"Fairy Tales for Technophiles" – Gremlin Trouble

INFO:

Gremlin Trouble written by E. T. Bryan and Elizabeth Bryan,
art by E. T. Bryan. Anti-Ballistic Pixelations:
Volume
1
, ISBN 0-9665979-0-7, 1998.
Volume
2
, ISBN 0-9665979-1-5, 2000.
Volume
3
, ISBN 0-9665979-2-3, 2001.
Volume
4
, ISBN 0-9665979-3-1, 2002.
Volume
5
, ISBN 0-9665979-4-X, 2002.
You can order them
from the Gremin Trouble website. Note: the five GNs form the complete
story reviewed here. The two comics that follow (#31 and #32) are a
lagniappe after the “happily ever after.” Volume I by itself is a
reasonably complete story, except for Cypher still being stuck in
gremlin form at the end.
You can also read the first 30 pages of
Volume 1
on-line.

AUDIENCE:

Fine for older kids, teens and adults. There is warfare (air and
ground) but no gore or serious peril. While the female characters do get
their clothes torn an awful lot <g>, there’s very little nudity and no
sex.

SYNOPSIS:

“Once upon an arbitrary space-time coordinate,” begins the tale. In
the late 21st century, humans live in enclosed cities scattered around
the earth, and the wilderness inbetween their habitats is peopled by all
manner of fairy folk. The majority of humans are confined to “habicles”
and spend their time in virtual reality — not the trompe l’oeil
VR of The Matrix,
but a pleasant paradise of servants waiting on each citizen hand and
foot while they watch the Infotainment Network. A few free-roaming
humans maintain the city bureaucracy, and, almost as an afterthought,
maintain the city itself.

In Volume 1, Cypher the stormfairy is turned into a gremlin by a
malicious imp. Taken in by the gremlin guild, she keeps herself busy
while attempting to find a fairy prince to kiss her and thereby break
the transforming spell. Meanwhile, someone sabotages the power generator
for the nearby Forest Meadows Human Habitat. Cypher and her new
companions manufacture a spare for the critical part as a favor to the
humans, but the saboteur strikes again, despite the efforts of a newly
arrived gremlin stranger. Cypher must jump in again to save the city, by
finding an alternate power source.

In Volume 2, Cypher is tricked by the mountain fairy Prince Frothbar
the Clever into foiling an evil sorceress’s plans, and still doesn’t get
a kiss from him. The gremlin Prince Hex has been recruited by his father
to represent the gremlins in the upcoming struggle against the Dark.
Meanwhile, extraterrestrials whose spacecraft
crash-landed on Earth a century or two ago
discover that it’s being
used to power the goblin army. Enraged, they decide to enslave Earth’s
population. Hex and Cypher team up with human rebels (the
technolutionaries) to fight the first battle against the Dark forces,
and attempt to destroy their doomsday device, the TJG-469.

The goblin army attacks the gremlins in Volume 3, but the goblin
general is captured. The human Del Delage (AKA “Annette”) reveals the
secret origin of the TJG-469. Cypher no longer wants anything to do with
Prince Frothbar, but he kidnaps her and Hex’s fiance, gremlin Princess
Pentangle. After Cypher and Pentangle are freed, they turn in earnest
towards defeating the forces of Dark, who have captured and enslaved the
rest of the gremlin guild. According to the gremlin’s reference book,
The Rudiments of Techno-Spiritual Warfare, gremlins must not make
their own magic weapon to fight the Dark, so in Volume 4 they turn to
the humans for help. The gremlin’s book describes the magic weapon:

Locked in the stillness of its mighty wheel,
Its force too great to be tamed with shining steel.
It is a boulder poised upon a height,
A mammoth balanced reservoir of light.

(The human’s reaction: Dr. Pi Yukawa: “The specifications for this
weapon seem a bit vague.” Dr. Candy Tsai: “Which means that we can do
anything we want. Particularly with a ‘cost plus’ contract.”) The forces
of Light ally with the pixies and invade Mordovania to capture the
TJG-469 and rescue the enslaved gremlins. They manage to confront the
extraterrestrial warfleet at the same time. Unfortunately, absolute
power corrupts absolutely — can the good guys stay good while they
control the awesome power of the TJG-469?

In Volume 5, Prince Frothbar turns to the Dark side, and manages to
recover the TJG-469, which is attached to Dr. Tsai’s wrist. Dr. Tsai and
the other two technolutionaries who were kidnapped by Frothbar escape
within Mordovania — and luckily Dr. Tsai has the knowledge of how the
device can be destroyed. Hex and Cypher finally acknowledge the feelings
they have been developing for each other since Volume 2. Now they just
have to finish defeating the Dark, and figure out what to do about Hex’s
fiancee Pentangle… oh and that imp, Xenophalen, who originally turned
Cypher into a gremlin, is back to finish her off — for good this
time!

Volume 1 also contains the essay “A Short
Treatise on Gremlins”
, and Volume 5 contains a follow-up essay,
“Gremlore Chapter 2: The Green Book Project, Gremlins, and the Bomb,”
both by E. T. Bryan.

EVALUATION:

This is one of those deceptively simple storys that, upon closer
examination, has many more layers and subplots going on than one
initially gives it credit for. And, indeed, the story proceeds so
playfully, with wild ideas and absurd subplots popping up from out of
the blue, that I thought the authors were just making up the plot as
they went along. But upon reflection, I realized how intricate the
plotting is and how much organization went into portraying the story as
such a carefree whirlwind of smoothly flowing action. Cypher and Hex
live by the seat of their pants; the Bryans do a lot of
behind-the-scenes choreography! The story has a strong entourage of
characters (I’m especially fond of the gremlin Cam, a delightful blend
of kindly old mentor and canny iconoclast) and I really liked the
low-key development of Hex and Cypher’s romance.

Although there are a lot of little in-jokes (like the “IEEE!”
screeches) that probably only engineer readers will get, a general
audience will also enjoy the story. After all, when Cypher says “I warn
you, my patience thresholds have been grossly exceeded and I am now
operating in a non-linear regime!” most people will understand what she
means, and appreciate the way she says it. (And if they don’t understand
it, another character helpfully translates for the fairies, “I believe
she’s ‘miffed'”!) Besides, there are plenty of in-jokes for other groups
as well. Science fiction aficionados will appreciate, for instance,
something that looks suspiciously like the old Pan Am
logo on the space-based solar power station, a nod to the commercial space
shuttle in the movie 2001. Comic book fans will note a
distinctive
sword from the Elfquest comic
being badly
underutilized by the mountain fairy Parsley. And with Murphy’s Law a fixture of pop culture, who could fail to
appreciate that the King of the gremlins is named Murphy?

The art is primarily manga-influenced, but is also blended with furry and traditional American cartooning, and counts among its
original inspirations the Ralph Bakshi movie Wizards. Bryan
excells at drawing industrial backdrops for his action, and his
characters are well-conceived and expressive. Unfortunately for those of
us who enjoy a well-turned male figure, Bryan’s style falls into the
all-too-common subclass of comic book art in which it is apparent that
more effort has been spent rendering the female figure than the male.
(Joseph Michael Linsner’s Cry For Dawn springs to
mind as an exemplar of this subclass.) The male characters are in
general more cartoony, and sport less assured linework than the female
ones. However, Gremlin Trouble isn’t too bad in that respect –
Hex is a dish, and so are his older brothers Prince Binary and Prince
Octal. Besides Cypher, there are several knock-out females: gremlin
Princess Pentangle, humans Del Delage and Dr. Candy Tsai. This isn’t to
say that every female in the book is a knock-out — the background and
very minor female characters can look as nondescript as the male ones.
The original cover art for the comics are presented between the
chapters, and most are pin-up quality. But don’t let me overblow this
aspect of the comic — apparently this comic is an exemplar itself of a
manga that doesn’t go too far, judging from the comments of Mina Inerz
at freshmeat:”Well, since it appears that the number of
‘horny-male-teenagers-who-only-like-nearly-nude-anime-pictures’ horribly
outnumbers the rest of us more sane people who like a normal anime
theme, I decided to make a theme to cater to that audience…from the
manga Gremlin Trouble.” It’s all in good fun, and Gremlin
Trouble
is a fun read I recommend to all my friends — engineers and
otherwise.

1 thought on “"Fairy Tales for Technophiles" – Gremlin Trouble”

  1. Sweetwind graciously provided me with a (signed! thanks!) set of these books a while back and while you don’t have to be an engineer to enjoy them, if you are you will.  I certainly did!  

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