‘Welcome to Alflolol’ was another of the Fantagraphics edition of Valerian et Laureline stories from the Eighties. It’s a clash of cultures outing, coding the Establishment and the Counter-Culture into a opposition of civilisations on the distant planet Alflolol, a story of two races that are incapable of understanding each other, one of which is incapable by its nature of comprehending, and the other which is determined not only not to understand but to do everything within it’s power to make the other confirm to its version.
And in splitting up our two spatiotemporal agents and attaching one to each side, Christin and Mezieres not only personalise the conflict, not only emphasise the depth of the gulf between sides but, for the first time, allow Laureline to assert her independence as an operator. Though she gets the short straw in terms of exposure in the story, this is Laureline serving notice that she will no longer be the sidekick.
The set-up is that Earth has colonised a distant, massive planet that they have called Technorog, which they are exploiting industrially. The planet seems to have been abandoned: there has been no sign of its original inhabitants for at least two centuries. The colonists live in artificial domes that duplicate Earth’s circadian rhythms and enable them to ignore completely the natural life of Technorog.
Things start with our familiar pair leaving after a routine tour of inspection. They are divided on Technorog’s merits. Laureline has been put off by the workaholic ethos of the colony whilst Valerian, the trained Agent and the more willing Company Man, is much more forgiving of the attitude. Still, neither are too disheartened at moving on. They request a gap opening in the massive planet’s protective shield. They fly out into space. Val’s all set to start the jump back to Earth but suddenly Laureline is enveloped in and paralysed by a cold blue aura, a cry of distress emanating from somewhere.
Searching for its source, they find a strange, unstreamlined spaceship falling towards the protective shield, which rebounds to the asteroid belt and is wrecked. The Agents follow the ship, looking for survivors.
Laureline is possessed again, floated off to the survivors, a family of gigantic, horn-headed humanoids, big, jovial, unaggressive and positively Rabelasian in demeanour. Each has a distinct mental ability, telepathy, telekenesis etc. They are also incredibly long-lived. And, but you’ve seen this coming, they are the original inhabitants of Alflolol, as the planet was named when they and their friends and neighbours left for a brief trip, about 4,000 years ago.
Now they’re back to return to their old haunts.
All of this has to be explained by the family head, Argol, to the increasingly concerned Val, who can foresee loads of trouble. Laureline’s still effectively a prisoner of the grandmother, who’s dying at the incredibly premature age of 220,000 years. Only once Val saves her life is Laureline back to her old self, only she’s a bit different. Prolonged exposure to the Alflololians has placed her firmly in their camp, to an almost unreasonable degree. Val’s delighted, overjoyed and relieved to have her back, but Laureline isn’t accepting it. She’s an afterthought, as usual. She doesn’t believe in Val’s love for her, especially as she’s found somebody who loves her more. This is the family’s gumun, a furry, four-legged and two-armed beast with a serious case of infatuation (good taste, mind you).
I have to stop and question one thing here. Val and Laureline have been a team, a good team and, we have to assume, lovers for some time, despite their vastly different backgrounds. Suddenly, she’s revolting against everything he stands for and, by extension, him too. Whilst her reaction, and her identification with the big-hearted, unregimented, unconventional Alflololians is entirely in keeping with her less-repressed instincts, this all comes directly after a prolonged spell of being under mental domination. And throughout almost all of the book she’s going to be thoroughly unreasonable about things, until a re-conversion that’s almost a spin on the spot.
So I have to ask myself, how much of this is an imposition on our favourite redhead’s mind?
I don’t expect for one second that that’s what Christin and Mezieres intended, or want us thinking, but it’s in my mind.
And I have a tremendous amount of sympathy for Val for the rest of the tale. Val’s in the middle. He knows his duty to Earth. He knows his responsibility to see that the rights of the Alflololians are fully respected according to Galaxity’s directives. He knows just how important Technorog is to Earth’s forces and the Spatiotemporal Service. He also intuits, not that it’s difficult to work this out, that the Alflololians are going to be the equivalent of a whole herd of bulls in one great big china shop.
And he’s the only one who’s trying to see all points of view at once and prevent the whole thing going septic, because the Alflololians can’t see the Earther’s side, the colonists aren’t bloody well going to see their side and Laureline is no help whatsoever. She has gone native with a vengeance and, what’s more, has decided that as Val is not 101% with her and Argol’s family, he is 110% with the doctrinaire Governor of the colony.
To the extent that, if Val were to actually to mention to her that his co-operation with the colony is being blackmailed by the Governor’s threat, completely legitimate in view of Laureline’s total abandonment of her duty as an Agent, to have her arrested and sent to the mines if Val doesn’t play ball, she would simply refuse to acknowledge it as part of her current world-view and indeed treat it as yet further evidence that Val is in league with the colonists.
As tension grows higher, you actually start to fear that it might end up as war, even as you know that, without being the least bit war-like, the Alflololians would wipe the floor with the colonists and not notice what they’ve done.
There’s only one way out of here, and it’s a bit of a cheat. The ever more desperate attempts to make the Alflololians fit in with ‘Technorog’s ways are an absolute disaster and bring production to a complete standstill. At last Val has got the strongest negotiating position and secures an agreement to allow the Alflollians to live on their planet as and where and how they choose, with Technorog fitting in around them.
Except that when he goes to them with his valedictory solution, he finds they’ve all decided to pack up and leave. It’s just not their planet any more. The fact that Val had achieved the kind of solution she had wanted all along, i.e., total surrender, not to mention the chance to be condescending to him, is the key to Laureline’s almost 100% swing back and the gumun’s heartbreak. Mind you, Val does have a practical advantage: he can kiss her and, well, we won’t go there, and the furry thing can’t.
There’s a sting in the tail, of course. Once everyone’s left the planet, the Governor closes the protective shield behind them, and makes it clear it won’t ever be opening to nasty, trouble-making Spatiotemporal Agents ever again. And as Argol and his family no longer have a spaceship, they’re leaving with our reconnected pair for Galaxity, where they’ll be honoured as Ambassadors, and their every wish indulged…