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Simon Roy

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Page 45 Review by Stephen

Evolution and devolution: there isn't one single trajectory.

Please don't judge this book by its cover: there is nothing half so opaque inside.

Clear-lined and lambent, the interior art will take your breath away with its contours, perspectives, phenomenal sense of scale, the sheer wonder of what has come out of Simon Roy's mind, then the extraordinary skill with which he has transferred his imagination onto the printed page.

Cho is a young man who's just been sworn into the Brotherhood of the Habsec, He is now no longer a civilian, but an elite warrior of the Habitat Security who on his very first hunt has impressed his superiors enormously with his initiative, speed and prowess.

But what they've been hunting are humans - for their meat.

This doesn't disgust Cho, for there are no more animals left alive other than the Carrion Gulls in this closed environment, and we do not appear to have become vegetarians. Unfortunately cannibalism comes with a price, as anyone who lived through Britain's BSE (Mad Cow Disease) crisis will recall after we decided it was a jolly good idea to turn our herbivore cattle into carnivores by feeding them each other in the form of meat and bone meal derived from cows including their nervous-system-rich spinal cords. Aren't we a bunch of lovelies?

Human spinal cords are exactly what Cho's younger family are gathering now from the communal midden:

"Mia, no! It's the one part you're not supposed to eat!"
"Mom says it's okay. It's just for soup."
"Mom and Grandma have the shakes because they eat spines from the midden!"

No, what our young Cho objects to is the gratuitous cruelty with which the Habsec bring home their prey. For that he is boisterously pushed around, which leads to an accidental, clay-breaking find.

"Boy! Where did that come from?"
"The civvie's amulet, sir."
"Speak up, trooper!"
"The civvie I caught today, sir. There was a punch card, inside the clay amulet he wore."
"You have this punch card?"
"Yes."
"Give it to me."

Young trooper Cho does not hand it over.

Instead - somehow sensing the importance of what he has discovered - he once more seizes the initiative with speed and prowess, catalysing everything that is to come.

We will return to the plot soon enough - including that key metal punch card - but what Simon Roy has so aptly done for a regressive society is fused the futuristic with both the recent and ancient historical past.

Set on a vast, once thriving cylindrical space station barely maintained by the scant surviving, highly reclusive engineer teams - recycled oxygen and rotational gravity being two of the few still functional technologies - the resultant environment and stone architecture now overgrown with bamboo and trees is resonant both of Babylon 5, Aztec / Mayan culture and the Brutalist movement which spawned in Britain concrete monstrosities most famous perhaps in their high-rise, city-centre, public-parking incarnations, but also - to my mind - some of the most magical urban community housing like the mid-70s' tiered, balconied Alexandra Road flats in Camden Town designed by Neave Brown. I've not lived there, so I don't even know, but it always looked to me like something progressive, overwhelmingly sci-fi and gobsmackingly beautiful.

They're presented here with their ultra-clear, broad, bisecting walkways and waterways creating eye-popping vistas which then sweep upwards as their cylindrical world curves upwards around a central light-giving, heat-radiating sphere.

The channels are roamed by similarly styled and equally overgrown monuments on stilts, known to the Habsec at least as Engineering Platforms but which the civvies - presumably never having seen more than one at a time - revere as The Great Builder.

But even the Habsec have limited understanding of what little technology is left to them. Mostly they fight with bows and arrows, staves, and a sword which is presented to each upon initiation. This is fashioned using a 3-D printer into which the only known metal punch card is ceremonially inserted, generating one solitary option: the sword.

That is why the unexpected discovery of a second punch card is of such staggering importance. What will it render when activated?

Well, that would depend on which of the four templates you choose.

In the balance of power between the civvies, the Habsecs and the Engineers, this could be a game-changer.

Like Emma Rios' I.D. and Matt Sheean and Malachi Ward's ANCESTOR, this was originally serialised in the periodical anthology, ISLAND, home and haven to much creative innovation.

The colours - in the outer habitat at least - are gentle and earthy and often washed in a mossy green, so that when blood is spilled it stands out a mile, as does the Engineers' direct communications with their machines in bright red and yellow code. It also means that the mostly bare-limbed occupants seem very much at one with their environment, although they are dwarfed by it and their vulnerable, fleshly forms are not half so resilient.

So what happened to the space station so long ago that its marvels of technology have largely been lost and the lives of its inhabitants have been reduced to mere tribal survival?

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