4 out of 5
Ken Garing’s Planetoid is, perhaps, just a patchwork of various sci-fi tropes. A planet-crashed outsider saves the locals; a dytopic future ruled by big business; a deus ex machina weapon that gets supplanted by good ol’ fightin’ spirit; it’s all here. And when Garing has to cycle through some narration to introduce / explain those elements, things definitely get clunky.
But: by not sweating the world-building details and using these tropes as proven support for a sci-fi adventure tale, the overwhelming majority of Planetoid can fly by: exciting, immersive, and with a clear grounding in logic and practicality, it edges past its generic pieces to provide a sense of intelligence knitting the whole package together, presented as super-fun, genre pulp.
Saul, current-regime escapee, finds his ship sucked into the magnetic field of the planetoid, crash-landing upon its tech-strewn expanse. A local hears his story and then sends him on his way to ‘the slab,’ where various tribes roam the more livable areas of the planet, forever warring with ‘rovers,’ the leftover AI-operated robots from the money-hungry warlords that run things in this neck of the universe. If only someone could unite the tribes, perhaps they could all, together, stand up to the robots…
Yes, it is that simple, but Garing gives us easy-to-root-for character archetypes, and a great sense of paneling and pacing that makes both the development of the city on the slab and the ultimate (if inevitable) battle quite thrilling. He also found an easy solve for the ‘dystopian greys and browns’ coloring problem: the slab is an open expanse, and the sky and ground are offset colors to the machinery and drab clothing, making the color spread on any given page always have some nice pop.
While Planetoid is littered with nabs from other like-minded stories (I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention what feels like a Blame! / Tsutomu Nihei reference in some of the machine work and Saul’s weapon), creator Ken Garing assumes the reader is up to date with all of that and instead expands upon some of the day-to-day facets of his world, which ends up making it very much his own thing. Combined with expert pacing, smart layouts, and an art style that allows for both detailing and a loose, energized line, Garing provides us with a truly stand out sci-fi tale.