Last week I read Kiki of Montparnasse, a biographical comic which deserved the awards it won. This week, instead of reading another award-winning story, I decided to read something from an award-winning author. The trick was to find a book in which both the writer and artist were highly respected. I was lucky to find that with LAST DAYS OF AN IMMORTAL, written by Fabien Vehlmann, illustrated by Gwen de Bonneval, and published by Archaia.
In the future, through the miracle of science, Elijah is immortal. Because of his age and wisdom, Elijah is one of the best conflict-resolution negotiators in the known galaxy and has brokered deals that averted wars between civilizations. Because of his skills, he is called in to stop a conflict between two species, which is threatening to engulf the empire. It’s all in a day’s work until one of his prize students decides to give up his immortality. What happens when you live so long that you can no longer remember all of your friends? What happens when an immortal questions his immortality?
Vehlmann has crafted one of the finest science fiction stories I have read in a long, long time. There are some very heady concepts about immortality and what it means to be immortal, and at the same time it asks questions about the nature of communication. These two themes are woven together so that one question supports the other until Vehlmann brings it to a very satisfying conclusion.
Beyond the high concepts, this stands out due to Vehlmann’s ability to focus on the various characters humanity. Elijah goes through a crisis in his beliefs that, even though he is immortal, it’s readily applicable to anybody’s life. What is the nature of self when you can change yourself whenever you need to? It’s questions like these and little moments that add up to a very satisfying read.
De Bonneval’s art is surprisingly well suited for the material. When I think of science fiction art, I think of Kirby’s large complex machines or Byrne’s hyper-detailed space ships, and this is nothing like that. The art is loose and almost cartoony. And while that shouldn’t work, it gives the impression that the science is so advanced that it looks simple. Beyond the technology, De Bonneval is able to create truly expressive characters. She can portray both happy and sad with deft skill which really moves the story forward.
Last Days of an Immortal has everything you want from a good sci-fi story. It has conflicted characters in the midst of scientific marvels that should make them far happier than they are. It also asks interesting questions about the nature of life, the meaning of immortality, and how we communicate with each other. If you want a book that is fun to read with a touch of philosophical discussions, then this is the book for you.
- David Lee