Review by Frank Plowright
Cixin Liu is a Chinese science fiction author, writer of several novels and of several short story collections. He’s imaginative and prolific, a back cover quote from the New Yorker likening him to Arthur C. Clarke. Sea of Dreams is part of an ambitious project in which comic creators of various nationalities are brought together to adapt Liu’s stories, in this case Mexican born, but Uruguayan based Rodolfo Santullo collaborating with Argentinian cartoonist JOK, not to be confused with British comic artist Jock.
By style alone there’s no chance of confusion. JOK’s version of primary character Yan Dong is a stretched, skinny man with stylised features, for a fair part of the story the only human seen. He’s an ice sculptor whose work is interrupted by an alien artist surrounded by a ball of ice with trailing tendrils. It considers shape and detail irrelevant signifiers of true art and travels from planet to planet creating art from the water available. However, humanity has greater concerns than the sanctity of art, and an alien freezing Earth’s water causes international alarm.
Liu’s stories are set around the world, but Sea of Dreams features China and its political system more heavily than others. The alien arrives in China and bonds with a Chinese citizen, so China is therefore best placed to take the global lead. It would be a tricky situation for any nation as the alien seems powerful enough to ignore conventional weapons, and is unconcerned about the survival of life as art is paramount. It’s the only topic it’ll talk with Dong about, and won’t communicate with anyone else.
JOK’s designs are well conceived. The alien in its shell is suitably abstract and strange, and he makes good use of the fold-out pages included in all these adaptations to create both a significant vista and an alien form of art, yet something that communicates to readers. That’s no easy task.
Around halfway through the story switches tone, maintaining a slightly comedic mood to connect it with the earlier material. Sea of Dreams is heavily dependent on the science of science fiction, yet given human roots and ultimately espousing the necessity of international co-operation. Despite some smart ideas and impressive art, it never quite connects, though, being briefly entertaining, but never really suspenseful.