I’ve had a long fascination with Superman, since my earliest years in fact, and as I’ve grown older, I’ve become very curious about what happened to Krypton, that Kal-El’s parents had to take the drastic step of sending him away from the world all the way to Earth. Over the years, many different variants of the basic story have come out, whether in movies or live-action television or animated television or comics, but I have to say that none have had as much of an impact on me as Kevin J. Anderson’s The Last Days of Krypton, and that’s precisely because Kevin focused an entire novel on the event, not just a few minutes of a movie/television show or the pages of a comic.
I listened to the audiobook of the novel last year and it was a great experience, so much so that the audiobook eventually found its way to my “Best of 2013 Part 1” list as one of the best audios I listened to in the first half of 2013. Definitely an experience.
In light of The Founding Fields currently suffering some major site issues, I’m going to be reposting my reviews from the site to the blog, so enjoy away!
The original review can be found here.
Up until I read Matt Forbeck’s Brave New World trilogy and Adam Christopher’s Seven Wonders last year I don’t think I’ve ever read a superhero novel. Or a comics tie-in for that matter. My memory is rather hazy on that point. As things stand at the moment however, I’m rather keen on dipping into the sub-genre and exploring more of it. Larry Tye’s Superman: The High-flying History of America’s Most Enduring Hero is what has really galvanised my interest and it’s why I bought the audiobook for Kevin J. Anderson’s The Last Days of Krypton. My fascination with Krypton’s last moments arose when I saw the first couple of episodes for the old Superman: The Animated Series cartoon. There’s something deeply inherent in those last tragic moments that really speaks to me, and when I picked up the audiobook, I wondered if Anderson’s take would do something similar. And it did.
There are several characters in The Last Days of Krypton: there is Jor-El and his brother Zor-El, Commissioner Zod, Jor-El’s wife Laura Lor-Van, and many others who pop up with regularity every now and then. Theirs is a story that takes place over several months, as Krypton undergoes great upheavals in its social and cultural structures, upheavals that rock it to its core. Whether it is apocalyptic doom from the sun (Rao) going supernova, or tectonic instabilities, or alien raids, or the grim stupidity of its leaders, Krypton is doomed and the story that Anderson writes is full of emotion and tragedy, one after another. I highly enjoyed the story, but I couldn’t help thinking that the universe had picked Krypton to be its punching bag. The secluded planet goes through one staggering change after another.
The high point of the story is not the science, or the grandeur of the doomed planet, or Kryptonian culture, or the rise of General Zod or anything else. It is a simple concept: the inter-personal relationships between all the characters. The relationships are what ultimately drive the entire story, because a lot rests upon how Jor-El, Zor-El and Laura are manipulated by Zod, how all of Krypton itself is manipulated by him. If Anderson hadn’t given each character a distinctive voice and had portrayed them realistically, each with their own motivations and beliefs and attitudes that differed from each other. Whether it is Jor-El’s stubbornness and optimism and naiveté, or Laura’s drive to find the truth in all things and compile a true history of events, or Zor-El’s unflinching dedication to the people of Argo City, or even their collective desire to safeguard all of Krypton, these are all things (concepts even) that I could get behind and support fully.
It goes without saying that these are the characters I enjoyed.
On the other hand, I didn’t enjoy Zod and Atheer-Ka as much. The former started our really strong, as this hugely manipulative and conniving man who wants to regain the glories of his house as they were under his father. There are some excellent scenes involving him from the get go. But he slowly degenerates into a parody, into the trope of the “moustache-twirling evil villain”. I certainly did not like that. It seemed to take away from the nuance and depth that Anderson had invested in him from the first few scenes. One of my main issues was in the second half, when Commissioner Zod is General Zod: Jor-El gives him certain apocalyptic news, but Zod doesn’t believe him, even though Jor-El is the smartest guy on the planet, and has always acted out of compassion for Krypton and scientific integrity. It got even more ridiculous when Zod has Jor-El’s findings independently confirmed with the result that nobody else knows what Jor-El’s data means. Portrayed as someone who has always been reasonable and has supported Jor-El in most things, this broke my immersion into the story. And Atheer, well, she too started out strong, as someone who does not care for the social strictures of her society. She was willing to step out of the mold to do things for herself, by her own wits, rather than succumbing to social pressures. But then she too degenerates, playing second fiddle to a steadily weakening Zod (portrayal wise) and becoming little more than a forgettable underling.
The pacing of the book is almost always on “tension” or “high tension”. There are very few breaks in the pacing, and whenever there are any, there is always a shadow of larger events over them. One case in point is the marriage of Jor-El and Laura, marred by things that happened outside their control, and for which Jor-El is in serious trouble, very serious trouble. To be honest, I did not mind this. As I said above, Last Days of Krypton is not the slow and gradual doom of the planet, it is about one catastrophe after another, some that are prevented, others that are not. Each catastrophe builds on the previous one, to the point where the planet is doomed due to the folly of the planet’s leaders.
However, another area in which I think Anderson deserves high praise, is in how he connects this book to the larger Superman storyline, and to the rest of the DC-verse. There are quite a few good cameos, and name-drops: Brainiac and J’onn J’onnz/Martian Manhunter make an impassioned appearance, while the Green Lantern Corps and notorious Kryptonian villain Jax-Ur rate a top-order mention throughout the book. This interconnectivity is what made the book that much more of an enjoyable and richer experience.
Finally, I want to say that if there is one over-arching problem with the story, it’s that the narrator was average at best. William Dufris is a needlessly over-dramatic narrator and he paused at the most odd times whenever he wass reading the expository sections of the story. It broke up the rhythm of the experience and pulled me out of constantly. Then, he does the most ridiculous female voices, especially when he has to do sections where the characters are expressing their excitement. Very cringe-worthy at times. Additionally, he seemed to reuse voices he was doing for the principal characters, another pet peeve of mine in any audiobook. I get that there is only so many voices he can do for a book that is as big as Last Days of Krypton but frankly, I expected it to be a lot better.
So other than that, and the other points I’ve mentioned, I really enjoyed The Last Days of Krypton. Most of the complains I had seemed to vanish when I got to the final two-three tracks of the audiobook. That’s when the full emotional set-up of the entire story hit me full force. Jor-El racing against time to build an Arkship in order to save as many of his fellow Kryptonians as he can. Laura recording all of her life’s experiences, the history of Krypton, it’s culture, it’s technology, its greatest achievements and failures, all to send along with her son so that something of the planet can survive with him. Zor-El struggling against himself as he tries to find some way of saving Argo City, resigned to the fact that there isn’t enough time for what his brother proposes, and that he must look after his own people. The earthquakes that occur as Krypton collapses in on itself. The thunder of volcanic eruptions in the southern continents. The final tearful farewell bid by Jor-El and Laura to their son Kal-El as his lone rocket flies off into the orbit ahead of the blast wave that eventually ripples out from Krypton.
I really could not have asked for a better ending. Salute to Kevin J. Anderson.
More Kevin J. Anderson: Hidden Empire.