Valérian et Laureline is a long-running French comic book series. I’d only learned of it recently, but it’s apparently quite the institution in Europe, and has served as inspiration to everything from Star Wars to The Fifth Element. Since much of it was published as short stories in serial magazines like Pilote, categorizing it as a book is somewhat arbitrary. The Ottawa Library has it in a multi-volume omnibus format (L’integrale), so that’s how I’m reading it.
Valérien is a spatio-temporal agent from Galaxity, the Earth-based capital of the Terrien Galactic Empire in the 28th century. His job is to travel back in time and prevent temporal paradoxes caused by careless or malicious time travellers. The series is gleefully pulpy in tone, full of technobabble and concepts with no pretense of grounding in physics. I admire hard science fiction for the intricacy of its concepts and its spartan adherence to known laws, but I have room in my heart for the goofy stuff, too, and Valérian et Laureline definitely falls into that camp.
Volume 1 contains three multi-issue stories: Les Mauvais Rêves (Bad Dreams), La Cité des eaux mouvantes (the City of Moving Waters), and L'Empire des mille planètes (The Empire of a Thousand Planets). The first two follow the heroes’ efforts to thwart a rogue spatio-temporal agent Xombul at various points in history (the 11th century and 1986, respectively). The third story shifts to a distant galaxy where spatio-temporal travel is unknown, and Valérian and Laureline act less as time cops than Star Trek-esque explorers.
The plots are messily enjoyable, full of twists and turns, and the dialogue is full of pulpy banter and excessive exposition—a trait that would be irritating in other concept,s but is so fundamental to the pulp sci fi of that era that it becomes part of the fun. There are some funny bits scattered throughout. My favorite is the gag of having Laureline describe her version of past events to Valérien, while the image shows what actually happened. I look forward to Volume 2.