by Jeff Jensen, Brad Bird, Damon Lindelof, and Jonathan Case
Prequel to the movie Tomorrowland
It’s 1939 as Lee Brackett and his mother Clara arrive in New York City, eager to attend a science fiction convention, a secret society intent on saving humanity prepares to go public. This society, called Plus Ultra, begins reaching out to dreamers and believers that they believe will most identify with their message. Clara Brackett is one of their recruits, but before she can learn about Plus Ultra a half-machine man attacks the organization with Nazis hot on his tail. Lee and Clara are sucked into the madness as Plus Ultra struggles to regroup amid debate over whether the time to spread their vision of the future has not yet arrived.
As a prequel to Tomorrowland, the book does provide a bridge between the founding of Plus Ultra in the late 19th century and the start of the movie, which has at least one major scene set in the 1960s. Previews and trailers have been very vague on the movie’s plot so I have no idea how much the stories will actually tie together. Because I don’t know what Tomorrowland will be about, I have to judge Before Tomorrowland as a freestanding work of fiction, although I may come back and revise my opinion depending on the film.
And as a freestanding work of fiction, it does not hold up well.
I can’t help but wonder if this book was somewhat rushed in production. While the cover is beautiful, and Case’s art perfectly matches the mood of the story, there are typos scattered throughout that should have been caught by an editor. There are a lot of rather clunky sentences that could have used some polishing, too.
The biggest problem faced by the novel, though, is an incredibly slow and dragging plot that feels very much like a story-by-committee – which, of course, it is, with four authors claiming credit for the book. It’s impossible to know how much input individual writers had on the story, but it seems very possible that one may have focused on Lee and Clara Brackett, another on Amelia Earhart’s story, a third on the journey of Henry Stevens, and yet another author on the perspective of the Nazi villains. Each character’s plot eventually ties in with the others, but it can’t shake that round-robin approach.
Of course, I could be completely wrong and that’s not at all how the book was written. But it’s certainly how it feels – segmented, connected by force rather than the natural evolution of the plot.
Some of the characters are sketched pretty well. I enjoyed Amelia Earhart quite a lot. The famous aviator’s disappearance didn’t end in her death, after all! Her feisty energy and role as a mentor for first Henry and later Lee makes her an excellent entry into Tomorrowland, especially since she moves between the two worlds very smoothly. Henry has an interesting backstory never quite explored to my satisfaction, but his character’s journey is definitely the most involved.
Sadly, the villains are incredible pieces of cardboard (are Nazis a cliché yet?) and as much as I wanted to care about Lee and Clara, neither Brackett was the least bit engaging.
If you’re reading a physical copy of the book, you’ll notice a full-color comic in the back. It’s a facsimile of a comic Plus Ultra distributes at the science fiction convention, and artist Jonathan Case does a great job of capturing the time period’s art style. He also created black and white drawings that are scattered throughout the book and enhance the storytelling. He may even be responsible for the amazing-looking cover. The comic was dropped, I’ve been told, from the Kindle version of the book so this is one instance where it really is better to make an investment in the hardcopy of a story.
Reading the book definitely isn’t necessary to understanding the story of Tomorrowland, and you shouldn’t have to watch the movie to appreciate the novel. The book definitely feels like the start of something, but it doesn’t seem strong enough to stand on its own. I suspect that fans of the movie will greatly enjoy the extra world-building found here, but it’s not the launch of a new sci-fi titan.
2 out of 5 stars
To read more about Before Tomorrowland, buy it or add it to your wishlist click here.
Peeking into the archives...today in:
2014: Burning Bright by Tracy Chevalier
2013: Crystal Bones (Faelin Chronicles #1) by C. Aubrey Hall
2012: Fashionista Piranha on hiatus until May 24th...
2011: In the Company of the Courtesan by Sarah Dunant
2010: O, Juliet by Robin Maxwell
2009: Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter by R. J. Anderson