Wonton Soup

By | Saturday, December 15, 2007 Leave a Comment
If somebody would have told me, "Hey, you should read this. It's about a space trucker who's a really good cook," I'd probably have smiled, nodded politely, and completely dismissed the recommendation. But that's exactly what Wonton Soup is, and I'm going to tell you: Hey, you should read this.

I kind of bought Wonton Soup by accident. My pull file this week got mixed up with somebody else's and I got handed a stack of books I don't normally read. As I started to bring the matter to the owner's attention, I noticed that this was in the stack. It looked kind of interesting and, since I haven't gotten a good science fiction story in a little while, I figured I'd give it a shot anyway. (No, I didn't snag the one from the other guy's file; there was an extra copy.)

Anyway, Johnny and Deacon are space truckers with very concentrated interests. Deacon's mostly interested in getting laid, but Johnny enjoys "high risk cooking." That's "high risk" as in: the food will attack and kill you if you don't prepare it properly. No, not like eating food contaminated with eboli will kill you. More like, the food will climb down off the counter, grab you with a tentacle, and strangle you. That kind of high risk.

A small accident with some space ninjas forces the guys to land at Johnny's old school, where he was "the number one ranked sanooch style student" before he dropped out. This naturally caused some friction with other students and Johnny's challenged to a cook-off not long after arriving. Think Iron Chef with more exotic ingredients and higher stakes.

James Stokoe does double-duty as the writer and artist here. There's no question that this is his baby, and he's the man who deserves all the credit for it. Both the story and the art show a lot of originality and I'm strangely reminded of Dr. Seuss while I read it. Certainly with some of the more unusual names he gives to things, but the architecture and vehicles have a certain surreal quality to them as well. Not that it really looks like Dr. Suess artwork, but I can sense a little Suessian influence alongside the obvious Japanese and European styles that are more visable.

One of the things I found interesting was that, despite having food as a strong central theme, it wasn't about the food. Even the "recipes" provided within the context of the story seemed to be there more to establish a sense of location and character than to highlight the actual dish. The sequence showing Johnny learning how to cook magma carp (a fish that lives in molten lava) was more about lateral thinking than the actual meal preparation for example. In fact, I might even go so far as to say that people who really enjoy studying cooking techniques will be somewhat disappointed with the references to electro spongers and meng beast steaks.

But the storytelling is well-paced, the characterization is strong, the art is detailed and expressive, and the wordsmithing is surprisingly natural for all the alien terms thrown around. All in all, a great book and it's a pretty sure bet that I'm going to keep my eye out for Stokoe's name in the future.
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