pages, and only three or four actually turn up in the story. He then explains every aspect of the city from transport to architecture and none of it has any bearing on the story at all. The author proceeded at one point to detail the specific colours a species comes in which resulted in two pages of him listing every colour he could get his hands on. Bluebear even has an encyclopaedia in his brain which gets whipped out every- single- time-he comes across a new species, concept or ‘natural’ event which is about once every ten pages (not the best way to integrate information into a book, no finesse, and very dull). This results in some of the bear’s lives being utterly boring and others being fast paced and amusing. Frankly, an editor should have gone through a dozen red pens to cut this mammoth of a tomb to a third of its size. That would have made it a ripper of a read. At the very least make the extraneous stuff an appendix rather than inhibiting the pace.

The difference between Hitchhiker’s and Captain Bluebear is Hitchhiker’s is concise and only introduces you to the elements of the fantasy world that relate to the story or the humour. The overall feeling I get from Captain Bluebear is the author created a detailed fantasy world, and he wanted some place to show people how awesomely complex it was.  Parts of the book made me smile, but I can’t remember laughing out loud. In saying that, there are some gems to be found if you’re willing to dig and the illustrations are excellent (and provide some relief from the overly detailed text!).  But damn, this author has imagination in spades!

Side Note:
 If you’re a person who loves to know every minute detail of the fantasy world you’re reading about, then this book is for you. If you find detail a bore, but you can’t bring yourself to skip pages and only read half a book, then find the strongest stimulant you’ve got because it’s going to be a long haul.

Star Rating:
*** Three Verbose Bluebears

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