A Once Crowded Sky

( 9 )

Overview

A tour de force debut novel from a former CIA counter-terrorism officer, A Once Crowded Sky fuses the sensibility of bombastic, comic-book-style storytelling with modern literary fiction to bring to life a universe of super men stripped of their powers, newly mortal men forced to confront danger in a world without heroes.

The superheroes of Arcadia City fight a wonderful war and play a wonderful game, forever saving yet another day. However, ...

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A Once Crowded Sky: A Novel

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Overview

A tour de force debut novel from a former CIA counter-terrorism officer, A Once Crowded Sky fuses the sensibility of bombastic, comic-book-style storytelling with modern literary fiction to bring to life a universe of super men stripped of their powers, newly mortal men forced to confront danger in a world without heroes.

The superheroes of Arcadia City fight a wonderful war and play a wonderful game, forever saving yet another day. However, after sacrificing both their powers and Ultimate, the greatest hero of them all, to defeat the latest apocalypse, these comic book characters are transformed from the marvelous into the mundane.

After too many battles won and too many friends lost, The Soldier of Freedom was fine letting all that glory go. But when a new threat blasts through his city, Soldier, as ever, accepts his duty and reenlists in this next war. Without his once amazing abilities, he's forced to seek the help of the one man who walked away, the sole hero who refused to make the sacrifice—PenUltimate, the sidekick of Ultimate, who through his own rejection of the game has become the most powerful man in the world, the only one left who might still, once again, save the day.

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Editorial Reviews

The A.V. Club
“An exciting post-millennial conflict allegory, which echoes the terror of Alan Moore’s writing for Watchmen while sidestepping out of its shadow. ”
Wired.com
“Everything we love about comics — origin tales, a worthy villain, team-ups…conspiracies, super technology, disgraced heroes, redeemed villains — it’s all here. And it’s a fun read.”
Tulsa World
“A more literary - and literate - novel, making effective use of the present tense to add urgency to the tale, and creates characters that are agreeably complex. ‘A Once Crowded Sky’ also benefits from the black-and-white comic book-style illustrations by Tom Fowler that help readers visualize these unfamiliar heroes.”
The Charleston Post and Courier
“King presents us with a story that subtly questions our ideas of humanity and heroism. The tale moves quickly and fluidly… an incredible page-turner.”
Fandompost.com
“In a summer swimming in comic book inspired blockbusters, perhaps the most visionary tale in a generation won’t be found in either a multiplex or the local comic book shop but rather nestled in the shelves of your local book retailer."
Washington City Paper
“King's story revolves around the only superpowered hero left in the world—the one who stayed behind with his wife when all the others sacrificed themselves to save the world. As a strange new violent terrorism begins destroying parts of cities at random, PenUltimate needs to decide whether he wants to be a hero again…an enjoyable postmodern superhero story.”
SusieBookworm
“Masterfully developed, incorporating versions of the archetypal superhero into a fantastic modern prose story. I loved the author's entertaining writing, the occasional humor, and the connections to myth, history, and literature. I breezed through a lot of the book, not wanting to put down such a well-written, epic fantasy story. By the way, I don't think I've ever read a comic book in my life…”
Spencer Daily Reporter
“Ultimately a story of wonder, and of redemption. . . . At its core, this is a story about humanity, told from the perspective of simultaneously the most and the least human of us all.”
From the Publisher
“An exciting post-millennial conflict allegory, which echoes the terror of Alan Moore’s writing for Watchmen while sidestepping out of its shadow. ”

“An original, assured debut . . . Impossible to put down.”

“Everything we love about comics — origin tales, a worthy villain, team-ups…conspiracies, super technology, disgraced heroes, redeemed villains — it’s all here. And it’s a fun read.”

“Beyond postmodern, complex in conception . . . relevant to the graphic-novel, video-gaming generation.”

“A more literary - and literate - novel, making effective use of the present tense to add urgency to the tale, and creates characters that are agreeably complex. ‘A Once Crowded Sky’ also benefits from the black-and-white comic book-style illustrations by Tom Fowler that help readers visualize these unfamiliar heroes.”

“King presents us with a story that subtly questions our ideas of humanity and heroism. The tale moves quickly and fluidly… an incredible page-turner.”

“Ultimately a story of wonder, and of redemption. . . . At its core, this is a story about humanity, told from the perspective of simultaneously the most and the least human of us all.”

“In a summer swimming in comic book inspired blockbusters, perhaps the most visionary tale in a generation won’t be found in either a multiplex or the local comic book shop but rather nestled in the shelves of your local book retailer."

“King's story revolves around the only superpowered hero left in the world—the one who stayed behind with his wife when all the others sacrificed themselves to save the world. As a strange new violent terrorism begins destroying parts of cities at random, PenUltimate needs to decide whether he wants to be a hero again…an enjoyable postmodern superhero story.”

“Masterfully developed, incorporating versions of the archetypal superhero into a fantastic modern prose story. I loved the author's entertaining writing, the occasional humor, and the connections to myth, history, and literature. I breezed through a lot of the book, not wanting to put down such a well-written, epic fantasy story. By the way, I don't think I've ever read a comic book in my life…”

Moarpowah.com
“A good and quick read for anyone looking to enjoy some good fiction…even if you aren’t into comics whatsoever you can enjoy this book.”
Popcornreads.com
“A fascinating concept…it kept me spellbound from page 1 right to the end.”
Kirkus Reviews
King's debut novel is mostly textual narrative highlighted by random, comic-book–style illustrations. The Liberty Legion are superheroes, gods generated from the friction between good and evil, each with sublime powers. The Legion's leader is a robot. Ultimate, The Man with the Metal Face, was born at his human creator's death. Cognizant but confused, asking an existentialist "Why?," Ultimate soon stumbled upon a superhero comic as his awareness expanded. Ultimate decides "This was why I was built....The mission to save the world." And decades later, it was Ultimate alone and without explanation who chose to face The Blue, transcendental evil. With Ultimate gone, the Legion flounders. Left behind are The Soldier of Freedom, the cryogenically preserved bastard grandson of George Washington; Star-Knight; Distant Sun; Mashallah; Sicko; Runt; Freedom Fighter; Strength; Doctor Speed; Devil Girl; Prophetier; and PenUltimate, adopted as a boy by Ultimate and trained for succession. Each has a superpower; each deals with a tension-charged back story. With Ultimate gone, the superheroes are left powerless, and their home, Arcadia City, is in peril. The story is composed of alternating sequences of surreal narratives and crash-bang-boom action scenes, with the saga of brutality and betrayal climaxing at the Villains' Graveyard. Literary exposition--"The glimmering particle in the glimmering fountain becomes a glimmering picture, becomes the sketch of a man frozen against the sky"--alternates with streetwise dialogue--"What job, yo?...It'd help, help jack this thing, beat it?" King's work is beyond postmodern, complex in conception, perhaps too esoteric for mainstream fiction fans, but relevant to the graphic-novel, video-gaming generation.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781451652000
  • Publisher: Touchstone
  • Publication date: 7/10/2012
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 810,950
  • Product dimensions: 6.54 (w) x 9.26 (h) x 1.11 (d)

Meet the Author

Tom King worked for the counterterrorism unit at the Central Intelligence Agency, following the events of 9/11. Before the CIA, he worked for DC Comics and Marvel. He lives in Washington, D.C.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 9 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(2)

4 Star

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3 Star

(4)

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Sort by: Showing all of 9 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 22, 2012

    I'm not a person who reads comic books, but I read an excellent

    I'm not a person who reads comic books, but I read an excellent review of this novel on the AV Club and I picked it up. I really thought it lived up to the review. An enjoyable read with a little bit of poetry.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 12, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    Interesting, literate, flawed examination of a comic book world

    Interesting, literate, flawed examination of a comic book world
    When I read the cover blurb for this, it sounded like something I would really like--an examination of super heroes, power, failure and redemption along the lines of Watchmen, but in prose. It is all that. But it takes a while to get there. And the reader is required to put in some effort to jump into a story in progress and hold onto the disparate story threads until they are woven into something more coherent.

    The writing is good, if at times a little stylized, written in the present tense like a comic book. This keeps things moving. The characters are many and varied and have realistic, for the story world, reactions to things.

    What ultimately disappoints is that the story feels like it wants to be epic. The characters and setting demand and imply it. But it's not. It's a little thin and repetitive where it should be dense and action packed.

    I think comic book fans will be intrigued enough by the premise to push through and enjoy this book. Fans of literature might also be interested enough to see how this experiment turns out. I doubt that others will find enough here to captivate them through the end.

    [Disclosure: I received a free copy for review.]

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  • Posted August 4, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    All the super heroes, except 1, have given up their powers to Ul

    All the super heroes, except 1, have given up their powers to Ultimate to fight the Blue. Some energy force cause the villains to kill themselves so now the use to be heroes must adjust to life without villains and powers. While they are still adjusting to their new roles, The Blue shows up on earth. 

    The powerless heroes must rally together, including the reluctant side lick, Pen Ultimate. Pen Ultimate was Ultimate's side kick and the only one that chose to keep his powers. A choice that was ridiculed by the rest of the hero pantheon.

    This story is extremely descriptive and vividly expressed. Tom King colorfully draws an intriguing comic book world come to life in A Once Crowded Sky. I did find the story quite predictable with the characters “sides” clearly defined...taking away the suspense. A Once Crowded Sky is an intriguing, interesting and original comic style story.

    I received this copy of A Once Crowded Sky from Touchstone - Simon & Schuster, Inc. in exchange for a honest review. 

    Written by: Tom King
    Hardcover: 336 pages
    Publisher: Touchstone 
    Publication Date: July 10, 2012
    ISBN-10: 1451652003
    Rating: 3
    Genre: Comic Fiction Contemporary

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  • Posted December 16, 2012

    I Also Recommend:

    Reviewed at SF Signal REVIEW SUMMARY: Comic book in prose sends

    Reviewed at SF Signal

    REVIEW SUMMARY: Comic book in prose sends us inside the heads of heroes and villains fighting for the world and those they love.

    BRIEF SYNOPSIS: A mysterious threat to Arcadia forces the last superhero to choose between being a husband and saving the world.

    MY REVIEW
    PROS: Superhero adventure with heart, mystery, and immersive action that makes reading about these characters a moving experience.
    CONS: The prose may take too many liberties in what the reader understands to be happening, and the mystery of The Blue may be too slow of a burn to hold some reader's attention.
    BOTTOM LINE: May require more concentration and patience than some readers will give, but if they do, they'll be rewarded with a philosophical gem on heroes, sacrifice, and the meaning of life in a corrupt world.

    I don't read comic books and I'm not really a fan of superheroes. That said, I can appreciate a tremendous cover, and was intrigued by the premise of a world where all but one of the superheroes gave up their powers to save the world.

    The one who didn't, PenUltimate, chose to stay home with his wife instead of joining the rest of the superheroes on the day they gave up their powers to Ultimate so that he could defeat The Blue. Ultimate is killed entering The Blue and all the superheroes are bitter, both because they have to live like normal people, and because PenUltimate, the sidekick of Ultimate, was too much of a coward to help them. The story that follows centers on Pen's struggle to avoid the responsibility of his powers when a new terror starts attacking their city.

    The most relateable and engaging aspect of A Once Crowded Sky is Pen's struggle between his promise to his wife and his promise to his dream job. Pen starts the story rushing between saving the day and coming back home to apologize for broken promises to be with his wife. As a reader, we too want him to save the day for the innocents, but we also want a happy ending for him and his wife. This is emphasized by a powerfully emotional section in the middle of the book in which Pen is forced to choose one or the other, and which springboards the reader toward the end.

    Another strong component of A Once Crowded Sky is the mystery that is The Blue, a source of light that kills everything it touches, including Ultimate, the ultimate superhero. I won't spoil the fun for you, but the key, as well as the moral of the story, is found somewhere within the metaphor of The Game. In Tom's world, superheroes are required to play by the rules of The Game, which makes the story feel like comic book characters came to life, spandex and all, both to fight crime and make their wives pancakes. This added an unexpected depth of philosophy and realism in a book about superheroes.

    Here's a sample, as spoken by Soldier to Pen:

    "This world's cruel, this game, and it ain't got an inch for children... It's just doing what you can, or else someone else dies. Those are the rules. That's the choice. Showing up. That's the game. That's all it is. That and it never ends."

    Also notable is the author's immersive style of storyshowing, which is a bad pun meant to say he shows you the story instead of telling it to you, which puts you into the characters' heads to experience the action as they do. Here's an example:

    The fire blasts yellow-blue and then crackles into waves of orange that rumble through the room. The tips of his hair singe, and Pen drops to the floor, allows the worst of the heat to rest over his head, makes sure to keep his hands locked down on the table. The flames hook into his skin and wrench his flesh upward; but his grip's sure, and he holds.

    The wooden ceiling brace above his head'll fall, but he can't move for another fourteen seconds, not until the smacker's across. He stiffens his body in anticipation of the impact, and when the blow comes--the beam snapping on his back, swaddling foot-long slivers around his skin, slopping sand inside his nostrils and eyelids--Pen retains his stance, his hands slipping, but still pushing, holding.

    There is room for improvement, but the prose is unique and very effective. Part of the downfall was in the few parts where the immersive style included flashbacks and thoughts that were lost me. Sometimes the style really added to my interest in the characters, and sometimes it slowed the pace or just plain confused me. The Blue is a riddle, and until it starts making sense, it's easy to put the book down after one of his scenes breaks. Page 121 is where I decided I was going to finish, so it may take a little perseverance to get to the point where you have to finish as well. I think it's worth it. I liked the innovative way he made me feel like I was reading a comic, yet with prose that put me deep enough into the character's heads that I left with a moving experience.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 24, 2012

    A thoughtful look at superhero mythology

    Mr. King's novel examines a world that once was full of superheros, until they all voluntarily give up their powers to defeat a particularly deadly menace. One of the more darkly humourous aspects of this situation is that the world gets along fine without its costumed protectors, while the newly mundane heroes lapse into depression, regret & alcholism. When a new threat emerges the heroes look to the last hero with powers to set it right, even though he is really only intetested in living a normal life.
    A Once Crowded Sky is a self conciously literary novel that seeks to examine both the nature of superheroes & superhero stories. There is much reflection on the role stories play in shaping the world and our place in it. I would reccomend it alongside Alan Moore's Watchmen in that both works are interested in what a world with superheroes would actually look, although King is intetested in the literary nature of superheroes while Moore's work is considerably bleaker.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 15, 2012

    Worth the Read

    First of all, i really enjoyed this book. It was a nice change of pace from my list of epic fantasy books I've been reading. The story really grabs your emotions throughout it while evenly spreading out some comic book action. The entire time, i could imagine it shot how the "Watchmen" comic book was made into a movie. It was fun to see what the author had learned in his time as an intern for Marvel and DC comics. I look forward to more books by him. Give it a shot.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 6, 2012

    I have to say I really enjoyed this book. It reminded me of so m

    I have to say I really enjoyed this book. It reminded me of so many good comic stories and graphic novels, but I didn't look at it as any of those other formats. I think you you read it as a novel like it's intended I think it would be easier to accept rather than compare it to comics. Even though it deals with comic book characters.

    As far as the story I found it very moving in places. Very emotional as well. I could almost feel for the main characters in the book. At times you can see the action of the story unfold right there in front of you. I enjoyed all the background stories of the characters as well,where they came from and there deep secrets. You where feeling what they where feeling. It also reminded me a lot of watchman and the struggles of those characters as well.

    Overall I think the book was well written and exciting to read. I blew through it in 3 days. The only thing I didn't like was it seemed to go a couple of chapters to long. I think the author was trying to make a certain point and lost it in to much complex meaning. Only a few times did it seem to get lost a little in itself. Other than that I would highly recommend this book. It was a fun read

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 21, 2012

    I found this to be an interesting and engaging read with charact

    I found this to be an interesting and engaging read with characters that captured my interest from the outset and sustained my curiosity until the last page. I enjoyed how the author played with the different formats for telling the story (e.g. the interplay of narration and graphic novel) - I found that it added great dimension to the story. All in all it was a very enjoyable and thought provoking read!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 3, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

Sort by: Showing all of 9 Customer Reviews

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